I recently moved to a very rural area, and my garage and house are under heavy tree cover. At night, even with a moon, it’s pitch-black, and when I shut off the car headlights it’s completely dark and I frequently have to shuffle slowly through the darkness to the porch, trying to avoid various obstacles. Leaving spotlights on is an expensive solution, even with LEDs, and I actually like the darkness of the forest as long as I’m not walking through it trying to avoid hitting my shins on a rototiller. I wanted a system to turn on the spotlights before I got out of the car, and then easily turn them off after I got into the house. Making this additionally difficult is that the garage and house are on separate switching systems, so I needed something that was wireless and had good range.
I did some digging around on various websites, and found many expensive solutions: $75+ per switch, with much higher prices for a central control system, and more for remote controls. What attracted me to the Lutron system was first the price, and then the simplicity of the setup: you get 5 switches, 1 master controller, 1 switch control panel, and one visor remote as a full kit. Their documentation online was clear, and I could quickly understand how I needed to implement the system. After about 20 minutes, I had replaced three switches and had the system working — it was almost too easy, and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far, it’s been working like a charm and the 3 year old in me laughs when I drive up the dark driveway, press the button, and see everything light up.
The switches are officially dimmers, and there is a slider beside each pushbutton switch. I just have the sliders cranked up to 100% — I never use the dimming function, but they seem to work well. Even with the slider set to a dimming level, the remote control can override that and put the lights at 100% if you press any of the “All On” buttons on the remotes. I’ve been using it for a week or so, and it was one of those projects that I’m surprised was so easy and has had such a big return — I didn’t realize how much time and aggravation the lack of lighting was costing me.
Upsides: Cheap! $100 for five switches, controller, and remote is a no-brainer. Easy installation: it’s simple, well-documented, and standardized. The switches support screw-type connections as well as stripped-wire press-in type connections. Extensible: if you want to go with more bells and whistles, there seem to be quite a few ways you can interface Lutron components with other stuff. Distance: I am using the remote at distances of at least 100 feet outdoors with the receiver just inside a metal-sided wall.
Downsides: I discovered that each switch needs at least 50 watts of draw to work correctly. I put a single 20 watt LED spotlight on a switch, and it just flashed instead of working correctly. I solved that problem by swapping out to an incandescent bulb – those lights aren’t on much, anyway. The system only has five switches, though you can put 10 switches in a local configuration — I’ve already purchased another set. They can’t be used with fluorescent fixtures or any other non-dimmable load, though I imagine if you keep the dimmer at 100% they’d work (though don’t quote me on that.) I don’t think these components will work with the newer “RadioRA 2″ devices that Lutron is selling, which may be why these are so cheap. I’ve only seen “Light Almond” or “Ivory” models for sale — the white ones seem to be hard to find.
Extensions: I purchased a RAMC-MFE “Entry Master Control” which has some simple switch-activated input and output ports for remote control — I’m going to link those to my security camera system, which already has remotely-accessible switch capability so I can control my lights from a web browser. I’m sure there is a way to do this via a direct web interface with Lutron components, but that moves into the areas where they seemingly obfuscate the solution in order to divert me to “VAR” resellers who make a living by explaining unnecessary complexity, so I gave up. I bought an extra wireless controller for my other car — RA-VCTX-WH is the model.