Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Lighting Controls - Lazy or Cool?

There is an app for that. One thing, the Mrs. is an Apple follower, and I have a very negative reaction to anything Apple. So, the iPad commercial where they show you turning on/off your lights with a free app really drove me nuts. There is typically thousands of dollars of electronics behind that cool little free app.

Or is there....?

Mrs. Fix-It left town one weekend (last minute - granny is fine), which left Mr. Fix-It with a little free time on his hands. Leaving me home alone on a weekend with access to my credit card never paid off well. This time, I hoped to change that. I had my sights set on resolving a problem - that really was not a problem - but more of a convenience. When sitting on the couch, the switch for the down lights is not that far away, but requires your butt to leave the sofa. There is an app for that. Well for me, not really. My Logitech Harmony 890 remote has the ability to control Z-Wave devices. So, I went to work solving my big problem.

I hopped on Amazon Thursday afternoon and searched Z-Wave devices. I found the GE product line of Z-wave. I never played with Z-Wave before so I had no idea what was required to make it work. I found a basic dimming wall switch, shown below. It was $38 with free Prime shipping, so I ordered it. Typically a quality dimmer will cost maybe $20, so this was a little bit of a premium, but in theory it was supposed to be able to be controlled by my remote. Cool! The world of Amazon amazed me again and when I got home Friday after work, it was sitting outside my door already.

The little light on the bottom glows that cool hi-tech blue when the lights are off. So, I took the little box inside opened it up and found the dimmer as expected. Not much to it, and I have no idea how to make this post sound as excited as I was. I pulled out my screwdriver, actually turned the power off, and took the old dimmer out. Few minutes later, the new dimmer was in. Flipped the power on and it worked. At least the manual, get off the couch, method of physically touching the switch. It had some cool features, like when you press the button to turn on, the lights return to the previous setting. This is a great energy feature which I plan on posting energy related lighting discussions later.

Programming time. I went to the very easy to use application for configuring my harmony remote and added in my new Z-Wave device. There was a little work in adding the device and updating the remote and then pairing the two devices. From there, Harmony set up the rest. At that point, the remote worked. I found the device on the remote and turned on, off, and dimmed my lights. I sat down on the couch and tried it again, pinched myself, then tried it one more time. So, for $38 I got my cool toy and my weekend project was done by 6:45pm Friday evening.

So what does this have to do with the iPad app comment? Well, there are other Z-Wave devices available also. There are dimmer modules you can plug into an outlet to control a corded lamp. You can replace your outlets with Z-wave outlets (these typically don't dim). There are also controllers available to setup scenes and work with other Z-Wave devices like thermostats, power meters, and remote door locks. The controller is the device you need to get the app on your smart phone or tablet device. I noticed these controllers were priced in the $300 range. So, with that and a number of other Z-wave devices, you can easily get into home automation. I just have my one $38 switch, so I have a long way to go for that fully automated condo, but I plan on expanding as I can. Right now, I am still a little giddy about my stupid remote controlled lights.

It would appear that a full lighting control system as shown on the commercial will still cost at least $500 to get setup to control with you phone. What should I get next?


  1. Um... super cool! We have the same remote but ours currently doesn't do anything very awesome. Our friends had theirs control their home theater mode (pulled down the movie screen, turned on the projector and dimmed the lights), but ours just does the normal stuff.

  2. Is there lack of cool stuff to control or lack of motivation to control it?

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