Bright Ideas

Lighting Controls Part 1: Systems and Types

Posted by Joe Lightman on Mar 3, 2016 12:41 PM

Lighting controls come in different designs and utilize different technologies, but generally they help people to regulate the quality of lighting in residential, commercial, and industrial environments. In addition to enhancing the aesthetics and experience of a space, lighting controls are also critical in minimizing energy usage. This post, part one of a two part series, will cover common systems and types of lighting controls.



Lighting control systems can be categorized into three broad classes: wireless light control systems, centralized light control systems, and hybrid light control systems.

  1. Wireless light control systems

A wireless light control system employs a wireless communication standard such as Infrared, Wi-Fi or radio frequency to interconnect dimmers, keypads, switches, and other peripherals that make up a system. This category of lighting control systems is a suitable choice for retrofit projects because it requires minimal wiring.  Wireless light control systems are widely used in residential, industrial, and commercial facilities. While relatively new, this category is growing rapidly as smart phones and others mobile devices are enabled to control lights.

  1. Centralized lighting control systems

With a centralized lighting control system, all lighting circuits are controlled from a central location. A keypad at the control location allows someone to adjust the lighting settings. A processor is used as the brain of the entire network of lighting controls. Some lighting control systems offer advanced features to enable users to adjust lighting with ease and convenience. Centralized lighting control systems are widely used in large facilities such as lecture halls, theatres, social halls.

  1. Hybrid lighting control systems

As the name suggests, this category combines features of wireless and centralized lighting control systems. Both wired and wireless components are used to form an integrated system.


First let’s cover the main types of lighting controls:

  1. Occupancy Sensors

These light controls are capable of detecting the presence of human beings in the spaces where they are installed. When a person enters a conference room, office, or workshop, the smart system detects that the space is occupied and automatically switches on the lights. The lights will stay on as long as the room is occupied.  Occupancy sensors maximize energy savings by ensuring that lights are on only when they are needed.

  1. Motion Sensors

When a motion sensor detects movement, it turns the lights on. Motion sensors are mostly employed to control utility and security lights or other lights which only need to be on for short periods of time. This smart light control helps to conserve energy by ensuring that lights are off unless they are needed. Most motion detectors employ ultrasonic sensing to detect movements in a given space.

  1. Light Sensors (photocell)

This lighting control employs a photocell to detect light intensity in a given space. Photocell lighting controls are mostly used to switch on lights at dusk and switch them off at dawn, which is why they are also referred to as dusk-to-dawn sensors. 

  1. Pre-set Lighting Controls

Most pre-set lighting controls feature a switch and a slider in various forms. The switch allows you to turn the lights on and off, while the slider allows you to adjust the intensity of light to your desired level. Some pre-set lighting controls are specifically designed for dimming lights. When lights are dimmed these light controls reduce energy consumption. The slider allows you to adjust the intensity of light from bright to near dark.



A smart sensor is loosely defined as an LED fixture compatible sensor with intelligence and sensors which can control when and where the light comes on. According to a Digital Lumens survey which rated the importance of features such as energy savings, space utilization and tracking of people in a space, energy savings was the most important criteria people look at when selecting lighting controls. Smart sensors can easily double or triple the energy savings of an LED fixture, increasing efficiency and shortening payback periods.

Smart sensors can do a lot, but typically, they will read temperature, track ambient light patterns, detect the presence of people or moving objects and potentially feed this information into an HVAC system. If the sensor is set up to analyse space utilization, they can provide information to understand the use of a space which can also help make business decisions.

A good example of a highly practical smart sensor with broad applications in commercial, industrial and residential lighting is RAB Design’s own series of adjustable and dimmable smart sensors. Among other features, these sensors provide the ability to reduce light levels to as low as 10% when there is no activity in a space. They also provide multiple benefits such as the capability to automatically adjust light levels and reduce heat generated from the fixture, resulting in greater efficiency, energy savings and a longer life for the fixture.

To learn more about RAB Design’s smart sensors, CLICK HERE or alternatively, set up a consultation with one of our lighting consultants by clicking on the button below.

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In Part 2 of our Lighting Controls post, we will cover key considerations in planning and selecting lighting controls and also future trends.

Topics: Lighting Essentials, Lighting Controls