Getting Smart with Lighting

The focus of this month’s blog is smart lighting. As I stated before, I am writing my monthly blog with the subject matter being in line with the monthly editorial focus of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR Magazine. For more great articles about smart lighting, I encourage you to visit www.ECMag.com to check out their April 2021 issue.

DEFINING SMART

Before anything else, let’s first talk about the definition of the word itself. Smart. /smärt/ adjective (of a device) programmed as to be capable of some independent action.  In other words, smart lighting is capable of various actions depending on the programming. When I think of the word smart, I also think of the word intelligence and intelligence comes into play in smart lighting systems with their data-gathering capabilities. Smart lighting really has and will continue to be, much more prevalent in the years to come. Now let’s dive into exactly how lighting can be smart and the benefits of that.

A BRILLIANT IDEA

One of the simplest things that can be smart is a light bulb. Yes, you read that correctly, a light bulb. Smart light bulbs can be controlled with voice, and smart home devices such as the Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings, Amazon Alexa, and Google Home products. These smart lights and other devices connect to your home or business WiFi network and then communicate with the previously mentioned products connected to the same network. In addition to WiFi connections, you will see connectivity via Z-Wave or Zigbee radio antenna for wireless connectivity as well. Last, you will also find connectivity options with brand-specific hubs that will also communicate to their brand-specific mobile apps. Most of the smart bulbs on the market will even inform you of their energy usage, while others have a color-changing option. The possibilities and widespread feature sets are endless and really come down to what the end-user is looking to accomplish in their smart home or office. There are a few things to look for in a smart bulb, and the first thing is lumens. Just as with non-smart bulbs, the higher the lumens, the brighter the light. So, if you are looking at a cozy bulb for your home, choose a bulb that has lower lumens. The same goes for the color temperature of the bulb. The higher temps are harsher; the lower temperatures are more conducive to relaxing.

Exterior lighting can also be smart – and add a layer of protection for the exterior of your property. Outdoor lighting, with systems like Ring, can provide security lighting at the fraction of a full-blown security system cost – these typically have subscription fees associated with them but from what we have found, they are quite minimal.

Technology is evolving every single day. Imagine for a second what the future will hold. Will all things be smart at some point?

IT’S ALL ABOUT CONTROL

Lighting control systems can do a lot more than turn lights ‘on’ or ‘off.’ Nowadays, lighting control systems can sense the presence of daylight and use the daylight instead of the fixture lighting. This is achieved through sensors that can trigger the dimming of the lighting fixtures while harvesting daylight. Occupancy sensors and vacancy sensors can also detect the presence or absence of people in a room, thereby dimming or shutting off the lights when not needed, providing energy savings. Lighting control systems can also be integrated into building management systems for ultimate control and energy savings across all building systems. The smartest thing, pun intended, to remember is that you really need to plan out what your goals are for your smart system before you even begin designing it. Once you have your goals in place, time to start doing some digging on how to best achieve it. As I like to say, Google is your friend – especially here!

EVEN CABLE IS GETTING SMART

The advances in technology go beyond fixtures, bulbs, and control systems. Even the cable is getting smarter, faster, and more reliable.

A new hybrid cable can provide both power and control of a single cable. Southwire’s version is called MC-PCS Duo™ Cable; AFC’s cable is referred to as MC Luminary® Cable. Prior to arriving on the market, Estimators would have to anticipate both power and control requirements separately, but not anymore. This cable saves time (and money) because of the integration of both power and control together. This new technology eliminates the need to run a separate power and control circuit for each light fixture.

Some projects may still require the use of CAT-5E or CAT-6 cable for some controls, but the cable is evolving with technology as well. The speeds are getting faster and faster, and the bandwidth is getting bigger, resulting in less noise and more reliability. Watch for the introduction of CAT-7 and even CAT-8 cable. You’ll be amazed at the technological advances. (Of course, from an estimating standpoint, be sure to carry the current cost of these cables as pricing services may not even have these in their systems yet!)

EVEN CEILING GRID SYSTEMS ARE GETTING SMART

I never thought I would see the day when a structural element, like a ceiling grid system, would power not only the lighting that is installed within it but also can provide power and control to speakers, security cameras, thermostat sensors, HVAC controls, overhead projects, and even mobile charging stations.

The ceiling grid system can be found in Article 393 of the National Electrical Code. I would urge you to review this section when you first come across this in one of your bids. According to 393.2, this is a “system that serves as a support for a finished ceiling surface and consists of a busbar and busbar support to distribute power by utilization of equipment supplied by a Class 2 power supply.”

This all comes because of project requirements for spaces to be healthier, more comfortable, and more technology-enabled than ever before. All these things are achieved through smart devices that can learn or, even better, be intelligent.

TECHNOLOGY MEANS BIG GROWTH

The final piece of technology we are going to discuss in this piece is PoE or Power over Ethernet. PoE is a means of carrying electrical power through data cables. With PoE-enabled devices, electrical current passes through the ethernet cable along with the data already carried.

What does this mean for smart buildings? PoE will undoubtedly help intelligent building growth and is really at the core of the digital building revolution.

Again, customers are demanding customizable, comfortable, and smart building experiences more and more. This can be achieved through smart HVAC devices keeping the building comfortable when occupied yet providing energy efficiency when it’s not. Other PoE devices include occupancy sensors, switches, smart thermostats, smart LED lighting, motorized shades, and more. All the control is achieved through an IP-based twisted pair cable.

As a result of a data cable being used to achieve all this functionality, data is also being continuously collected, which enables monitoring and the control of energy consumption of each device. This can identify potential problems and opportunities for more money-saving products. PoE is very reliable, cost-effective, and easy to deploy.

PoE devices can also integrate with security systems. In my research, I learned that some schools are using PoE devices for gunshot detection and then use the lighting controls to change the lighting schemes in the event of a school emergency. In our office, we use PoE to power our VoIP door phone so that we can easily greet and provide access to delivery personnel or guests. This has helped tremendously during the early days of the pandemic by not needing to physically go to the door and potentially be exposed to the virus.

From an industry standpoint, it is expected that PoE will grow over 14.9% over the next 10 years. The obstacle here now lye with integrating IT, or information technology, professionals with OT professionals. The IT professionals are used to computer technology and controlling hardware and software while the OT professionals focus on devices the control physical items, rather than data. Although related, these to professionals are two different animals, and one that is currently being worked out as this technology continues to emerge.

DO YOU FEEL SMARTER ABOUT SMART DEVICES?

In this ever-changing world of technology, we have learned that just about any device can be smart. Smart devices enable a lot of good things – user control over their environment, energy efficiency, and technology enablement, just to name a few.

Smart technology is relatively new, so watch for new advances as time goes by. From an estimating standpoint, if you see something “smart” on your next bid, be sure to investigate it fully to be sure that you have your material and labor costs covered. Also, never be afraid to use your favorite Internet search engine to dig for items that you may not have seen before. Finally, remember, your job as an estimator is to determine the “true cost” of the project. If you find that you are having trouble with an item, just remember that you can make an educated guess to cover the cost because it is an estimate – not an exactimate!

Happy Estimating! Until next time…

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