Because one-time leader LiteTouch is more than 30 years old and its hardwired products are quite reliable, there are probably tens of thousands of working systems in homes and buildings today – many of which were sold in the last couple of years.
What to do with them?
The systems are very expensive and the wiring infrastructure is not traditional – high-voltage wiring home-runned from the loads to the dimmer panels and non-shielded 16 AWG 3-conductor cables daisy-chained between the keypads/dimmers and then home-runned to the central controller (LiteTouch wiring schematic here).
Lutron, arguably the most popular hardwired control system for residential installations, utilises shielded twisted-pair cable because it’s “looking for a lot of nuances in the signal,” says Bill Maronet, principle of ETC, long-time LiteTouch dealer and home systems integrator.
Those nuances, he says, could get lost among the noise in unshielded cable.
Savant, however, is working directly with Lutron to create a suitable replacement for hardwired LiteTouch systems, using the existing cable infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Legrand’s Vantage has always prided itself on its flexible two-wire architecture. Bill says Vantage systems can replace LiteTouch right out of the box.
At issue: These hardwired lighting-control solutions are all quite expensive, so replacing an existing system is never cheap. Meanwhile, there is little hope for scrapping an existing hardwired solution and going wireless with an all new product, as the existing high-voltage wiring behind the walls goes from the load to a central dimming panel, not to the closest dimmers and switches.
In other words: There is no power behind the dimmers and no physical connection between the dimmers and the lights.
Does that mean installing a hardwired lighting control solution today is a bad idea? Not a chance, as industry veteran Michael Cogbill explains at the end of this piece.
Savant, LiteTouch, Lutron and Dealer Soul-Searching
Not long after acquiring LiteTouch, Savant created its own lighting-control processor to replace LiteTouch’s proven Central Control Unit (CCU). Bill says the Savant version has not been as stable or robust as LiteTouch’s CCU, but he has nevertheless replaced older CCUs with the Savant product, and has spec’d entirely new LiteTouch systems with the Savant processor.
Savant will stop selling that new processor, as well all products related to hardwired lighting on Sept. 30, 2015.
Better stock up on spare parts? Bill isn’t so sure.
In an email to LiteTouch customers, Savant suggested: “During this transition time, we encourage you to coordinate with your Savant Integrator to discuss maintenance options and the possibility of adding a Lighting Reserve Kit to extend the life of your Savant system.”
Bill says he doesn’t quite know how to advise clients on the matter, especially since he’s not so fond of Savant’s replacement controller.
But there could be a saviour in Lutron, which is working with Savant to provide a “retrofittable wired lighting solution using Savant infrastructure and Lutron components,” says Tim McInerney, Savant director, product marketing, in an email exchange with CE Pro.
“I can’t say for certain it’s the only time,” he adds, “but it’s certainly one of the few times that one CEDIA company has approached another to help provide Integrators with options to support a discontinued product line before that line was discontinued. With our assistance, Lutron has created a retrofit product solution that uses much of the existing infrastructure.”
He cautions, however: “Due to differences in the technology and wiring, there will be specific requirements around which Lutron products and keypads can be used in that solution.”
Even assuming the existing wiring infrastructure is adequate, though, it won’t be cheap to swap out a LiteTouch system, according to Bill.
“It’s not like you can replace a system for $10,000,” he says. “These are 20k and 30k and 40k and 100k jobs.”
Further details on the Lutron fix will be announced in dealer Webinars on July 21 and July 28.
Ultimately, Savant would like to see its dealers forsake hardwired lighting controls altogether and migrate to wireless, the next frontier for the company.
Tim tells us: “Our focus going forward will be on offering the best products in wireless lighting, including our new, highly-acclaimed Metropolitan line ….”
The End of Hardwired Lighting Controls?
Given that proprietary hardwired lighting control systems in general are difficult to replace with a different manufacturer’s products, and given that they cannot easily be replaced with newer wireless solutions, is it still a good idea to spec hardwired?
Absolutely, says Michael Cogbill, a lighting and HVAC-control expert who installed his first LiteTouch system in 1992 and now works with ETC.
“Do not lose sight of the advantage of having all of the high-voltage in the back-of-house,” he says. “Ever walk into a room with four- and five-gang switches on the wall just to handle the lighting circuit in that room? With the high-voltage approach at each switch location you have to allocate one gang for each lighting group in the room.”
He notes that ‘bathrooms can be the worst’ with one switch each for the toilet area, shower, vanity mirror sconces and exhaust fan.”
“With the panellised lighting systems,” he says, “you put a one-gang keypad in the wall and program its buttons to control one or all lights in the room or house (not to mention ceiling fans and shades/drape).”
As a regular columnist in the late 1980s and early 1990s for CE Pro and its sister publication Electronic House for consumers, Michael recalls that his first article was about wall acne.
“This is one of the main culprits,” he says. “With elegant homes, hardwired is a must in my opinion.”
He concedes, however, that the end of LiteTouch “does leave our clients in bad place. Do you change a perfectly good working system now or wait until it quits (which will be at the worst possible time) and then replace it all?”
Michael is comforted knowing that, “at least with Vantage, we can keep the existing wiring intact and do a retrofit without damaging an expensive wall or ceiling.”
He and ETC principal Bill Maronet are looking forward to learning more about the new Lutron solution, as well.