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How many teenagers does it take to turn off a lightbulb?

Matthew Grocoff

March 10, 2016

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: Green LivingElectrical

How do you turn off the lights? It seems like a simple question for a simple task. But if it so easy why do you find yourself yelling at the kids to "turn off the lights"?

So . . . how many teenagers does it take to turn off a light bulb? None, if the parents installed the right lighting controls.

Advanced technologies are making life and energy savings easier than ever before. Off-the-shelf products exist to control every aspect of lighting. There are sensors to turn lights off when a room is empty. There are timers to control when a light can turn on or off. There are dimmers that control brightness. There are even bulbs that can be dialed into every color in the rainbow.

Use natural daylight

The first line of attack against lighting empty rooms is to use natural daylight to light occupied rooms. When the sun is shining there should be no reason to use artificial light. Smart controls make motorized shades and blinds irresistible. It's now possible to use a smart home hub (Apple Home Kit, SmartThings, Wink and others) to do all kinds of exciting things. You can program your blinds to automatically close at sunset or open at sunrise. You can connect them to Siri or Alexa (Amazon) and use voice commands like "Siri - open the blinds in the kitchen."

Occupancy/vacancy sensors on lighting

Vacancy sensors are required by law in all new construction in California. It just makes sense. If a room is empty, the lights should turn off automatically. Occupancy sensors will turn a light on automatically when you enter a room. Auto-on is a nice feature for garages, basements, or utility closets. Vacancy sensors allow you to turn the light on manually, but automatically turn off the lights after you leave the room.

Timers for all your lamps

Timers are convenient for outdoor lights, basement lights, or other areas where motion can't be detected, but the area will be occupied for a only a brief time. Look for timers with an over-ride switch if you think you may need longer than 30 minutes of light. Some digital timers can be set to stay on for hours.

Dimmers can be used on every light in the house

Dimmers won't turn off the light for you, but they are a great way to improve the quality of light and save energy. Dimmers come in a wide variety of applications. Plug-in tabletop controls are convenient for bedside lamps. Wall mounted switches are available with dimmer controls for ceiling lighting. Luton has a retrofit dimmer outlet called Caseta where you can plug in two floor lamps and control them from a remote wall mounted switch. (Read how to turn old floor lamps in to smart lights.) The switch runs on batteries so no wiring is needed.

Combo platter

The best strategy is to combine technologies. You can mount a wireless motion sensor on the ceiling and have it communicate with a smart home hub and a smart outlet (like the Caseta above) to turn off the floor lamps when the room is empty. Many of these smart bulbs, sensors and switches come with phone apps to allow you complete control and flexibility. You can set scenes for different times of the day. You can program your lights to all turn off when the front door is locked or have them all turn on when your car drives up the driveway. There has never before been so much flexibility in lighting.

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