The smart money is on DIN rails

The magazines may be packed full of exotic products, fabulous buildings and luxury houses where everything happens intelligently at the touch of a button. The world, it seems, is the oyster of the installer that can make it all happen. So why is it that British homes and small commercial building are still peppered with wall-mounted room-by-room controllers which give bill-payers little control over energy consumption?

We already bring the safety back to one point with MCBs mounted on the distribution board or consumer unit, so it makes sense to stop drilling holes in walls  all over the place and bring the control devices for heating, lighting and security systems, etc back to one place within the building. Every home and office can make use of DIN rail mounted controllers, just as larger buildings already do and of course, a DIN rail installation is infinitely expandable, so why not start right now and install DIN controllers for your next project.

The core benefits of the DIN standard are ease of installation and flexibility. Installing one DIN rail device can save on some cable installation. The thousands of DIN rail mounted controllers you can then choose from pack a lot of functionality into a very small space, so that a whole building can be controlled from a very small box tucked under the stairs or in a cupboard.

Most UK homes and smaller offices have a single phase supply and are generally fitted with consumer units, which will usually be no more than a row of miniature circuit breakers (MCBs) and RCD’s arranged in a single row. This contrasts with the enclosures typical across the Channel, which have extra space to accommodate DIN rail controllers. However, this solution is available off the shelf at any wholesaler, in the shape of DIN rail mounting boxes, or enclosures in a range of sizes to match the number of devices likely to be enclosed, and whether they are wall mounted, adjacent to or incorporating the standard consumer unit, these enclosures enable installers to bring any property smack bang into the 21st century.

Technology now

Adding to a DIN rail system later (assuming spare capacity has been allowed for) is both time and cost-effective and involves minimum disruption and drilling round the home or office therefore if you switch to DIN rail now, you can lay the foundations for a hassle-free future.

The core candidates for DIN rail control will continue to be heating and lighting control, which offer the greatest potential for increasing energy efficiency and, quite simply, creating a better living and working environment. Even a fairly standard consumer unit for single phase supply will allow for a dozen or more circuits, so there is potential for some fairly sophisticated electrical installations to controlling internal and external lighting, heating and air conditioning, often with the property split into two or more zones.

With so much choice of products in the DIN rail market, the challenge is to find the best one for the job. Once you have determined the headline requirements for single or multi-channel, and 24 or 7 day programming and whether the switch is to respond to time, temperature, lux level or a combination of these, you need to be asking what is to be switched. A minimum ‘on time’ of 15 minutes might be OK for the central heating or lights, but is absolutely useless for programming, say, school bells where pulse control is needed to allow for on time of maybe just a few seconds.

Also high on the list of frequently asked questions is ease of installation. Here the growing availability of screwless terminals, such as found on many Theben time switches and twilight switches is a powerful selling point.

The next question is how easy are they to set up and programme, for both the installer and the property owner or occupier. Curiously enough there are still legacy digital time switches on the market without automatic summer/winter changeover. It seems like a small thing, but the irritation of having to adjust each switch is enormous and, rather than creating an opportunity for an installer to make a few quid out of a return visit, twice a year, they are a sure fire way to alienate customers. Any switch you sell should offer automatic changeover as a standard feature and modern silicon chips will have the dates programmed in for decades to come.

As for timing accuracy, there are options for astronomical and GPS synchronisation for 100% accuracy, so these devices can be fitted and forgotten. Some switches include security options, enabling installers or occupier to set PIN codes and prevent tampering, Others allow for the programming to be set up on any standard PC with USB port using free software, and then transferred to the switch in situ using an optional memory stick. With some devices offering hundreds of memory locations, this tool makes programming easy and you can see what you have programmed on a simple calendar style display so mistakes can be avoided.

The icing on the cake

The backbone of a really smart home is IP (internet protocol) control, typically over a network cable. Such cabling is increasingly common in a new build property, and not just at the top end of the market. No new build or rewiring project should be undertaken without first evaluating and hopefully proposing  network cabling as well, to provide the customer with a truly future proof solution. It can often go in the same conduit and electrical wiring, so why be chasing two lots of wiring into the wall when you can do it all at once?

As with any DIN rail installation, one of the main benefits is flexibility and future expandability, so be sure to do your research and opt at the outset for a truly open and scalable protocol, so that products from different manufacturers can be chosen on merit and added to the central bus cabling. If you opt now for a proprietary bus system, then you will be limiting your choices, and the added value services you can offer, in the future.

The only true, international open protocol for IP building control is KNX, as promoted in the UK by the KNX Association of which Timegurd’s parent company Theben AG is proud to be a member. The KNX stable offers over 2500, 100% compatible products, from over 200 different manufacturers, all of which can communicate together via the common network bus and be commissioned using a common software package as part of a single installation without the need for special adaptations and drivers.

First steps to domestic DIN

DIN switches are no longer hiding their light under a bushel in the UK. Wholesalers are stocking a wider range of DIN rail products, prompted by manufacturers who have seen how ubiquitous this solution has become across mainland Europe. The products are also becoming more user friendly with detailed information on manufacturer’s web sites.

Do remember though that, at the end of the day, they are just switches.

Don’t be afraid to put a toe in the water, because once you do you’ll never look back.

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