Area-based or Fixture-based Lighting Controls?

10/31/2018 | By David Parrett

Once you have your lighting design mapped out, it is time to decide how to control each fixture. Even if you have an existing building and are retrofitting with network controls it can take time and careful thought to determine if you should use fixture or area-based controls. This decision is important for room function, design and also efficiency.

Before you can decide between the two types of controls, you have to account for your overall lighting goals for the space.

Is your main concern energy savings? Is the layout of your building finalized or will you need flexibility to change how the space is used over time? The scope of construction is also a factor if the building is already in use versus an unoccupied space where more extensive wiring is not an issue.

[Related: The Impactful Benefits of this LED Lighting Retrofit]

It is important to know that there are several approaches to manage a luminaire installation with wireless controls in a commercial building, and most buildings are likely to be best served by blending these approaches.

Area-Based Approach

Area-based controls are a good option for large spaces such as lobbies, ballrooms, conference rooms, storage rooms and classrooms. In these areas of commercial buildings there is typically high traffic and a need for large pools of light. Usually the entire space is in use at one time and there is no need for spotlighting. 

Area-based control is accomplished when multiple luminaires are wired to a single switch or wireless fixture adapter.

A “daisy chain” wiring sequence is used to link all the luminaires to the control adapter. And as a result, all of the luminaires will behave in the same manner when changes are made to the lighting levels. Area-based controls can be incorporated into larger zones virtually, as part of the whole building control, and do not have to function as an isolated control.


1. Maximizes Value: Sharing one control adapter across many fixtures meets the design needs of most spaces at a reasonable value.

2. Easy Configuration: When all the luminaires in a space are connected to one controller, there are fewer end nodes to find and configure.

3. Simple Retrofits: In the case of a retrofit, it offers the ability to swap out a switch and control an entire bank of lighting.


1. Retrofit Re-Wire: In a retrofit situation, installers may need to run control wires, which adds labor cost to the equation.

2. Blanket control: The area-based approach results in a loss of control for individual “spots” of light, and instead creates “pools” of light.

3. Static Design: If a commercial space is rented for different uses over time and redesigned, reconfiguring the lighting designs becomes more difficult.

Fixture-Based Approach

Commercial spaces that require more control flexibility will benefit from fixture-based controls. As the name suggests, each luminaire is wired to a single fixture adapter enabling the fixtures in a space to be controlled as a zone or individually.

This approach is good for office spaces where individual offices require separate functionality. For example, an office space with cubicles in the center with a ring of individual offices around the exterior.


1. Straightforward Install: There is no complication design mapping required for this approach because a fixture adapter is installed at each fixture. And wiring is simplified since control wires do not need to be installed between luminaires.

2. Evolution Friendly: Adding cubicles or moving walls as tenants change over time is no problem. If you have control over every fixture, you can use software to change the zones and adapt lighting to a new tenant’s needs very easily.


1. Cost: While you achieve greater control and flexibility with lighting, you pay for it since adapters have to be installed on every luminaire. 

[On topic: Lighting Upgrade Transformed this Data Center]

2. Complicated Configuration: A fixture-level approach means you have many more devices to configure, and this can take time and money.

Which Is Better: Area-based or fixture-based controls?

Trick question, there is no right answer. Both area-based and fixture-based controls can be the right choice, it just depends how a building will be used and what the long-term goals of the project are.

Either option will result in a building that is capable of greater energy efficiency and lighting intelligence.

David Parrett, director of product marketing at CEL.David Parrett – director of product marketing at CEL. During his more than 20-year marketing career, David has operated in all areas of the field while honing unique expertise in go-to-market planning and product realization for intelligent devices that enable connected homes and buildings. Prior to joining CEL, David held leadership roles in marketing and product management with Hunter Douglas where he led the conception and management of the largest-ever global launch of a motorized product line, PowerView. 

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