We wrote recently that leading home automation manufacturer Savant is killing LiteTouch, the hardwired lighting-control business it acquired in 2012. In its stead, Savant is pushing a replacement solution from Lutron, which is creating a system specifically designed to work with existing LiteTouch wiring – i.e., three unshielded wires (with an unused fourth) daisy chained between keypads and dimmers, and home-runned to a central panel.
We now know more about the new replacement solution from Lutron, as well as others from Legrand’s Vantage, Crestron and lesser-known brands.
Meanwhile, CE Pro heard from a consumer who is about to close on a Colorado home with an 11-year-old LiteTouch system. The couple wants to know, in advance of the closing, what they’re in for.
Let’s start with these home buyers, who are “worried about purchasing a home with an obsolete system.”
They wonder if they should ask the sellers “to credit us the amount needed to refit the system.”
LiteTouch systems are reliable and could last many more years; however, the problem with all hardwired (“panelized”) systems on the market today is that the multiple pieces are not readily interchangeable with parts from a different manufacturer.
In the case of LiteTouch, for example, the in-wall dimmers/switches/keypads must all be from LiteTouch. Ditto with the dimmer panels that control the loads directly and the controller that operates the system.
You cannot replace a dead LiteTouch dimmer with an off-the shelf dimmer from Home Depot (there is, after all, no line-voltage power wiring from the switch to the load) or even a low-voltage dimmer from Lutron, for example.
At this time, there seems to be no getting around the expensive proposition of replacing a LiteTouch system – or any other hardwired lighting control system for that matter.
It must be replaced by a LiteTouch dimmer.
You could disregard any particular dimmer or switch if it goes bad, and simply reprogram a nearby switch to operate any affected loads, but that’s not terribly convenient—you don’t want to turn on the lights in the bathroom using a keypad in the bedroom.
The worst-case scenario, however, is if the lighting panels or controllers go down. In such a case you need to replace those products and all of the home’s keypads, dimmers and switches, or you simply will not be able to operate your lights. At all.
“It’s all one system communicating with each other,” says LiteTouch veteran and long-time integrator Michael Cogbill of ETC, a prominent home systems integration firm based in West Palm Beach, Fla. “You have to replace everything.”
Cogbill says home owners can expect to pay pretty much the same as they paid for a system in the first place, which is a lot of money for LiteTouch and others of its ilk – maybe $25,000 to $35,000 for a 2,500 square foot home. (We don’t know the particulars of the Colorado pad but you don’t usually find LiteTouch in a 2,500-square-foot house).
Should LiteTouch homeowners stock up on spare parts while they have a chance (through the end of September)? It might not be a terrible idea, but the more you continue to invest in a LiteTouch system, the more you ultimately will be flushing down the toilet.
Even if you can replace some of the parts, eventually we will lose integrators with expertise on the LiteTouch platform, and of course any support from the manufacturer. It is not a long-term solution.
LiteTouch Replacement Options, Starting with Vantage
There is at least a tiny bit of good news coming out of this difficult situation. Other lighting-control manufacturers have, or are working on, solutions that can exploit the proprietary wiring scheme that LiteTouch uses for power and communications.
Vantage, a division of Legrand, has always prided itself on a flexible wiring architecture that requires only two wires between the keypads and the controller. As such, the Vantage InFusion lighting system can replace a LiteTouch system out-of-the-box, using the existing wires behind a customer’s walls.
In fact, Vantage lately has been promoting a “LiteTouch Retrofit Insert” package to woo affected LiteTouch customers. The only thing that makes the new iteration different from current InFusion models is a reconfiguration of the dimmer modules to fit nicely into existing LiteTouch enclosures.
Vantage’s own enclosures accommodate up to 48 dimmable loads in four modules. To suit LiteTouch cans, Vantage developed a configuration that supports up to 36 loads in three modules – just the right size for a LiteTouch enclosure. If you have several LiteTouch enclosures packed side-by-side on a wall, it will be relatively painless (to the installer, not your pocketbook) to pull out the LiteTouch modules and install the Vantage modules in their place.
Of note: Vantage powers the low-voltage keypads via its standard controller, so no special power modules are needed for that. That’s nice.
Vantage advertises the three-module “insert” and a standard Vantage controller for $4,000, but dimmer/relay modules (up to $2,000 each for 12 dimming loads) are required on top of that, as well as brand new keypads for the entire house. And then of course there are labor costs for both electricians and low-voltage integrators.
In other words, the customer is buying an entirely new system, except for the original prewire.
All of the LiteTouch Replacements are Similar
After our original LiteTouch story, we heard from Doug Ford, principal of TouchPlate, a lighting-controls manufacturer since 1946. He tells CE Pro, “We have compatible products that will use the existing wires and give them a system that can integrate with others, even Savant!”
The low-voltage wiring currently running to LiteTouch keypads would be used to power Lutron ClearConnect and Crestron Infinet wireless keypads via a power adapter installed at the head-end. Also at the head-end is a wireless module that links Lutron and Crestron keypads to their respective controllers … wirelessly.
As with Vantage, though, this scenario requires a wholesale replacement of any LiteTouch system from the controller to the keypads.
Patrick Boyer an independent rep at Scottsdale, Ariz.-based AV Warehouse/Innovative Consulting, tells us the Vantage offering is “less expensive than the competition.”
As you know, LiteTouch used a three wire bus,” he says. “Vantage uses two of the three wires for power and control. Because the competition requires a four-wire bus, they are using two wires for power and using wireless for control. We all know that wireless is a risk in larger homes.”
Whatever the case, at this time there seems to be no getting around the expensive proposition of replacing a LiteTouch system – or any other hardwired lighting control system for that matter.
You could perhaps replace all of the home’s bulbs with “smart bulbs” if the electrician does a little work on the back end terminating the line voltage (popularly known as “high voltage”) per usual. But you would have to install battery-powered wireless switches throughout the house or rely on mobile phones to operate the lights. This is a terrible idea and not really a money-saver.
You cannot use traditional wireless lighting control systems because they require line voltage at the switch locations to power the radio and electronics inside the switch. LiteTouch and other hardwired homes don’t have 120v at the switches.
There is another work-around if one or a few of the existing switches fail. To control the affected loads only, you could install wireless dimmer switches in the equipment room, where the power is. Then you would want (need) a companion battery-operated wireless switch (and/or app) near the loads to actually control those lights. This should work fine as a temporary fix, but doesn’t make sense as a long-term solution.
So to the home buyers in Colorado: You very likely will get many more years out of the LiteTouch system you’re acquiring, but when any little part of it goes, the whole thing goes. If you want the lights to work, you’ll need to invest in a wholesale replacement of the system.
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