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Spotlight: Retrofit Installation
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Hardwired vs. Wireless Lighting Control

In existing homes, wireless systems beat hardwired when considering labor costs, project size, system reliability, product cost and client satisfaction.


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Installing a wireless lighting control system in an existing home can be three to four times faster than a hardwired system.

When homebuilders were constructing 2.1 million homes per year, who cared about addressing existing homes? Now with just 300,000 predicted to be built in 2010, existing homes are the last bastion of revenue.

As the market continues to transition, integrators sometimes face the choice of installing hardwired vs. wireless.

Here are five factors to consider when making that decision.

Product Cost: In general, hardwired lighting control systems tend to be about 20 percent to 30 percent less expensive than their wireless counterparts. That pricing difference also extends into the motorized shade control category, which is a form of natural light control.

One variable these days is the cost of copper wiring. It is a commodity that fluctuates. Right now, it is relatively low compared to some of the high spikes the market has seen in the past few years. A 3,500-square-foot home will require several thousand linear feet of wire, according to David Weinstein, vice president of residential sales for Lutron. Advantage: Hardwired

Reliability: Consumers, even more than integrators, are becoming comfortable with wireless technology. The pervasiveness of wireless computer networks, iPhone, iPads, etc., have even made older homeowners less fearful of “invisible” technology. On the other hand, hardwired systems are 99.9 percent bulletproof.

It is interesting to note the increased penetration of wireless in the home security field. Many motion sensors, doors and window contacts and keypads are now wireless. Security, of course, is a field where reliability is the most important issue, so the increasing use of wireless is a signal to integrators of the increasing stability of the technology. Advantage: Hardwired

Project Size: In the past, wireless systems had a more limited scale. But new systems, such as Lutron’s RadioRa2, can accommodate up to 200 devices in a home as large as 12,000 square feet. For perspective, a 3,000-square-foot home with lots of control might have 60 devices. So in general wireless is no longer limited in scale for most homes. Advantage: Tie

Labor Cost: The labor costs for installing a wireless system can be calculated in hours, while labor costs for wired systems can be calculated in days.

For example, a 60-device wireless lighting control system in a 3,000-square-foot home can be done by one technician in one day. A comparable hardwired system will take one man three to four days, depending on the number of obstacles faced when pulling wires. Advantage: Wireless

Client Satisfaction: I am not talking about post-installation satisfaction, but the actual angst that can be created from a team of guys crawling in attics, drilling holes, creating dust, etc. from a hardwired installation. When an integrator walks into a nicely appointed, spotless home, wireless should immediately be considered.

In many cases, a homeowner – from a neat freak to an Oscar Madison - will choose not to have an installation done simply because they do not want to have the disruption in the home. Clearly, a wireless system can be installed much quicker with very little disruption. Most of the labor cost is programming, not pulling wires or drilling holes.

The overall time of the job also plays into client satisfaction. As noted above, a wireless installation is routinely one-third the time of a hardwired installation. Advantage: Wireless

Final Rank: The bottom line: installing a wireless lighting control system is less expensive for integrators. According to Weinstein, it’s about 3X to 4X less expensive.

“When you analyze the cost of wireless vs. hardwired, the aggregate cost of wireless is clearly less for the integrator but also it is better for the client,” he says, adding that he believes wireless installations also help close more sales that otherwise would not occur. Advantage: Wireless




Spotlight: Retrofit Installation
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Article Topics

News · Business Resources · Home Automation and Control · Lighting · Retrofit · All topics

About the Author

Jason Knott, Editor, CE Pro
Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990. He joined EH Publishing in 2000, and before that served as publisher and editor of Security Sales, a leading magazine for the security industry. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He is currently a member of the CEDIA Education Action Team for Electronic Systems Business. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California.

34 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  07/14  at  08:58 AM

Having installed and programmed lots of lighting systems there is a certain amount of comfort in knowing the system will always work given the direct connection of a wire.  Power will still require line voltage and running a control wire between keypads isn’t all that hard.  I am working on a project in Mexico and the cost savings from wireless to hard wired was substantial.  I rarely work with Radio Ra2 since I prefer the programming of Lutron Homeworks or Vantage.
Maybe looking at lighting as a stand alone system it makes sense but in a fully integrated home I would think you might want something a little more robust.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  07/14  at  09:02 AM

I should qualify that in retrofits you almost always have to have some wireless but I like to wire up as many as I can before I switch over to wireless, just depends on the job.

Posted by Chris  on  07/14  at  09:44 AM

HELLO CONTROL4!!!

BAM! Less expensive and incredibly reliable…

Quit messin’ around with Lutron and find out how great it is having an all-in-one solution for whole home integration with lighting control…

Posted by joel degray  on  07/14  at  10:10 AM

While wireless is attractive from a cost standpoint, and in many cases involving a retrofit the only way, wireless systems are still not as robust as hardwired. If you don’t want to really upset a customer, there are 2 things you should never screw up, Lighting and Telephony. Let’s face it, even on Star Trek wireless fails at some point…

Posted by Loren Roetman  on  07/14  at  10:40 AM

PCX?

Wired Wireless!

Works for me!

Posted by chazofjon  on  07/14  at  11:02 AM

HAI, is a great solution. You can use hardwired or wireless devices or UPB. Whatever works best for that job.

Texas Jack

Posted by edgharmony  on  07/14  at  01:18 PM

Never scene a wireless lighting system work 100% in 100% of all environments. There is that chance that wireless may get close - but that 1 in a million chance that it doesn’t work the client will notice, it never fails! We’ll stick with wired/wireless systems

“Wire me up!”

Posted by koberlin1  on  07/14  at  03:35 PM

I have had a very tough time configuring a 45 point Leviton Vizia RF+ wireless lighting control system.  And when it works it never works the same way twice!  A wired network would definitely ease my mind.

Posted by Steve  on  07/14  at  04:46 PM

I just finished a 14 Million dollar house in Beverly Hills that has 65 Keypads and over 200 switches that are all INSTEON.

The front end control is Crestron.  All of this was done without any extra wires.  INSTEON was a great option here.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  07/14  at  04:49 PM

Centralized systems with computer based programming are the most consistent way to deliver a lighting system.  Of those, wired are the most consistent operation. 
Sometimes, for one reason or another we can’t put in wires, it just happens, then we go wireless.  It may not be worth it to the client to spend thousands to tear open walls, so long as you let them know there are limits and trade offs everyone knows what to expect.  That is really the key to set expectations so when there is a glitch or the switch hesitates the client knows they made a choice and accept the occasional performance issue if it ever happens.  I think we tend to over use wireless when wires offer a very reliable and affordable solution.

Posted by Mark Sipe  on  07/14  at  04:54 PM

@steve,

You’re packing some huevos, good luck with that.  Most manufacturers would cringe at that many wireless keypads and switches.

Posted by David Weinstein  on  07/14  at  06:28 PM

I understand and respect installer concerns about the reliability of RF lighting control systems. 

I agree, for new construction, the cost of control wiring is not significant and often supports a wired system strategy. However, not all RF based lighting control systems are alike.  I built my home 10 years ago and installed and programmed an RF based lighting control system.  It has worked flawlessly since that time, even after a lightening strike to my invisible dog fence that caused significant electrical damage to many wired devices in my home. 

Contact me, and I would be happy to send you an informative white paper on RF lighting control technology, and the options that exist for your clients. 

David Weinstein, Vice President Residential Sales, Lutron Electronics

Posted by Paul Deshaies  on  07/14  at  06:45 PM

I think I would classify your article as an “advertisement” for Lutron.  The least complicated method on the market, median priced and able to handle the size project you described is UPB.  Wireless is certainly good for todays retrofit market and so is UPB technolgy, all you do is replace switches and program, the time factor is marginal.  How do you connect to a separate building that is 100’ away?  With wireless the answer can often be “you don’t”.  If you are tied to the building by copper then with UPB you are already there.  I really hoped to see a true comparitive article on this subject for once and I hope someday CEPRO will deliver.

Posted by David Weinstein  on  07/14  at  07:02 PM

Paul,

I didn’t write the article, but was contacted for input.

Actually, you can connect some RF based lighting control systems between separate buildings (for example the main house to the pool house) via an available ethernet link.  This becomes a “hybrid” solution, but does address th need.

Posted by Jon  on  07/14  at  07:03 PM

Oh boy, another crazy article from CE Pro.  Without getting into all the contradictory comments made or digging too deep into the fact that this seems to be more of a paid advertisement for Lutron then a dealer education article by CE Pro I would like to comment on a couple of items.

First of all the notion of doing a retro fit in an existing home of a wired or better yet centralized system is just crazy.  Other than to further promote Radio Ra I don’t know why this article was done or why any integrator or electrician would ever think about a wired system unless it was a remodel and the house was being gutted.

Mark, I am surprised that you would have even done a cost comparison of a hard wired vs wireless system unless this was a new home.  If it isn’t an existing home then you missed the point (although very week point) of this article. 

Chris, Control 4 is not incredibly reliable nor is it much less than the new Lutron product.

Joel, koberlin 1, and edgeharmony, I am not sure if you have ever used the infiNET stuff from Crestron, but in the past few years I have done several systems and the stuff works great.  It is a mesh network like what Control 4 uses, but much more robust.  The nice thing is that the product works by itself so if the program stops or something happens you can still push the dimmer and have it control the load.  The lack of reliability from many of the other products out there comes from them using a simple RF design or Powerline of which both are not very reliable.  I have played with many of the systems over the years and we do the Crestron stuff now exclusively due to the reliability.  BTW, I had a 20,000 sq ft retro that we did around 500 dimmers and switches wirelessly and it worked fine.  The ability to mesh network and run independent channels kept the devices from interfering with each other.  No delays, no accidental lights coming on, it just worked.  Design and the right product can do a lot.

CE Pro, you have got to do some better articles.  This one was written horribly and you should have had a disclaimer that this was a paid ad from Lutron.

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