Smart lighting in a newly built house


I know this is yet another thread for a hundred times answered question, but let me please ask again, because I am lost and confused in this particular topic.

I am in the process of designing our new house and I want it to be modern and smart. I´ve sat with my family and we´ve defined some core rules for the “smartness”. For lights, our rules dictate us, that we want them to be smart, but if something goes wrong, they need to work as dumb lights unless all electricity in the house goes off. We want to avoid a situation when some smart device (OH server, various hubs, etc.) goes wrong and no one is able to turn the light on and off (preferably when I am on a business trip so no one in the house is able to repair the malfunctioning part).

So, to lay down the requirements:

  • There needs to be at least one light in every room, that can be turned on and off without the assistance of any other system or smart thing (simply only by the switch like “dumb” lights do). We called them “failsafe lights”.
  • If all the components of the house are working properly, these “failsafe lights” needs to be part of the smart system, so they can be controlled via the in-wall switch, but also with the smart appliance (OH). When the in-wall switch is in OFF state, the smart appliance has to be able to turn the light ON. Also when the smart appliance is online and some scene or rule is set for “turn on event”, this event has to be triggered also by the turning the in-wall switch on.
  • “Failsafe lights” should be controlled by wire.
  • “Failsafe lights” have to have the ability to change the light temperature and should have the ability to change colors. It is enough to have the ability to control this feature only when the smart appliance is online and not via the in-wall switch.
  • In addition to “failsafe lights” there can be other lights systems like Hue. These are obviously dependant on some single point of failure (e.g. hub), but it is ok.
  • No vendor-lock in the system.
  • It shouldn´t be pricey.
  • All components need to be available on the central European market.

We have similar rules for other parts of the house, but only lights are where I am struggling and stepping on the same spot. I cannot find a solution that fulfills all the defined rules. I´ve rejected all solution that uses smart bulbs (eg. Hue) because they cannot operate without some hub. I am not a big fan of DALI or DMX - that seems too expensive for the job. I´ve found some dimmers, that are integrated behind the dumb switches and controlled over Zwawe network - it is not 100 % wired solution, but if the wireless fails, I can operate the light with the “dumb” switch.

Does anybody here successfully solved this task? I´ve read a lot on this forum about the lights and recommendation to build the system with fallback to “dumb” behavior when something goes wrong, but I cannot find any concrete design for that.


Hi George,

I’d love to help, but you’ve got too many “IF this fails, IF that fails” in your description.

It’s a fair requirement, but wouldn’t it be better to find a control system that is totally stable and works, with an excellent track record?

As for your requirement not to be locked into a single brand, I think that is a way to build in more issues.

My advice would be…

Research all the different protocols and choose just one that meets the vast majority (99.9%) of your “mission critical” requirements and stick to it.

Add different protocols where you absolutely have to, for anything Architectural or Non-essential, with openHAB2 translating between the protocols.

@ Everyone else…

See, I managed not to mention *****s at all :wink:

This one is probably going to be impossible.

I know of no affordable way to control the color temp and color of a light using a wall switch/wire unless you go DIY with LED strips meaning you are looking at smart bulbs. Once you are using smart bulbs all the rest of your requirements for the fail safe lights go out the window.

I use Zwave outlets and wall switches and I have a couple of Shelly 1s wired behind a regular “dumb” switch. I shun smart bulbs because I want all of my lights to operate like your fail safe lights. But this means I have to give up on color and color temp control.

There are more concerns than just the failure case, though as you are aware, I harp on that a ton as well. There is a strong case for usability as well. We’ve all been trained our entire lives how to turn on a light from a wall switch. They are easy to understand, intuitive, and require no special instructions or training.

But to get back to the failure cases, any technology integrated with OH is going to depend upon networking to work to control it from OH for from it’s native phone app. It could be the most reliable thing in the world but if your network goes down your gonna need some physical way to control the lights or you are out of luck. If the technology you choose comes with touch screens or the like, then you end out outside of the “shouldn’t be pricey” requirement.

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Rethink and drop that one. You don’t need the fancy stuff under emergency conditions.
You actually also won’t want all your lights to be temp and color controllable (simply because that’s pricey and it’s sufficient to have one or two lights in a room to be of color).
And it is very hard to build particularly because you also need switches (input elements) to allow for controlling dimming, temp and color.
With ZWave modules you probably get closest to what you want. There’s dimmers and RGBW modules that allow for attaching external inputs (4x 0-10V for the latter) and I believe there’s switches on the market to allow for color input.
But temp control I have never seen a switch for.
There’s also the Shelly line of products to use WiFi but that’s a single vendor only at the moment to offer RGBW.

And don’t forget that all of this requires power so in case of a power outage you’re also out of luck despite of all the money you poured into a super-reliable solution.

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I thank you :slight_smile: :bowing_man:

As it happens, we are developing a RGBW fully addressable PAR16 lamp, which we want to have a retail price of around €30. (Obviously we’re looking at ways to bring that price down, but I think that might come with mass production)

It will have 3 addressable RGBcW pixels across 6 LEDs in each lamp, driven from an LAN Art-NET adapter, so that openHAB2 can fully control them.

OP did address this point though.

For lights, our rules dictate us, that we want them to be smart, but if something goes wrong, they need to work as dumb lights unless all electricity in the house goes off.

Thank you for all your replies.

Yes, it is true, but the safety requirements are the one defined by my wife, and she is not so fancy into technologies as I am. So it is to have this or no smart lights at all.

I agree, that this is not needed under emergency conditions. I don´t want to operate this via the in-wall switch. It is enough to have this switch only for on/off controls. But, for normal operation, I think that this “failsafe lights” will be the main lights in the room. I can drop the requirement for color, but I want them to have the adjustable light temperature. I am already using this in one room in our flat with the Hue system, and everyone in the family likes the different white ambiances during different parts of the day. But it is perfectly ok if the light temperature can be changed only via OH commands. Also, dimming can be done only by OH commands. Does it change the situation?

Could you please point me to a concrete product? The RGBW dimmer and compatible bulb for it? And can these dimmers operate multiple bulbs at once?

Excellent news. But is it just a GU10 LED or even an E27, E14 lamp like Hue?

The failsafe light does not have to be the main light.
It’s in fact the temperature requirement that is the most challenging one. There’s no switches for that.
You don’t need to have temp control - if you have color control you can use that to simulate light temperatures, and you need to orchestrate all lights in a room anyway if you want to create mood lighting.

No because if there were physical provisions (input connectors) for color or temp input you wouldn’t be able to connect a dumb on-off switch there.

Fibaro FGRGBWM-441 or the Shelly RGBW

Well, in fact, all your recommended features are covered by knx.

Jepp, knx is expensive, but it’s also very reliable and it’s an industry standard.
There are hundreds of manufacturers at the European market. I did the electrics myself in our new built home (2005) so this part of the house was not more expensive than a conventional wiring.

I´ve already taken a look at the knx. But this technology is a kind of mystery for me, I have no experiences with it. I also want to install these things by myself (but no DIY solution, for the sake of reliability).

Did you design your implementation by yourself? Can you share your design or ideas?

If you’re considering a KNX based system, please do a price and functionality comparison with Velbus hardware.

If you’re looking for schematics, these PDFs might help explain the BUS style topology that Velbus / KNX / AMX / Crestron / Mode Lighting requires.

Bus systems are easy enough to install, but I’d recommend doing plenty of research before committing to any particular protocol.

Main questions being,

  • How easy is it to program?
  • Does the programming software have any restrictions / licensing requirements?
  • What’s the product support like?
  • Can you buy the product easily in your region?
  • Does it have a 5 year warranty?
  • Has the technology been selected for use on a mission critical projects, like cruise ships where getting a replacement quickly is impossible.?
  • Are there any hidden costs?
  • How many forum question about a protocol / product start with, “I can’t get X working, please help” and don’t have quick resolutions?
  • Will my aging relative be able to just walk in and use it, without instruction?
  • Can you include heating / cooling control into your master plan easily.

And possibly the most important question of all…

  • Does it play nicely with openHAB2?

Well, knx is simple and easy :wink:

the knx bus is two wires, you can use chain and/or tree topology as well as star topology. Up to 63 devices per line, up to 3 repeaters (to expand a line to 252 devices), it’s possible to connect a line to another (by line coupler) and for really big installations you could use a knx router which will filter messages to reduce bus traffic. The router can also be used to connect to the bus via ip (altough there are knx routers with tp/tp interface, most of them are knx/ip routers, so it’s eth/tp)
Every line needs a power supply with choking coil.
Every device has it’s own “intelligence”, so as long as power is up and no short circuit, the bus will work very reliable. Each device has communication objects (CO) to listen and talk through the bus, communication takes place through group addresses (GA) (each device has to store the GA in a table corresponding to the CO.
If a wall switch is used to switch a light on, the CO bound to the switch will trigger a message to the bus which contains the GA and the ON information. the light actuator receives the GA at the CO bound to the relay control, the relay will switch to ON position, the actuator will send another GA bound to the CO bound to the relay state, the wall switch device will receive the second GA and update it’s own state accordingly.
All in all, as an ordinary electrician is able to install :wink: it’s not that difficult to do it self, even there are some books for diy. Downside is, you will definitely need the ETS software, which is (pro version) 1000 EUR. There are light versions for much less money, but they will restrict you to 20 devices (~140 EUR) or 5 devices (0 EUR)

Velbus, AMX, Crestron all use extremely similar wiring topologies to KNX.

The biggest difference between KNX and Velbus is that the programming is MUCH simpler and the software is completely free, regardless of the size of the installation. (Subject to the 250 base address limit per Velbus network, however if using platforms like openHAB2, it’s possible to link infinite amounts of Velbus networks together)

The programming concept is very similar between Velbus and KNX, with the major exception that Velbus allows for human readable naming, meaning that it’s really easy to interrogate a network and see what’s happening.

I had similar requirements to you. So I use the following:
Fibaro dimmers from the switch. This enables the ‘in an emergency’. They are set to no dimming available.
I then have hue bulbs.

For switches I currently have 2 x retractive (1 x 1way,1x 2 way). 1st is used on S1 to power on/off, 2nd is used for scenes (preset colours). When the Fibaro restores power the hue bulb comes on as a warm white (or you can now go to the last value)

I don’t use the hue app which wouldn’t work if the dimmer was off.
For habpanel etc, You then need some rules so if the hue is unresponsive then turn the dimmer on first.

I’m also now going to add some of Stuart’s glass panels for a new project but still have a backup dumb switch.

Overall this works pretty well, there’s some improvements to be made in my rules, sure I can automate the dimmer to turn off, then turn on with the hue bulb set to off but that’s for another day once I’m done.

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On another note, as it’s a new build…
Run enough cables in to future proof yourself.

Couple Ethernets to switch position back to it equipment location
And a few 1.0mms (to light and to it equipment) from switch

That way the infrastructure is there should you wish to change your setup.

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I concur to Udo. Same concept. I have (since 1998) knx as my backbone for lights and curtains,… not a single failure in 20 years. Some years ago, I have put OH on top of it, and have been integrating automation like, auto-open and -close curtains based on a Lumen sensor, integrating sonos, presence simulation, … . the failsafe (knx) part is indeed covering the wife’s requirements :wink:

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Well everyone’s recommending the solution he chose for himself. Reason in part being that everyone - including me :wink: - who paid a lot for his setup does not want to admit that the choice he made for himself wasn’t the best possible one. That doesn’t mean it’s bad advice but that’s why suggestions are always a little biased.
KNX is a reliable base technology but specifically for temp and color lighting, it isn’t really up to speed.

Then again, ZWave and Zigbee offer the autonomy concept, too. You can associate switches or remotes with actuators/channels so control will work even when OH is down. And they’re industry standards, too (ZWave a little more than Zigbee in terms of compatibility that’s why I’d prefer it).
They’re just different in that they’re based on radio which is pro and con as it’s less reliable (albeit still pretty good if setup right) but cheaper, more flexible and cheaper to deploy.
Mind you that wired solutions are inflexible and expensive to change or extend once deployed if at some stage you figure it’s advantageous to move a light or add a sensor (you need to redecorate the walls … plus think of adding sensors on doors and windows or in distant rooms like the attic, garage or in the garden where you don’t have provisioned any bus wire).

OH actually allows for combining multiple systems, so you might also consider deploying a wired solution and a wireless in parallel and choose per-load which tech to use in that location.

I cannot say it is the best solution, but I am happy with the one I have.
When my house went thru a major renovation I had one PLC (industrial programmable logic controller) installed with four remote IO “islands”. All my switches, lights and shutters are hard wired to the PLC or to one of the remote IOs.
All my switches are 24Vdc pushbuttons, so I can do multiple things with them.
This was made prior to OpenHab but made my house “smart” as the program is easily changed and it is working for 17 years now without one problem.
On the top of that, I have now have OpenHab (modbus binding).
With Openhab I added new wireless switches and lamps (mostly Sonoffs) and made my house smarter as all the new equipment (TVs, Sonos, smartphones, etc) can talk to my PLC.
I know that I will need to change my PLC some day in the future but that will be an easy task as I don’t need to change any of my wiring. I can use any PLC brand and reconnect the wiring on the new equipment.
I’m not a fan of going total wireless and I know that my solution is not perfect for lamp color change, but can be used. Should I want to use a color changing lamp on my house, I will change the PLC output controlling that lamp to always “ON” and I can use the now free switch as a dimmer or a “preset color changer” sending the color value from the PLC to OpenHab and then to the lamp.
I believe the same can be done with KNX or Velbus, but i am not familiar with this, so I used what I know.