The Green Dream: A Wireless Lighting System Makes Electrical Switches Portable

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Most houses require hundreds of feet of electrical wire to connect light switches to a main power source, but not my eco-friendly dream home. I’ve installed a wireless lighting system called Verve that uses radio waves instead of copper wiring to command all the lights and outlets in my house. The system not only saves copper (imagine the savings in a skyscraper) but also lets me put switches wherever I want—beside the kids’ beds, in my pocket or even on the dash of my car—without the need to pull out wires or rip up walls.

A small module inside each light switch harvests energy from the motion of turning the switch on or off and uses it to transmit radio signals up to 300 feet away to a central 10-channel controller that’s hardwired to my fuse box. Since the switches generate their own power, they require no batteries, wires or messy electrical channels carved into my brand-new insulated wall panels.

Strategically placing networked controllers around my house allows me to turn on or off every light switch from a few convenient locations. For instance, I can program the controller to let me turn out the lights in my son’s bedroom from the living room. I can even pull a switch from its wall-docking plate and use it as remote, turning all the lights off in the house as I’m pulling out of the driveway.

Other whole-home lighting control systems offer more programming options, but they’re also more expensive and cost more to install because of all the wiring. At $3,500, Verve runs me only a bit more than the price of a home’s worth of fancy dimmers. The downside? The system is designed mostly for new construction—retrofits get messy and costly because they require ripping out wires.

Next month: Building a graywater recycling system

The Specs

House: 3,500-square-foot, four-bedroom contemporary
Location: Greenwich, N.Y.
Project: Installing a wireless lighting system
Cost of materials: $3,500
Time to install: A few days

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How to Make Your Lighting More Efficient

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    The colored LEDs in this wall switch help you visualize how much power your fixtures use. Flip the switch, and when the very top LED is on, you’ll know your lights are drawing full power. Clicking the rocker switch down to dial back the amount of energy the light draws can save you up to $30 a year per bulb.

John B. Carnett, PopSci’s_ staff photographer, is using the latest green technology to build his dream home. Follow along as the project progresses on his Green Dream blog: