Application Guidance: Networked Lighting Controls

Before purchasing network lighting controls, consumers should assess if an NLC is necessary or beneficial. An NLC will allow commercial buildings to comply with various building codes and enable multiple advanced control strategies, but some consumers may be equally satisfied with the more limited capabilities of non-networked lighting controls. NLCs are typically considered “future-proof” and allow for more occupant-comfort-focused options and the ability to adapt to future building codes. NLCs allow users to modify lighting through the various installed controllers to allow behavior and comfort that would not be possible by modifying electrical wiring alone.
Should a consumer want to specify an NLC, it is highly recommended that they work with a lighting representative or lighting designer. Lighting representatives can be found through online searches and often there are multiple lighting representatives for a region. Lighting representatives partner with various manufacturers, which they will typically list on their website. If looking to work with a particular manufacturer, it is recommended to visit the manufacturer’s website and see if they promote any local representatives or distributors to work with.
Information that is beneficial to know when specifying an NLC includes:

  • Building size
  • Building vintage
  • Building wall construction
  • Building ceiling construction
  • Existing lighting controls (switches, sensors, timers)
  • Existing lighting technology (Halogen, fluorescent, LED)
  • Existing lighting fixtures (sockets, 2×4 troffers, downlights)
  • Control strategies that need to be enabled

In addition, it is critical to understand if the system is locally hosted or needs internet connectivity. Most NLCs require internet connectivity for a variety of reasons such as to enable advanced control strategies based on internet provided data, allow for remote access controls, or simply connect with the manufacturer’s server to keep software updated. With all internet-connected devices, consumers are advised to work with their IT department to ensure access is available, and to open any ports required for the NLCs to communicate. Should internet access be restricted, it is advised to look for NLCs that are locally hosted and do not need to communicate with an online server.
Lighting Control Strategies
A brief overview of typical control strategies found in NLCs are provided below, but consumers should verify with the lighting representative that the system configuration will allow for the strategies to operate properly.

  • Area control: Ability for the system to control lights within defined areas. The minimum granularity of the control and controllability options depends on system configuration. At a minimum on/off functionality will exist.
  • Dimming: Ability for the system to reduce the maximum light output of a luminaire. Can only be achieved with luminaires that are designed to be dimmable and with controls that have the appropriate dimming solution. In general, dimmable troffers utilize 0-10V dimming wires to control dimmability while socketed luminaires utilize controls that modify electrical power properties going into the light such as phase cut dimmers.
  • Scheduling: Ability for a system to execute a defined schedule. NLCs typically offer weekly scheduling with various exceptions that users can modify.
  • Occupancy sensing: Ability for a system to adjust lighting conditions based on whether it senses occupants within the defined area. Systems can detect occupancy in various ways such as infrared and ultrasonic sensors. Consumers should work with lighting representatives to discuss which sensors would be best for their building layout and occupancy patterns.
  • Daylight harvesting: Ability for a system to reduce overhead lighting automatically based on the daytime lighting contributions obtained from windows or skylights.
  • Institutional tuning: Ability for a system to modify the maximum light level a luminaire can provide. This is only achievable for dimmable luminaires paired with dimming controls.
  • Task tuning: Ability for a system to modify lighting conditions based on task requirements, typically triggered by a sensor or scene switch, which allows for preprogrammed lighting conditions at the click of a button.
  • Automated demand response (ADR): Ability for a system to receive and process a demand signal from subscribed utility providers that would automatically reduce lighting output to predefined acceptable levels in order to reduce overall grid power draw.

Wired Vs. Wireless
NLCs come in wireless or wired options, the driving factor behind which is more appropriate depends on the building construction. Buildings may be constructed in a way that would block the wireless signals that the devices need to function, or buildings may not have the ability to run wiring within the walls or ceiling to allow a wired setup. Generally, wireless systems cost slightly more than their wired counterparts, but will often result in lower installation cost due to not requiring the connecting networking wires to be installed. Wireless systems also may allow for easier reconfiguration if needs or zones within a space need to be changed.
Due to the increased complexity of installation associated with lighting controls as opposed to traditional wiring, training programs such as the California Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program (CALCTP) have been developed to train contractors and electricians. As such, a CALCTP-Certified Installation Contractor may be needed for installation. Note, beginning July 1, 2019, lighting control projects receiving $2,000 or more in utility program incentives will be required to utilize CALCTP-certified installation teams.