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Need help with Lighting Control

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#1 of 12 OFFLINE   Tom Kay

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Posted May 25 2004 - 01:08 AM

Hi All

I've asked questions before about various lighting controls, like X-10, but here's a new approach for me.

I know flourescent lights can't be controlled with a simple dimmer, but are there systems that can dim flourescent lights? My preference would be to dim the new screw-in type of "bulbs", the ones that look like corkscrews. These are small and could almost be used in place of regular light bulbs, (in fact I have in other places in the house) but they eat less wattage.

Right now in my HT I have installed 10 insulated pot lights, and will add another 6 or 8 in the back half of the room. A total of 18 or so. Even if I use halogen lights at 50 watts, that's almost a kilowatt of energy, at full brightness. To save a bit of expense, I am using 35 watt halogens where I don't need so much light.

It may seem like cheapskate thinking, but energy costs are really starting to hurt in Ottawa Canada, and I am looking at any way I can to save in the electricity bill. So, lower wattage light sources, with dimmers are top on my search list.

But if you have any ideas on this, or know of any equipment, please let me know. Thanks, Tom.

#2 of 12 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted May 25 2004 - 02:59 AM

There are ways to 'dim' flourescent lights using optical/mechanical dimmers.

A caveot: it will take you a very long time to recover the savings of the flourescents and dimmers versus the power consumption.

But if you go into the world of theatre, film production, or TV production, there are ways..

1. The color scroller; controlled either via 0-10vDC, AMX-192, or DMX-512, that you install a scroll with a bunch of neutral density filters. This is going to be expensive - I'd say a ballpark of US$450/fixture, plus whatever the controller is going to be.

2. Louvers; black leaves like venetian blinds, controlled in much the same way as above. I have no idea how much they cost, but I don't think they're cheap, either.

The thing that's making me wonder is, why do you need so much light in there - is the ceiling really low, or is the theater really large?

Leo Kerr

#3 of 12 OFFLINE   Tom Kay

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Posted May 25 2004 - 03:31 AM

Hi Leo

That's my son's name, so you are among friends!

I have a fairly large room, so I wanted the ability to really flood the area if we aren't watching a movie. It is a 24 by 14 foot room, with the theater in the front half, and a games/goofing around area in the back. There will also be a wet bar, so it really is a multi purpose area.

The ceiling is low, only 7 feet, so not much angular "throw" from each can. But the good part is that there are 4 lights in the middle of the theater area on one circuit, and 6 around the perimeter of the room. I can choose to keep one circuit fully off if I wish.

The back half of the room will be on its own circuits.

Maybe I am just being silly by thinking about saving on these particular lights. It's just that in most rooms of the house, there are 2 or 3 lights, and in this one room alone, I'll have 18 cans, maybe 2 sconces, some neon near the bar, and antique exit sign, and a length of rope lights around the crown molding in the theater half of the room. Seems like wattage central in there, but I just want the funky effect. Especially with the ramp-down dimmers.

Well, maybe I'll just look at other areas of the house to save power consumption. I do have other lights on dimmers, and that means no power-saving bulbs there, so that's why I asked about dimmers for flourescents.

And, if I understand correctly, once you dim a light, some savings occurrs, yes? I mean the electrons that were flowing to the light, are now slowed down, and not all "burned up" by the dimmer switch, thus negating the savings? Most of the time the lights will be low or off.

Cheers and thanks. Tom.

#4 of 12 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted May 26 2004 - 06:58 AM

The dimmer shouldn't be burning much electricity, although it does consume some. Most dimmers operate by 'gating,' which is akin to you standing at the wall-switch and flicking the switch on and off really fast. Some (autotransformers,) operate by a variable voltage reduction.

If it's a resistive dimmer, which I haven't seen in decades, then anything not being eaten by the lamp is being eaten by the dimmer. These suckers get hot! And, I've never seen a resistive dimmer in a home.

But onto the room, low ceilings are a bit of a plague, and seven feet sounds really low - my theater ceiling is about 7.5', and that's too low!

If you listen to Lutron, dimmers pay back their costs early and fast, because they reduce the amount of power consumed, and they prolong the life of the lamp.

As an aside, if you listen to GE, I think 60% of a lamp's lifetime cost is in paying the person to replace it, not the lamp itself or the power to run it.

And, in my experience, once you start going for a 'look,' then you realize how expensive 'looks' are, because to do it, it's kinda hard to compromise.

Things to try:
- see if you can go to 35 watt lamps all around. Or, maybe even 25s. Something to look at are things like the Halogené lamps from Phillips, and some of their other competitors - they have the white light of a halogen, but have a lower power consumption. They might put out enough light for your needs. I think the Halogenés come as low as 25watt. (I'm guessing from your descriptions that all your fixtures are line-voltage.)

A longer range consideration might be to go to low-voltage fixtures. If you went and replaced all 18 cans/pots with 12v35w MR-16 floods (FWM, I think is the lamp code, but don't quote me on that,) you'd be running 53 amps of current (at 12v.) It'd still be 5.3 amps at the line-voltage side, but there may be a tremendous perceptual gain.

Bear with me as I ramble two examples. I use 4 20w MR16s to light my bedroom. The light I get is comperable to about 160w of line-voltage light, and it appears whiter.

Second example: I once worked with a 6v-120w PAR-64 light. It consumes 20amps on the secondary of the transformer, even though it only looks like 120w to the power meter. It had the light output comperable to a 120v-1000w PAR-64, roughly 8.3 times the power draw.

My best advice is, go to a Home Depot or Canadian Tire (it's been a while since I've been to one, but I remember it as Toy City,) and experiment. Landscape lighting is generally cheap to use for a quick and dirty mock-up...

Leo Kerr

#5 of 12 OFFLINE   chris_everett


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Posted May 26 2004 - 11:27 AM

IMHO, put in the bigger wattage bulbs, and put everything on dimmers. You can run at 100% for cleanup, 10% for movies, 20% for parties, whatever. You will not only save power (yes the dimmers do that), the bulbs will last longer too. I use the Lutron "Maestro" dimmers. I figure it's more money than flouresents, but a lot less than just standard switched incandesants. I don't like the look of flourescents, so it's worth it to me.

Halagons burn at a higher color tempature than reguler incandesent bulbs, so they appear whiter. (They're actually more blue and less yellow)

Dimmable flourescents do exist, but are big bucks, and probably not worth it. And they don't dim completly, rather something like 40-100% (As I recall, I could easily be wrong on this)

As for color scollers or mechanical shutters, I've _never_ seen these in a home, (except for a couple of crazed lighting designers) and I doubt you would ever make your money back in cost savings.
--Chris Everett

#6 of 12 OFFLINE   Adam Gregorich

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Posted May 26 2004 - 03:14 PM

you can get flourescents that dim to 1%, but the fixtures are close to $500 (US). 5% ones are also available, but I don't have pricing.

#7 of 12 OFFLINE   Leo Kerr

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Posted May 27 2004 - 03:09 AM

In my experience with the flourescents that can dim to 5%, they don't, and they aren't worth it: the quality of the light is so miserably bad it's borderline unbelievable.

The best way to dim the flourescents is mechanical.. it's just that no normal person, company, or small country, can afford to.


#8 of 12 OFFLINE   Tom Kay

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Posted May 27 2004 - 03:16 AM

Well Everyone;

Thanks for the feedback. I think I'll stick to my current plan, and go with the insulated cans that take halogen lights, 120VAC. I can always fool around with lower wattage bulbs, and as most of you say, they'll be dimmed most of the time.

And yes, for cleanup, having real light is helpful.

Thanks again, and back to the basement !

Cheers, Tom.

#9 of 12 OFFLINE   anth_c


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Posted May 29 2004 - 05:36 AM

In college, I served on a committee that oversaw the renovation of one of our computer rooms. We replaced the stanard fluorescent fixtures with dimming fixtures. These new fixtures were 2 foot by 2 foot and fit into the suspended ceiling. About 18 of these fixtures were installed. I don't recall how much they cost, but based on the total budget, they were no-where near $500 a fixture.

The performance was outstanding; they came right on, and the lighting level was adjustable from no light to full light (the lights were manually controlled by a sliding switch).

Grainger (www.grainger.com) has dimming electronic fluorescent ballasts starting at $85 (see page 702-3 of their online catalog). The fixtures for mounting in suspended ceilings, called troffer fixtures, start at $40. (see page 720 of their online catalog).

Good Luck,

#10 of 12 OFFLINE   Dan C

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Posted June 02 2004 - 10:16 PM

The thing about dimming flourescents with ballasts is that each ballast will only dim a certain amount of flourescent light. I was building back lit movie posters that were going to have 4 flourescent lights in each but then Iwould have to buy 2 ballasts for each unit. The solution was 3 lights per poster frame and one ballast controlled by my Grafik Eye. By the way the list price on the ballast was 248.00 or close to that. I paid 137.00 per ballast. Now I am considering just buying 4 finished units that I can control with my ballasts.

#11 of 12 OFFLINE   Mark McGill

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Posted June 03 2004 - 02:40 AM

We have a load of pot lights in our house also. I wanted halogen and with a little experimenting I went from a 75watt incandescent to a 50watt halogen and to boot the room seems even brighter. I did experiment with the 75watt haolgens and they were just too bright. I might add that we are heavy users of electricity and with AC our bill runs about $80.00 a month.

An earlier point about recouping costs is important. I doubt you ever will with fluorescents and they can really interfere with some remotes. Good luck.

#12 of 12 OFFLINE   Tom Kay

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Posted June 03 2004 - 03:20 AM

You guys are awesome, goshhhh.

But seriously, thanks, and my aledged mind is made up. 50 and 35 watt halogens in insulated cans, with Switchlinc dimmers, then loads of popcorn.

One of these centuries, I'll post some pictures of my HT, in its framing and electrical stage. I have scheduled an electrical inspection for the 21st of June, so now I am motivated to work faster (as if I wasn't before).

I appreciate all the replies, and I'm happy top hear that dimmed lights eat up less juice than non-dimmed lights. I'll have LOTS of lights in the room. When the room's in use, they'll typically be dimmed, so no big worry about the hydro meter spinning like a shopaholic in Macy's.

Cheers, Tom.