Volume builders abhor complexity. Complexity means problems, and problems lead to work orders, and work orders to increased costs. This is one reason big builders haven't rushed to embrace whole-house control systems that have flowed onto the market in the past several years (well, that and the fact the average home buyer is not exactly clamoring for them).

William Gloede A fundamental function of whole-house systems is lighting control, which is handled in conjunction with HVAC, A/V, and security systems. The makers of lighting control systems thus have partnered with home-control companies and are making their products work with everything from video projection screens to garage door openers. But when it comes to automated lighting systems in the builder channel, simplicity rules.

A leading supplier of lighting systems is Lutron, which knows a thing or two about lighting control (its founder invented the dimmer). It has added a security lighting package to its out-of-the-box AutoRa lighting control system, and is selling both the original system and the new security-enabled system directly to builders. (AutoRa is a derivation of RadioRa, Lutron's name for a proprietary RF control protocol.)

How It Works

The system creates a lighted pathway through the home with the touch of one button. The master control is usually located on a nightstand in the master bedroom, and there is a button for the car. But the system also features a "favorite" button, which allows a homeowner to set lighting scenes in each room that will be remembered. When "favorite" is pushed, the lights come on at their programmed level. The AutoRa security package goes one step further: when an alarm is tripped, an outside light will begin flashing and lights will come up to full level in up to five different zones.

The only programming involved is for the homeowner to set the dimmer and press a button. A side benefit is that by dimming lights, energy usage can be cut, and bulb life greatly extended. If a light is dimmed by 50 percent, it uses only 40 percent of the electricity of a full-on bulb, and the bulb life is increased by a factor of 20, according to Rom Murphy, the AutoRa product manager for Lutron.

REMEMBER ME?: Lutron's AutoRa lighting control system can be programmed to remember lighting preferences in five rooms for ultimate homeowner customization. "It's a simple, pre-programmed wireless lighting control system," explains Murphy. Because Lutron's RF control operates in the 400-megahertz radio spectrum, which it pretty much has to itself, there is almost no interference, increasing reliability.

"This is really one of the first lighting control solutions where we can walk into the builder with the entire system in a box," says Erik Anderson, builder sales manager for Lutron, which is based in Coopersburg, Pa. (www.lutron.com) "You flip it open, all the parts and pieces are there, and we can explain it and they will understand it within five minutes."

Fernando Salazar, owner of Monterrey Homes in El Paso, Texas (www.monterreyhomesep.com), did understand and bought the package, his first foray into home control of any kind. He is now installing the system in every one of his new homes, of which he builds 30 each year and sells for between the high $100,000s and $500,000s. "It's another feature to help distinguish us from the competition," says Salazar. "It's a relatively low-cost upgrade that we think adds value." And, he adds, "It is easy. There no change to my electrician's rough-in. It's just installing the switches in place of what he normally does."

The suggested retail price of the basic system, which includes five wall dimmers, five designer wall plate inserts, one tabletop master control, and one wireless controller, is $750. The system with the security package retails for $950.

Salazar also is installing an AutoRa system in his own home, "the one that ties into the alarm," he says.