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Wireless Light Switches + Floor Outlets = Tighter & More Insulated Home

by Chad Ludeman on October 15, 2010 · 6 comments

in envelope,home automation,lighting,materials,process

Earlier this week we posted on cutting labor costs associated with Cellulose insulation installs. It occured to me in some of the comments that we have never posted on our “magical” electrical strategy to help improve the insulation and air tightness of our homes. The truth of the matter is that we actually don’t use any magic (especially the kind shown on the right). Simply a bit of common sense and a sleek wireless lighting system. I will explain.

A bit of background on how this originated

After the 100K project, we started to really focus on how to improve air tightness and insulation values in our walls. We weren’t sure if we would keep using SIPs which can making running electric difficult.  We also weren’t sure if we wanted an interior or exterior air barrier, or even both. This got us thinking a lot about those wires, light switches and outlets in our walls that were taking up valuable insulation space in our exterior walls and also creating weak spots in our air tight drywall layer.

One of the most valuable things I learned while teaching myself Manufacturing Engineering in college (please don’t stick to only the books your profs recommend for you kids) while going for my Industrial Management degree was that “the best way to improve a slow or error ridden process or component was to eliminate it.” This jewel of knowledge came to me one day. All we need to do is eliminate those pesky wall outlets and light switches to improve the efficiency of our wall assemblies! OK, now how do we do this affordably?

Eliminating outlets in your walls

Let’s start with the easier of the two, eliminating outlets. This was relatively easy once we thought about it. Simply take your wall outlets and move them to the floors. Simple. Easy. Done. Yes, this costs a bit more in floor outlet material and labor, but you only need to do it on exterior walls. This keeps the additional cost very low, especially in row homes with only two very short exposed walls. Here’s a shot of one of ours in the recent Skinny Project below.

Skinny Outlet

Eliminating light switches in your walls

This guy didn’t come to us as quickly. Luckily we remembered one decent product from Green in Boston a few years ago. That valuable trip was sponsored by Bolt Bus, Nic’s Aunt in the Boston burbs and our ability to stretch two, one-day floor passes into full 3-day passes. The product I am referring to is the Verve Living System for wireless control of residential lighting.

There are many expensive and complex commercial wireless lighting systems out there, but the bright people at Verve have packaged some of that same technology into an economical residential package with just the right amount of functionality. The basic system incorporates a fancy 10-channel controller where you can wire up to 10 lighting circuits (it can also do ceiling fans, outlets and now wireless thermostats). Once the lights are wired to the controller, they can be easily programmed to be controlled by one of Verve’s wireless switches which can simply be adhered or screwed to any location in your home. The switches are powered by the motion of clicking them so there are no batteries to replace ever. All wiring from switches to the actual lights are eliminated, so the labor savings in installation account for the extra cost in materials from Verve for the most part. Our electricians actually love the system due to reduced time of install and we love it because it eliminates all wires and leaky switch boxes in our exterior walls. We’ve found that our clients also love it as they can rearrange where the switches are located, how they are programmed and even buy more if they want.

That’s it. After searching the Verve site for this post, I found a few new products we have been waiting for from them, so hopefully we’ll have a new post in the near future on added functionality and uses for their system.

If you enjoyed reading this post I can promise you'll love our new writing over at Postgreen Homes. Yeah, we know that's the same thing your favorite band said and their new album is nowhere near as good as their early stuff, but seriously, we are actually still getting better.

There also isn't much conversation to be had here . . . at least not with us. So come on over to the Postgreen Homes Blog and tell us what you think of our new(ish) digs and crazy ideas. We will be sure to tell you what we think of your opinion.

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GOOF PATCH Repair Mis-cut drywall around switches & outlets | Repairing Water Damage
October 17, 2010 at 11:46 pm

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 lavardera October 15, 2010 at 10:12 am

This is a great solution Chad. For a freestanding house, 10 channels might be at the limit with 4 exterior walls, but I think with a little effort even then you could keep the bulk of your switches off the exterior wall. No problem with row houses.

2 Goran October 18, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Really cool. You can hit a single switch at the top of the garage stairs, say, and it can turn on the stairway lights and garage lights at the same time. Keep another switch in your car and you can turn them off and on from the car. Or even turn off all the lights in the house (assuming they’re all on the controller.)

3 NelsonL October 25, 2010 at 10:12 am

Like lavadera, initially I was concerned about a 10 channel limit per controller. But it turns out multiple controllers can be installed if more than 10 channels are needed. I echo the “really cool”.

4 djh November 9, 2010 at 5:42 pm

It’s perhaps worth noting that the Verve products are implemented using a tecchnology called EnOcean. There are quite a few manufacturers of similar products using the same technology and there are more details at the EnOcean site and on wikipedia.

5 Tenant Proof January 27, 2013 at 11:21 pm

The outlets in the floor trouble me for a few reasons
Washing the floors.
Children seeing them as toys
Elderly and physically disabled unable to reach them or stumbling over them.
What about universal design principles about outlet height.

How about having an insulating layer and then another layers for electrical so the two don’t interfere with one another. Electrical is more likely to need upgrading then the insulation in 30 years so make the house easier to upgradable in the future.

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