Preparing a new house for whole house smart lighting?

I have a background in theatrical lighting design, and am now a web
developer. I’m building a new house and doing my own electrical work.
I’d like to integrate automation into the house, but I’m stumped on the
options and methods for automating the lighting in a home. There seem to
be a ton of options that aren’t necessarily compatible, since I only
get one shot to wire with the walls off, I’m looking for some advice on
how to pre-wire for the future.

I want to use as much open source software as possible, I want to use
off the shelf lighting fixtures (not build DIY light fixtures), and I
want nothing to do with companies like Google, Amazon, or Wink. I’d like
to be able to program lighting levels in different rooms, with
different colors and have them triggered by events like the alarm system
disarming, times of day, or the weather. Ideally, there should also be a
way to recall a preset via a touch pad. I don’t want anything that
requires a smart phone (don’t own one, never will), the cloud, or
communication over the Internet (LAN communication is OK, but no signals
sent off premise). I prefer wired over wireless whenever possible.

So with that in mind… what are my options for lighting fixtures and
devices? For general lighting, I’m thinking “dumb” but dim-able LED
bulbs would be fine (although changing the color temperature is
appealing to me), I could place them in regular screw base recessed
fixtures like the Halo H7, and wire them to wall switches just like
regular ceiling lights, except the wall switches/dimmers would be
automatable via OpenHAB. Are there any dimmers like this that work well
with OpenHAB? Especially ones that don’t require any type of proprietary
protocols or interfaces in between the switch and OpenHAB?
It would also be great to have something that could throw color at
walls, or the ceiling, or under cabinets and have the color
controllable. But if I understand correctly, anything with color mixing
is not compatible with any wall switch, smart or otherwise, so if I
wanted to use RGB lighting, I would want to run constant (un-switched)
power to those locations? And is color mixing only available if I buy
"smart bulbs" with built in electronics?

I haven’t been able to find any good information on a whole-house
lighting setup that makes sense. Are there any devices that use wired
networking or other wired control instead of wifi? Is there anything at
all that should be done in new construction that’s different that
standard lighting, like running CAT6 to wall switch or potential
lighting locations? It seems all of the products are intended for
retrofit anyway, so maybe nothing special needs done? What are your
thoughts on this?

Lately I was thinking about a possible light concept for a house as well, so here are my 2 cents:

  • I would prefer to have no wall-switches at all
  • all rooms with movement (coridors, kitchen, …) would have presence detection combined with temperature, humidity and brightness (maybe microphone), those will switch light based on presence, brightness and daytime
  • all other rooms would have wireless switches (besides the sensors above), because wall switches are always in the wrong place
  • some rooms would have a light concept with white ambience based on the daytime / brightness
  • I think I would go with dmx and put the controllers / driver in a central room
  • corridors would have white ambiance led stribes as ceeling light panels
  • living room color led stripes for ambience, white dimmable for brightness
  • all routes for the night like bedroom to bathroom would have small led night lights or the ceeling lights would be (automatic) dimmable
  • to reduce costs I might go with normal dimmer leds for some rooms, maybe that could also work with dmx if I remove the driver
  • sensors would be 1-wire
  • central platform would be openhab

Why DMX?
Because I heard the performance should be better then DALI.
Since I was thinking about live scenes where colors change continuously this performance might matter.

I think a smart home is smart if I do not have to control (talk to smething like alexa) at all.
So based on my setup each room would turn the light on if somebody is in and off if nobody is in.

What I did 5 years ago, I installed (or electrician installed) relays to electrical distribution center for all lights. Relays are with 24V coils, so I continue on that. I also installed low voltage wall switches. All wall switches are push buttons with separately controlled state leds. That has proved to be good solution.

Since 5 years, wireless lights (Philips Hue, Ikea Trådfri, Lifx, you name it) has been coming fast. I have also changed some my light for those and also changed some of the wall switches to motion sensors. My setup has been easy to adapted so that interface is exactly the same for the users. E.g. lights which have lifx bulb, relay is always on and button control lifx bulb not the relay anymore. Same for the state leds, those indicates the lifx bulb state not relay state. I still can complete shutdown lights via relays, e.g. when house is empty for longer period.


I’m not expert on the full range of what is available so take this advice with a grain of salt.

I think your requirements are mutually exclusive. There are no non-DIY devices that you can buy off the shelf that will not involve buying from a company. It may be a small company, it may be a large one, but you will have to buy it or you will have to build it.

I believe it is true you cannot control the color of lights from a switch. All the smart bulbs I’m aware of use either Zigbee, Zwave, BT, or WiFi. Zigbee has upcoming support in OH (there is a binding in work) but Zigbee isn’t a very strict standard so not all Zigbee devices are guaranteed to be compatible with each other. In otherwords, just because Hue uses Zigbee doesn’t mean you will be able to control it from OH without a Hue Hub.

There really isn’t support for BT bulbs in OH.

The Zwave standard has been opened up but it is a proprietary standard. We can now see the standard but a company must pay a licensing fee to claim they have a compatible device. The good thing though is that it is a much better standard. If it says Zwave, it will be compatible (though it might not be supported by the Zwave binding just yet depending on what command classes it uses). There is a Zway binding that can work with the Zway server but requires a license to use. It supports more devices than the Zwave binding does right now (mainly locks).

Wifi bulbs all require, to my knowledge, dependency on a cloud service. I’d love to hear about any that I don’t know.

For switches, your best bet to avoid proprietary protocols, licenses, or working with large companies would be Sonoff flashed with the Tasmota firmware. But that will be wireless

None that are not proprietary like KNX or DMX that I’m aware of. Certainly none for lightbulbs.

I think you need to be flexible on some of your requirements. If you want color control you are pretty much limited to wireless smart bulbs. I’d recommend Zwave mainly because there are multiple companies who produce them, if they say Zwave they are guaranteed to be compatible, and there is no dependency on a cloud service or hacking a new firmware onto them to make them work.

If you are flexible on wireless, Sonoff with the Tasmota firmware could be a good solution. Tasmota is open source and IMHO objectively better than the Itead firmware it ships with. It uses WiFi and MQTT for communication so will be very easy to integrate with OH or any other home automation system you may choose down the line. But it is wireless.

If you do wired, as far as I know, you will have to use some proprietary system like KNX or something more DIY than you are willing to use.

Again, I’m not completely knowledgable on all the available technologies so some of the above could be wrong.

At least Lifx is independent from cloud.

1 Like

Lighting options, well … yes there are tons and there’s noone who can tell you what’s best to use.
You’re asking about fixtures but that shouldn’t be the starting point. You should select one or more technologies first.
You won’t want to have color lighting everywhere, so my advice would be to look for one technology for base lighting (plus other applications) and a second one to do color (including shades of white).
For the base, use a standard ‘generic’ tech. Standard in that there’s multiple vendors, and generic in that it can be used to control any household appliance (not just the lights), because you’ll need to select a base technology for that purpose anyway.
Regarding switches and other input devices: while most people prefer to have a direct interface for lighting (so lighting still works in case the server is down), you won’t need this for color lighting as you will (should) not deploy color lighting everywhere.
You will likely turn to work with scenes mid-term, after an initial phase (where this was a cool gadget and you wanted to show your friends), you won’t be wanting to interactively set a light color any more. What you will do is program a color scheme in OH and put it to use in a lamp. You can make this happen based on any OH event trigger such as a motion detector to fire, a certain time of the day, or a “classic” switch being pushed that ain’t directly wired to any light.
Second, as you use OH and it’s interfaces, you can basically use any switch or input from technology A to control a light/lamp based on technology B, assuming there’s OH bindings for A and B.
That being said, for the rare cases where you still want to interactively set a color, you could use any color-capable input wall switch (there’s just very few of those) or one of the OH interfaces (smartphone should be ok in these rare cases, or a stationary or mobile tablet to run HABpanel).

For both the base and the color technology, yes there’s many dimmers to work with OH, but you’ll severely limit yourself and your choice of devices if you insist on having everything wired. Relax this a bit. Combine wired (base) lighting and wireless color lighting. Or a wireless controller as the input device to a wired color light, or vice versa.
For lighting only, there’s DALI and DMX, but there’s no non-proprietary wired universal systems other than KNX (which is old, expensive and no good choice if you’re outside Europe). In the wireless space, there’s ZWave to provide a vast range of actuators, and ZigBee for lighting only.

I did this:

It’s a low voltage (12v DC) system that works over CAT5 cable. All lights and switches are wired to a control center in the basement. It has an RS485 bus so I have that connected to a RPi2 which is interfaced with OH2 via a custom python script that gets commands and returns statuses over MQTT. I have several rules that turn things off and on with Astro Binding and time of day and voice command.

A while ago (approx 6 years), I’ve renewed my whole house. With a very strong technology background, I wanted to have full control of everything.
But of course, it must be stable! You don’t want a weak electricity(setup)…

This is what I’ve done::

  • For all ‘fix/strong/stable’ connections, I’ve used KNX.
    This means all my cabling (from each switch, outlet, light bulb…) goes to my electricity cabinet.
    Be carefull, KNX isn’t cheap (but should be very stable). In my cabinet, I’ve group some outlets (fe rooms). In the future, I can always split them if needed.
    Think this really through! You don’t want your washing machine or alarm clock to be off during night. I don’t use them in my ‘away scenario’.
    The refrigeration, heating of fish tank, freezer, server… are also things that aren’t on KNX switches. If you server flips, you don’t want these things to be off.
    In KNX itself, I’ve got a base config. This way, when the server is down, we can still put a light on/off. Was a need of my girlfriend (and I can follow her, for once). But be aware, this is a bit more complex in your server, since you need to take these ‘switches’ into account.

  • In my house, I’ve got about 40 network outlets (RJ-45). This allows you to do nice tricks afterwards. Connect IPphones for intercom/doorbell…, connect WIFI AP’s, connect USB dongle over ethernetcables, IP-camera’s, printers… In short, you can limit the devices that are using wifi bandwidth. I only use tablet/smartphone/laptop on wifi. Everything else is cable. My switch of 28 ports is fully occupied. :stuck_out_tongue:

  • I use Zwave device for all nice stuff.
    For example door/window switches, fire and water alerts, presence/motion detectors, mood lights…
    This grows fast, today about 40 nodes. My girlfriends thinks I go a bit nuts with this.

  • I’ve placed also a lot of extra RJ45 and EIB cables around the house that are not used.
    In the last 5 years, I’ve used a lot of them to add extra sensors (like for water detection of my cistern, monitoring of water/gas/electricity)…
    Beside, some extra power cables to each room, just in case…
    And today, I regret that I didn’t put more. The cables doesn’t cost much, it’s the work to do it properly that cost. So when you’ll need to pull cables afterwards, you will NOT do it anymore. :wink:

With OpenHAB, it’s really fun to see all things coming together. KNX, zwave, IP-camera’s (zoneminder), IP-phones (asterisk), monitoring (cacti), fire and water alerts…
And my girlfriend really appreciate it that she only needs to use 1 tool for all. She doesn’t care what’s behind it.

I had similar concerns - I’ve got a heavy garage door that collides with another door if that door is ajar. Similarly, I want to avoid the safety sensors not working if openHAB goes down (or I’m tinkering with it).

My solution was to use an Arduino to control those things with communication with openHAB via MQTT. Door sensors and garage door control are all controlled independently of openHAB and whatever state openmHAB is in, safety is not compromised.

If the power goes off, or goes off and comes on or there is no connection to openHAB, the default state is safe (garage door not opening or closing etc).

Bu t I can see your point for a freezer - it doesn’t really need automated control!

With either KNX or ZWave, you can also have wired inputs to actuators , plus you can directly associate switches (or remotes or sensors) with actuators. That way, you can still switch lights or close the garage even if OH is down.

Look hard at Lutron RA2. It’s sock solid, very robust, well supported, and will have a very long product life cycle. There is an excellent binding available that is actively developed, and it integrates easily to about any third party controller. I come from a video production engineering world, so I’m also quite familiar with DMX, which I also like for many of the same reasons, but it’s not really great in the main stream residential world. I spend lots of time with automation systems and am impressed with RA2 and openhab.

Yes, it’s more expensive than zwave, but so much better. Here are the primary reasons I went with Lutron RA2:

  1. Reliability and Quality. As much as I like to tinker and hack stuff, at the end of the day I want my lights to be as reliable as the old toggle switch. I don’t want to reboot and troubleshoot when I’m not in the mood, and the thought of some lighting issue while I was away and my family was sitting in the dark is not good. Lutron has the best reputation for reliability and quality, by far. I have had a grand total of zero problems, quirks or issues. Also, it has it’s own control system with IP and RS232 ports for third party integration. If openhab went down, the lights would be totally fine. This extra layer is actually really nice. I have all the basic automation running on the lutron controller, including scenes, time clocks, occupancy sensors, etc. Openhab still has very fine controls on top of that. It works remarkably well. If I move, I don’t have to worry about replacing my home-brew system. I just disconnect and go.

  2. Product life cycle. Lutron is very mature and well supported. I am 100% certain it will be in existence and well supported over the very long term. As cool as open source is, we all know how rapidly these things change.

  3. I own my home, so resale value is important, which for sure went up with the lutron hardware. It looks and feels great.

  4. Performance. Lutron has the best dimming performance and compatibility with LED’s etc.

Lutron RA2 is very robust, but lower cost than some residential systems because it is missing some things like rules, or conditionals. This is why I have layered openhab on top. A pretty slick solution.

This will do everything you want in your list. Many people that install RA2 and don’t want bunches of switches in rooms will locate all the switches in an equipment closet (like a much higher-end and expensive Lutron Homeworks QS system). This way you can still hide the hardware and locate just a keypad where you want it.

I don’t want to nag, but reliability and wireless are two words that don’t fit…

I don’t know Lutron RA2, but in question of knx… knx evolved from eib, which was started in the 1980s, beginning to sell devices since 1991, there are nearly 4000 product groups (and much more varied devices) from over 200 manufacturers, which all interoperate seamless. 26 years and no end in sight. You can use wireless option for control, but you don’t need to, there is twisted pair and also powerline as an alternative (in fact twisted pair is the common way), you can use ip as a backbone (especially when controlling whole skyscrapers or several locations of a concern)… Of course it’s not cheap :wink: but I didn’t regret it a Second that I built my whole house with knx.

Thanks everyone for the replies. It looks like this thread ran away without me…

I wanted to clarify I few things:

  1. I’m not opposed to devices made by companies, I’m opposed to companies that force you to use their remote (cloud) servers because they just want to collect all of your data. So no Google/Alexa or anything like that. I’d like something that will work if I have local network (LAN) but no internet.

  2. Open standards are better than proprietary standards.

  3. Systems that are installed the “normal” way with 120v light switches sending power to fixtures and no extra wires are better IMO because it leaves your options open. You can wire a dumb switch, put in a dumb dimmer, or put in a “smart” dimmer. You can use any bulb with a standard base, etc.

  4. I have concerns about lots of WiFi. RF is radiation, and it can change human behavior and cause health risks. The more devices you have, the more radiation you have. Having one tablet on WiFi probably has negligible effect. Having 120 WiFi devices because every light bulb is a WiFi device compounds that effect.

That said, I think the technology that I’m more interested in is power line control (PLC), because:

  1. No extra wires.
  2. No cloud required.
  3. No wireless to break down, no radiation.
  4. It uses “normal” house wiring of switches.
  5. If it’s not working, there’s still a physical button at a normal light switch location.

The question is, who makes such a device? I’d like to have:

  1. A PLC rely that mounts in a light switch box and still has a manual operation button.

  2. A PLC dimmer that mounts in a light switch box and still has a manual operation slider.

  3. A device that bridges OpenHab with the PLC switches, whcih does not require cloud/internet access to work.

Do they make these? What models would you recommend?

Light bulbs doesn’t constantly transmit data, if they are not hacked and participating to DDOS attack :grinning:. Radiation intensity is inverse to square root, so if you watch 10min youtube HD video via your tablet (keep it on your hand), your most probably get more radiation than your will ever get from the wifi bulbs. In the wifi, transmits power is limited to max 100mW and mobile phones 1-2W which you keep top of ear very close your brains when talking. Power cables are not designed for communication, so basically when PLC device is transmitting data, your whole house power cables are like antenna which radiate to environment.

You listed many pros for PLC, but there are also many cons:

  1. PLC node need to have more complicated power supply and transmitter, so they are also more expensive.
  2. Power supply cause more heat, which can shorten node life time dramatically compared to another technologies.
  3. You might not allowed to install/change PLC devices by you own. At least in the european countries, those are fixed installations, which need licensed installer. It could be pretty expensive to call electrician to make small change or replacement.