Light from the Start
Illumination Isn't an Afterthought
By Stephen Margulies
When people go to the movies, they pay to become totally immersed in visual and audible illusions. To support these illusions, and to provide the most focused environment for them, the theater's lights are turned off. Unfortunately, when people speak of creating the theatrical experience at home, there's often the same assumption of a darkened room, though in reality, this is rarely the case. Most home theaters end up in a family room, which obviously is a completely different environment with different lighting needs. And nowadays, the original home theater concept of having a "room" dedicated to entertainment has expanded to the whole house.
But as you listen to our industry talk about lighting and its role in the automated home, you find that almost all the advancements that are making news are in lighting controls, not lighting design. After all, what are these smart lighting controls controlling? End users now have the ability to create preset scenes for the family room, integrate the lighting controls with a whole house control system, schedule lights to turn on or off based on the time of day automatically, and teach a lighting control system to learn user habits These features are all great, but again, what are they actually controlling?
Having the ability to control glaring downlights throughout every room in a house to different intensities is not what lighting is all about. As I took in the information overload at this year's CES show, I wondered what the root causes of this problem might be. At what point in the information chain is there a missing link? A bit of thought gives us a gallery of suspects:
When I purchased my house, the builder asked me if I wanted the standard lighting package or an upgraded package. The upgraded package was 50 downlights instead of 20 downlights. When I told him I only wanted five downlights, but I also wanted other specific lighting devices and dimmers throughout, he looked at me with confusion. He did not understand the value of my planned lighting enhancements until the house was complete and the results were evident. In fact, the few changes I made to the electrical work for the basic lighting package actually caused a reduction in cost. Developers and builders use downlights because they are inexpensive and easy to use everywhere. What could be less expensive than installing a $20 downlight that can be purchased at the local home improvement store?