Lutron Spacer Installation 101 (Rev. 1/17/06 - Adding IR Emitters)

Discussion in 'Home Theater Projects' started by Jay Mitchosky, Nov 3, 2004.

  1. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Last weekend I installed the Lutron Spacer System for lighting control in my home theater. What was a bit daunting at first ended up being a simple process. The end result is a revelation in lighting control that is ideal for home theaters currently under development. I have used X10 before with mixed success. The Spacer system works flawlessly and offers an elegant alternative to a big bank of switches in your theater. A picture is worth a thousand words so here goes a brief tutorial for anyone considering this great lighting product. If you’ve changed a light switch before you can do this.

    NOTE: Make damn sure you turn off the power at the breaker panel before you begin installation!

    Basic Anatomy

    I have five independent zones of lighting in my theater. Not wanting a clunky cluster of switches in the room I opted to place the dimmers in my equipment room, nice and out of sight. To control these remote dimmers I purchased the Remote Wall-Mounted Master for the main room. If the dimmers are the Spacer nervous system then the Master is the brain. This single gang switch includes master on and off, master dim, and four individual scene controls. It operates the dimmers remotely using IR emitters that are connected via a pair of standard copper electrical cable. Here is what you receive with the RWMC:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater145.jpg

    You will notice that there are two emitters included. Each can control up to five (5) Spacer dimmers. So if you choose you can control two separate rooms with a single RWMC. I am only running the theater so used both emitters for a little extra insurance (more on that later).

    Here is a closeup of just the Master:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater146.jpg

    And here is one of the emitters:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater147.jpg

    Because you need traveler wires for each IR emitter this is probably a product best used where construction is being planned or is just underway. Installing this system in an existing space would be a challenge unless you are very adept at snaking cable through walls and fire breaks. If you opt for this solution best to consult with a professional if you haven’t done it before. I knew I would be using this system prior to building the theater (and my house for that matter) so it was easy to have my electrician run a couple of extra cables in advance. Here is what should be poking out of your wall in preparation for the RWMC:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater148.jpg

    The hot, neutral, and ground wires are shown at the bottom with two pairs of travelers above. If you are going to only run one emitter then only one traveler would be required. I would recommend purchasing a cheap electrical meter or detector to confirm which is the power and which are the travelers. If you accidentally connect to the wrong wire you can blow your Master. I picked up a detector at Home Depot that looks like a pen. Just hold the tip on or close to the wire and it will light up and beep if power is detected. $15 well spent. Also works well to confirm that you have turned off power prior to beginning any electrical work.

    Wires are now prepped for installation (a proper stripping tool makes short work of this):

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater149.jpg

    You will notice the IR travelers have been re-grouped at the top. If you refer to the above picture showing the RWMC there are a pair of red/white wires running from the top. For a white/black cable pair you attach one each to the red/white wires. For two emitters you require two traveler pairs and so there will be a total of two (2) blacks to one red/white and two (2) whites to the other.

    Actual power connection is as simple as it gets. White-to-white, black-to-black, and green-to-ground. Here is the RWMC with all wiring completed:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater150.jpg

    Here is a closeup of the connections:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater151.jpg

    And here is the finished installation. Nice, clean, and elegant.

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater152.jpg

    Because you are using several wires and wire nuts, as well as allowing for the depth of the RWMC itself, make sure you plan in advance to use a deep gang box. It’s still a pretty tight fit here at 3 ½”. Without the deep gang you are in for a challenge.

    That’s it for the Master installation. Now for those pesky dimmers.


    A Tale of Five Cities

    Prior to purchasing your Spacer dimmers make sure you have the appropriate model for you chosen lighting. The link to the Lutron site above has a download with all of the Spacer components listed. You will need to choose lighting type and wattage.

    If you’ve installed dimmers before this procedure is identical. There are two black wires running out of the dimmers and one ground. Attach one black wire to either the hot or neutral, and then the remaining blacks together. Connect the ground to the junction box or ground wire as available. That’s it.

    Once you’ve connected the dimmers to power you can attach the emitter(s) to the traveler wires. Here is a completed dimmer with the emitter ready to attach:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater153.jpg

    The emitter simply clips on to the top of the dimmer and is held securely in place with the mounting screw when the dimmer is seated. Here are a couple of pictures of the emitter in place:

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater154.jpg

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater155.jpg

    As I indicated earlier one emitter is specified to control a maximum of five Spacer dimmers. All must be located in the same junction box with nothing separating them. The emitters fire down and to the sides, so you would typically place on emitter on the third (middle) dimmer in a five-gang set. I have no doubt this would work perfectly as the emitter was working even when outside the box as shown above. However, just to be safe I opted to run two traveler pairs and connect both emitters. You can see here with the dimmers all in place the emitter clips at the top of Zone 2 and Zone 4.

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater156.jpg

    They will fire on either side and below to ensure all IR commands are received every time.

    Showtime!

    Once everything was in place I entered my darkened theater and hit the master on button. Voila. A gentle fade brought everything up to max power. Likewise master off dimmed everything to zero at the same rate (despite there being different types of lights). Playing with the master dim buttons worked flawlessly, again with the different zones reacting at the same rate. Operation from the remote is instantaneous – we’re dealing with the speed of light here so commands are carried out as soon as you tap the buttons on the Master. Something else I noticed immediately was that the Spacer dimmers are of exceptional quality. Using standard Lutron dimmers elsewhere in the house with similar lighting I’ve grown accustomed to a gentle buzz from the lamps. Dimmers are, in essence, simply turning the power on and off in rapid succession. When the ratio of on to off is greater the lights get brighter, and when the ratio is less the lights get darker. The result is that you hear the filaments rattling back and forth as they are having their power rapidly cycled. Better dimmers include little transformers to prevent this. It appears that the Spacer dimmers fall into the latter category. Suh-weet.

    Now for the fun stuff – lighting scenes. Programming cannot be easier. Adjust your different zones to taste. Once you have crafted the perfect mood simply press and hold any of the four scene buttons on the Master control. After a few seconds the green indicator will flash showing the setting has been saved. Rinse and repeat for the remaining three scenes. Then shorten the life of your lamps as you gleefully bounce back and forth between the different room settings, watching different zones fade in and out. Absolutely, incredibly cool. When comparing Spacer to Lutron’s flagship lighting control product – GRAFIK Eye – you lose the ability to micro manage your scenes with specifically programmed fade in/out times. In certain applications I imagine this would be very valuable. Here I don’t sense a need for it. The fade speed with the Spacer dimmers is neither too slow nor too fast for my tastes, and the different zones respond at the same rate.

    So there you have it – an easily installed and flawlessly operational lighting control system for your home theater. It gives you the flexibility to instantly recall different moods at a moment’s notice (either directly or via a remote control, check out Remote Central for the Pronto codes). And it has an important aesthetic effect in your theater. Instead of this…

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater157.jpg

    …you see this…

    http://members.shaw.ca/metropolis/th...theater152.jpg

    Nice. I hope this helps anyone planning an installation or who is still considering a lighting control product for their theater.
     
  2. anth_c

    anth_c Stunt Coordinator

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    Jay,

    Nice write-up! I've got a couple of questions:

    1. Are the IR emitters using line voltage (120 Volts AC)? Is that why the traveler wires are Romex?

    When I think of IR distribution, I am used to it being low voltage (5-12 Volts DC) and using CAT-5 for the wiring.

    2. Is there any way to disable changes to the programmed settings...once they are set you don't want a child or guest to inadvertently screw up your scenes?

    3. From the remote control can you manually control the individual zones?

    Regards,
    Anthony
     
  3. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Amazingly I'm still up. To answer your questions...

    I don't believe so. As far as I know the remote commands are the same as the functions on the Master (on/off, dim, and scenes). To get into remote control of individual zones I think gets you in the domain of GRAFIK Eye. The Spacer master is for global control. If you need immediate access to the individual zones AND want scene recall there is a "local" version of the Master that would sit in the same gang box as the dimmers. The brochure indicates the maximum zones it will operate. Its IR is built in as opposed to the remote master I have that distributes the same signal to another location. The downside here, of course, is that you have a honking big row of switches in your theater. Although when all in black this could look pretty cool.
     
  4. Andrew Pratt

    Andrew Pratt Producer

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    Nice clean work Jay [​IMG]
     
  5. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Thanks. Almost done. Care to add anything re: your Spacer experience? Other install tips?
     
  6. AaronCushing

    AaronCushing Agent

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    somebody make this thread a sticky. [​IMG]
     
  7. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Good call - done.
     
  8. Brad Wood

    Brad Wood Stunt Coordinator

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    Jay,
    I'm starting demolition on my basement this weekend for the new HT. May I ask how much you paid for the Lutron components, or what the list price would be? I'm an AV designer so I can buy from Graybar, but I'm just trying to gauge costs right now. Thanks!
     
  9. Bobby C

    Bobby C Stunt Coordinator

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    Jay,

    Wow! I just finished studding out my HT, my next task is wiring. I was wondering if I could do something like this - what an informative (and timely!) post. What I hope to use is wall scones, low ceilings & all.

    It's late - I'll study this in more detail tomorrow, but if I could ask a question - do you have a single source cable coming in and the travellers are the outs downstream, right? Also, what guage of wire are you using?

    Thanks again, great service to us newbies!

    Bob
     
  10. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Absolutely. It's a snap. And you're at the perfect stage to plan for it. At an absolute minimum prewire the travellers between the theater and the intended location of the dimmers. It will cost you maybe $2 in cable. Worst case you never use it. This is your only real shot. How many zones are you planning on controlling? If only a couple then you may opt to have the dimmers resident in your theater with a standard master control (not the remote master like mine that is intended to control dimmers in a physically separate location). A gang of only three switches isn't too unruly. Then you get remote control and scene management. But if you are planning on more zones then aesthetically I think the remote master is a better solution. You can stick the dimmers literally anywhere and run the travellers as necessary. It's only a pain for initial scene programming running from room to room but after that it's just the press of a button.

    Personally I think you realize the most value with a system like this when you are using several lighting zones. You can run up to ten (two gangs of five) which would allow for some incredibly elaborate lighting scenes.
     
  11. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Here is a link directly to Lutron's Spacer spec sheet. It has all of the system components listed and additional details.
     
  12. anth_c

    anth_c Stunt Coordinator

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    Jay,

    A follow-up to Bobby's post:

    I understand that the travelers do not provide power to the dimmers, they only provide control. The power for the dimmers are supplied like a regular light switch: hot, neutral, ground from the breaker to the dimmer, then continue the wiring to the light fixture(s).


    Are the five dimmers all supplied by a single circuit?

    Thanks,
    Anthony
     
  13. Bobby C

    Bobby C Stunt Coordinator

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    This will be more like me. I have a small theater and I was planning on 2, maybe 3 zones. So the standard master is just ganged with the drimmers - I could live with a 3 gang switch, maybe 4. If you are using fewer zones, do you use a different remote or is the same remote used, regardless of scenes?

    Also, since the master will be ganged w/ the dimmers, there's no travellers to deal with, right?

    Many thanks, hope you catch up on your sleep!
     
  14. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Correct - you don't use the remote master. The link just above shows an "all in one" system with the master and dimmers together. Instead of using travellers to remote emitters it beams the IR directly.
     
  15. Bobby C

    Bobby C Stunt Coordinator

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    Jay - thanks for all the feedback. At lunch yesterday I was talking w/ a co-worker who put in a few dimmers in 1 box (nothing fancy like the Lutron Spacers) - he said that as he recalled, when he put in the dimmers, he had to break part of the heat sink fin when installing multiple more than 1 dimmer in a box. This de-rated the dimmers to something like 400 watts from 600. Is this the same for the Spacers (to your knowledge?

    Thanks again,
    Bob
     
  16. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Could be. You are instructed to break off the sinks on multi-gang installations. And rarely there are going to be single gang applications with this product. Perhaps they build in a buffer to allow for this? At any rate something this technical is best left to the resident engineers. [​IMG]

    I suppose you could keep the heat sinks intact and just overlap them but that's probably not good either. Regardless, if you're on the bubble between the dimmer having too little power you're probably better off going to the next size. I'm well below the 600W mark on four of my zones. On my ceiling pots I was close so I just went to the 1000W version which will have a large buffer. I would also think that in most cases (and certainly for those who are reading this thread) it is more likely to have several smaller zones rather than a couple of big ones to allow for more flexible scene control. In which case you will typically not approach the rated maximum of the dimmers.

    Worst case - that's what circuit breakers are for. [​IMG]
     
  17. Bobby C

    Bobby C Stunt Coordinator

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    Well I see Lutron also makes 1000 watt rated dimmers, so if this is an issue I could also move to those!
    Thanks
     
  18. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    I don't believe you can have too much headroom.
     
  19. Jay Mitchosky

    Jay Mitchosky Producer

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    Small snag - the IR receiver at the master does not seem sensitive enough to respond to commands from my Pronto bounced from the front of the room. In retrospect I should have ran an IR loop from the repeater to the Spacer. But a bug at the front over the IR sensor (located in the scene 4 button) would look silly and constantly be knocked off. Would a bug on the back of the master's chassis work? It's a clear shell. I might be still able to run a line up into the gang if this is the case.
     
  20. Bobby C

    Bobby C Stunt Coordinator

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    Well after looking at the space I have (no separate equipment room), I've decided to have the Master in the HT, however I don't have room for it in the same box, I can only fit in a 2 ganged box where I want switches. So I put the master in its own box, nearby (probably just underneath the 2 gang or on the other side of the stud. So if I go this route, will the all in one approach work or do you think I'll need to run a small traveller?
     

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