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Leading Lights

My electric bills are high, and I think a central lighting control might help me use fewer lights. Would this save electricity or cost more to operate the controls?—Andre F.

Lighting can account for a substantial portion of your monthly electric bill. There’s also a secondary cost: nearly all the electricity used by incandescent light bulbs ends up as heat in a room. During the summer, this extra heat makes the air conditioner run longer. During the winter, the heat from lights helps heat your house, but at a much less efficient rate than a heat pump.

No doubt you’ve heard about compact fluorescent light bulbs. By replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs, your lighting produces 75 percent less heat, uses one-third less energy, and lasts much longer.

Central lighting controls are another efficient way to reduce lighting costs. If a lighting control system allows you to conveniently switch lights on only when needed, your total lighting use is greatly reduced. Most lighting control units use very little electricity themselves.

Some lighting control systems allow you to select which indoor lights turn on when you walk inside a dark house at night. With this feature, there’s no need to keep several interior lights on when you leave home during the day and don’t plan to return until evening.

Movie-time lighting
Central lighting systems also group various lights and brightness settings, an efficient convenience. Most control systems also include light-dimming features for lamps. For example, when reading in the evening, program a “reading” button on the control to provide brightness where you are sitting, dimming the lights elsewhere. To watch movies, a “movie” button turns off and dims other lights for the best view of your television.

Many of the do-it-yourself central lighting controls use Z-Wave technology to communicate with individual lighting control modules throughout your house. The central control often runs on batteries. The lighting modules plug into standard wall outlets, with lamps and appliances plugging into the module. Z-Wave wall switch modules are available to replace standard wall switches.

Simple control options include IntelliSight by Lightolier, an occupancy sensor that switches on lights when it detects someone in a room. Easy to install, IntelliSight includes dimming features. Another option, the Intermatic InTouch Z-Wave system, makes set-up easy as well.

Will central lighting work with curly CFL bulbs?

If you’re thinking of installing a central lighting system and want to use those spiral-design compact fluorescent bulbs, make sure the lighting system will work with the energy-efficient CFLs. Some controls require standard incandescent bulb filaments to operate properly. For lights that are only on for short periods of time or need to be dimmed often, incandescent bulbs may work best.

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