Wired Lighting vs. Wireless Lighting: Who Wins?

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The lighting controls market is undergoing another huge transformation. As more and more commercial facilities transition from traditional fluorescent fixtures to LEDs, lighting controls are being replaced with more scalable and reliable digital controls.

Today’s modern lighting controls do a lot more than just set lighting schedules. With improved sensors, building automation systems can collect better data about their environments to optimize their energy usage through temperature, occupancy, and daylight saving levels.

What’s so innovative about these new scalable controls is that they can operate over a wired or wireless system. In this blog, we’re taking a look at the pros and cons of wired and wireless lighting and what this new technology means for electricians.

What’s Wired Lighting?

First, let’s talk about something you already know. Wired lighting covers pretty much all lighting you’ve ever worked with. In a wired system, all hardwired controls, all wires, and every circuit lead back to a centralized location.

With a centralized setup, you can use one keypad or smart device to manage multiple light fixtures. In a home, that means fewer switches and remotes throughout the walls. In a business or commercial facility, that means a smarter, more connected lighting system.

Pros & Cons of Wired Lighting

Two of the biggest benefits of a wired lighting system are its connectivity and reliability.

Buddy Blanton, Regional Manager for our Atlanta South region, has a lot of experience working with both wired and wireless controls. With 25 branches all over Georgia and years of experience in the industry, he knows the ins and outs of both systems.

He also knows why contractors just like doing wired lighting installs.   

“Many wired systems can come right from the factory and work straight out of the box,” Blanton said. “It requires very little programming. You plug the wired items together and they work — no pairing, no mobile app, no handheld device to worry about.

With low-voltage cabling, all components in a lighting control system provide better security with little chance of signal interference you might experience in a wireless system. This is one of the most important features of a wired system.

Hardwired systems are also much more practical for new installations in both residential and commercial applications. If you’re trying to retrofit a wired lighting installation that also features an overlay control, that’s going to cost a lot of time, money, and labor to retrace and reroute wiring.

In a fully hardwired system, it can be both smart and reliable. Take Lutron’s HomeWorks QS, for example. It features a centralized control that lets the lighting system communicate with itself and react to various commands. Thanks to its centralized control, communication glitches or service issues like unresponsive lights aren’t a problem.

For new-home builds or new commercial installations, hardwired systems are simple since you’re wiring them from the ground up. While it might be more expensive in terms of up-front cost, its long-term benefits such as better connectivity and improved reliability will pay for themselves.

What’s Wireless Lighting?

While a hardwired lighting control system uses wires to communicate power delivery, a wireless control system uses radio waves. Battery-powered devices in a wireless system only need the central processer hardwired into a home’s or building’s electrical system.

How does it work? To put it simply, controls communicate with a wireless receiver in the devices. During installation, the devices are discovered and then added to a programmable network. After that, the electrician can give the devices their corresponding assignments.

According to Regional Manager Blanton, there’s a strong trend toward wireless controls.

“In new builds and renovation projects, wireless lighting is becoming much more popular,” Blanton said. “Customers decide on wireless lighting due to multiple factors, but usually it involves wanting more dimming capabilities, or they’re trying to ease the pressure on the budget and labor costs.”

Pros & Cons of Wireless Lighting

For a wireless system, two of the biggest benefits are that it’s customizable and cost-effective.  

Wireless lighting is so easy to work with because it’s much more scalable than a hardwired system. As long as you have enough control nodes to communicate with the devices, you could install a nearly limitless number of luminaires. Its scalability is exactly what reduces labor and material costs while greatly increasing the flexibility of your lighting system.

“Contractors should be well aware of the time and labor savings with wireless systems,” Blanton explained. “Wireless controls, especially those embedded in the fixture, eliminate 0-10V wiring, CAT5 cables, and reduce the number of devices you have to install. With the controls embedded on the fixture, you install the fixture and the wireless wall dimmer, which beats having to install power packs and ceiling sensors.”

To make it even better, you don’t have to destroy walls in a home or commercial facility to do maintenance. Since it’s all wireless, you can just replace the fixture, control panel, or device without worrying about rewiring anything.

This helps lower the cost of wireless setups, making them less expensive than most hardwired systems. It doesn’t involve as much pre-planning, and it allows clients to scale up or scale down their systems accordingly without having to spend money on labor to add new wiring or remove existing wiring. 

Plus, the energy and cost savings are virtually the same as its wired counterpart.

One downside, though, is the security of a wireless system. Because it communicates over radio waves, there is a chance of interference, no matter how small. 

“Concerns about cybersecurity are a reason why a customer would prefer a wired system over a wireless one,” Blanton added.

What’s another downside? Devices must be within range for a reliable signal. The further away from a control source, the higher the chance of signal interference.

“Wireless ranges are key,” Blanton explained. “The shorter the range, the more time it takes to design it and/or implement it. We have found more success with a wireless platform that has wired options included. This allowed us to change to a wired solution in the middle of a project if the IT guy isn’t a fan of wireless controls.”

That’s incredibly important today. Because wireless lighting systems have to be connected to a network, online security is a huge factor to consider if you’re looking at installing these devices.

Wired vs. Wireless Wrapped Up

  • In a wired system, all hardwired controls, all wires, and every circuit lead back to a centralized location.
  • The two biggest benefits of wired lighting are a faster, more responsive network and greater reliability.
  • In a wireless system, battery-powered devices communicate with a control management system.
  • The two biggest benefits of wireless lighting? It’s nearly infinitely scalable and more cost-effective than hardwired systems.
  • The energy and cost savings of both systems are virtually the same, so it all depends on what’s best for your application.

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