Punaro Glen Construction: Lighting and Technology

Lighting fixtures are something we’ve been buying since before we actually moved out of our last house. Amanda would stalk LampsPlusOpenBox.com for great deals on lights we liked. I can’t even calculate how many thousands of dollars we probably saved on lights by taking our time and buying things that came up on that site (and others). If you’ve never built a house, you likely have no idea just how many light fixtures you need to fill a house. I had to build a spreadsheet to track them all – and to calculate the number of light bulbs we needed to buy. My current count is 39 fixtures requiring 54 standard bulbs, 18 recessed lights, 20 all-in-one LED fixtures, 4 specialty bulbs, and 4 LED strip lights. That doesn’t count the lighted mirrors we bought for our bathroom, a handful of closet lights that I haven’t decided on what to use yet, and any changes we make when we actually do the electrical walkthrough.

My spreadsheet also keeps track of all the outlets and specialty electrical needs we’ll have, whether or not that particular item will be automated and how, and whether it should be powered by the backup generator. Lighting automation is something that I’ve used for years, so of course it was going to make it’s way into the new house. Being able to build from the ground up afforded me the opportunity to really research the different options out there and think through what I wanted to automate and how. Caution – technobabble ahead. For example, while we do use Hue lights in a lot of table lamps, the Hue LED strip lights and BR30 bulbs for recessed fixtures are extremely expensive. For now, I’ve opted to go with cheaper LED strip lights that offer either Google Home or SmartThings integration, and these Sylvania Lightify Zigbee full color LED recessed fixture lights for most of the can fixtures in the house. Some lights will be automated at the switch and use “dumb” bulbs instead, especially in multi-bulb fixtures where smart bulbs would just cost too much and not make sense. For the switches I went with Zooz Z-Wave switches, of which there was a great Black Friday deal at The Smartest House.

Rows of Zooz switches
A box full of Zooz Z-Wave home automation switches

I’m mixing technologies in the new house for a few reasons. First – cost matters. I love my Hue products, but they’re really expensive and there’s no way I’d be able to put them everywhere. Second – technologies change frequently. Not putting all my eggs in one automation basket means if a technology stops being supported in the future, I don’t have to do a full replacement of every device in the house, like, say anyone who invested in Charter/Spectrum’s home security solution. Third – as long as they could integrate to either my Samsung SmartThings hub, Philips Hue, or directly to Google Home – what protocol they’re using wasn’t as important to me. Both Zigbee and Z-Wave devices create a mesh network to the hub, so I don’t have a 100 individual devices sitting on my wifi. As long as you have a sufficient number of devices and they’re spaced out enough so a device is in range of at least one other, the mesh network should take care of the rest.

I’ve also been planning my home network (both wired and wireless). Caution – more technobabble ahead. If we were building even 5 years ago I’d likely be planning to hardwire network jacks in every room of the house. Today, I’m focusing my hardline network to support a robust wireless network. Since we started drafting house plans I’ve been planning for a centrally located closet to “home run” all my wired networking drops to. Where in the house that ended up has evolved over time, but I made sure we kept it in the plan. That closet will have a 6U wall mount rack for a patch panel, switch, UPS, Power Distribution Unit (PDU), and a shelf to mount a modem, router, my NAS, and the Hue and SmartThings hubs.

The network will be powered by Ubiquity UniFi hardware, which I’ve become familiar with during my work with Ed Tech of WNY. UniFi gear is relatively inexpensive commercial-grade equipment. We install it in many of the schools we support, as it makes setup and configuration pretty easy and allows for people without a networking degree (like me) to be able to manage more robust network than what you can get with most consumer-grade routers. Caution – extreme technobabble ahead. With this setup I can spread access points around the house to give strong signal coverage everywhere in the house and outside in the yard, and still hardwire bandwidth hogs like TVs and security cameras. I can set up VLANs to segregate all those IoT devices like the FBI suggests. I can even create a separate network for the kids’ devices that shuts off at bedtime. It’s nice to have flexibility.

I bought a box of CAT6 cable and some speaker wire which the electrician will run for me while wiring the house. I’ll do all the punchdowns to the jacks and patch panel, and do all the network setup myself. As for who our ISP will be, that still remains to be seen. Spectrum recently extended service down our street, but it stops at a pole between my two next door neighbors. Spectrum also has a stupid process for setting up service for houses under construction. Essentially, you need to wait until after the house is built and electric service has been established before they’ll even come out to look at the property. This is true, even despite me contacting them while they were extending service down the street in an effort to ensure they extended the line far enough to service our house. Nope. I also called a second time to see if they could run the service line while we have the utility trench open, which would be the naturally logical time to lay your line. Nope. They want you to call them once you’ve moved in and then they’ll come out to see if your house is “serviceable” and how much it might cost you. My understanding from talking to others that have already gone through this process is often Spectrum will then give you a crazy high quote for them to extend service to your house, you need to decline, and then after 6 months they’ll consider you a “lost sale” and offer to cut their quote in half to something that might be reasonable.

Our solution to this problem is to bury an empty conduit in the utility trench for the line to be pulled through in the future. Our builder has done that for other customers and it seems to work out the best, albeit an option that has some cost (conduit isn’t free). Our other option, which we weren’t aware of might even be an option when we started building, is SpaceX’s Starlink. Elon Musk and company have been busily launching rockets full of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites which will fix the problem of traditional satellite internet – long distances to beam signals result in high latency (slow) connections. Starlink satellites orbit much closer to the ground than those older TV/internet satellites (700 miles up vs. 22,000 miles). The tradeoff is that they need a lot more of them, about 800 to service all of the US. As of last week, there are 180 Starlink satellites in space, moving into their operational orbits, with enough expected to be in orbit later this year to begin providing service to the northern US and Canada. Go us!

So, it actually may be a race to see if we can get Spectrum to extend service another 500 feet down the street and 500′ up the hill to my house sooner than Starlink can launch another 200 or so satellites 700 miles into space. At 60 sats per launch, we only talking about 3-4 more launches before it could be ready. Based on what I’ve seen recently and over the years from cable internet providers, I’d put my money on Elon Musk.

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One Comment

  1. I got away with only 1 access point. Not sure if you looked into getting whole house surge protection. I had it installed after our build. No one suggested it.

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