The Custom Installer: Finishing Touch - Lights

Finishing touches are the little differences that elevate the merely good into the great - things like the blue-cheese-stuffed olives at the bottom of your Grey Goose martini, or rolling in that curling birdie putt on the 18th hole at Pebble Beach.

All home theaters have a video display, source devices, and a sound system. But in the great home theaters, the lights drop just before the movie starts, setting the mood. Unlike a lot of automation, remote-controlled lighting doesn't cost much and is a snap to install and program. For instance, for less than $54, you can get a Lutron Maestro IR 600-watt single-pole dimmer with remote control.

The first thing you need to know about lighting control is that there are single- and multipole switches. "Single-pole" means that a single switch controls all the lights. Multipole switches are used when the lights are controlled from more than one location - for instance, in a hallway with a switch at either end. Since most home theaters have single-pole switches, that's what I'll focus on here.

You also need to know the lighting load. Dimmers handling 600 and 1,000 watts are common, and most dimmers are designed for incandescent and 120-volt halogen bulbs. If your home theater uses low-voltage or fluorescent lighting, contact a custom installer to find the dimmer that's right for you.

Step 1 - Cut the power. No one likes doing the ol' 60-cycle shuffle, so locate the breaker in your electrical panel and cut power to the light switch. Also, turn off your system and unplug it from the wall before shutting down any breakers so an accidental breaker flip doesn't damage your gear. Confirm that you've flipped the right breaker by trying the light switch.

Step 2 - Remove the existing switch. Single-pole switches have three wires attached to them - two insulated black wires ("hot") and a bare copper wire for ground. The hot wires are connected to one side of the switch, and the ground is connected to a green-colored screw. Disconnect all of the wires.

Step 3 - Install the dimmer. The Maestro dimmer has two brass screws on one side. Connect a black wire to each screw. Use the supplied wire nut to tie the green wire from the dimmer to the bare copper ground. Screw the dimmer into place.

Step 4 - Test the dimmer. Flip the breaker. Tap the dimmer button twice, and the lights should come to full bright. Use the rocker switch to try out the dimming. If you have a learning remote, program your "Watch Movie" macro to dim the lights as the movie starts. Programming the lights to come on when you press pause or stop makes a nice "intermission" feature. Now sit back and smile over a job well done.

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