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I want to put in 16 new recessed lights (roughly a 4x4 grid), and I want to control them with two panels (one on each entrance to the room) of switches. But since we are constantly rearranging the furniture, I don't know which groups of lights I want to control with each switch, as it is subject to change.

How can I wire this up in such a way that I can (relatively) easily reconfigure which switches control which lights?

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I just want to say that this is a really interesting question. I can't wait to see what convoluted solutions we come up with. Then out of the blue will come an answer so simple and brilliant that we'll all slap our hands on our foreheads and say " doh!" –  Chris Cudmore Nov 26 '11 at 2:26
    
have you considered adjustable track lighting instead? –  DA01 Nov 26 '11 at 7:56

4 Answers 4

While you are talking about switches, I would suggest using dimmers, if your light source allows you. Incandescent, low voltage, LED and some screw in CFLS can be dimmed and that would really change the look of your room. Straight plug in PL's like 4 pin compact fluorescents in most cases wont be dimmable. Also, watch your wattage, but from the sounds of what you want to do, it probably wont be a problem. You can get dimmers from probably $5.00 to $50.00, depending on the quality and the light source. Lutron is my favorite dimmer, but there are other brands that are well made.

Here's another way that won't be cheap, but it's probably the cheapest in 'home automation'. There are many systems out there, most are easily customized for zones or scenes. They come in switches and dimmers, even some can be set up as a switch and dimmer. All of these wire up like a switch of dimmer would, and are easily expandable. It just depends on what is in your wallet, the rest is up to your imagination. Here is the Insteon brand;

Switch or Dimmer

Keypad

Here are some of the brands that I can think of, Leviton Viziz RF, Cooper Wiring Device Aspire RF or as shown in the pictures, Insteon.
All are good but Insteon is backwards compatible with X10 and has more security, garage door monitoring, remote monitoring and as with all above, you can easily access your system from your browser, anywhere in the world.

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I think the home automation solution is really the only way the questioners requirements will be met. –  Chris Cudmore Nov 26 '11 at 2:21

I did a quick google on various alternatives for "Household electrical patch panel" and found nothing of interest. (Although that could be noise from "Household network patch panel").

Then I thought about the problem, and came up with an 18-switch solution:

2 Single pole switches (On/Off) (Or three ways, if you're doing the masters at two locations) -- These are the on/off for each bank.

16 Double pole switches (Circuit1 / Circuit2) -- These determine which bank a light is on.

You may wish to use single strand wiring.

Run a common neutral and ground to each light.

Run the Switched power out of the single poles to the outer terminals of the double poles. I'd use colored wire (Red for circuit 1, and Blue for 2 -- These are switched hots)

From the central terminal of each double pole, run another switched hot (say, Yellow) to each light. (one light per switch.)

You could of course, double up lights and save on switches, but no matter how you do it, there's going to be a lot of wire. I'm also concerned about the real estate needed for all these switches.

CAVEATS: This only works if you can get all lights on a single circuit. This is not extensible to more than 2 banks (Unless you can find multi-pole selector switches.)

Why not just go with 2 4-gang switch plates, and pair two adjacent lights to each switch.

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I thought about this a little more. Is there any reason I can't just do this? Basically:

  1. Wire hot to each of several switches (2- or 3- way (shown on diagram)).
  2. Wire from the switches to a centralized "patch panel" with one input for each wall switch and one output for each light where I can mix-and-match the switches to the lights conveniently (shown switch 1 to light 1 and 3, switch 2 to light 2, 5, and 6, and switch 3 to light 4).
  3. Wire from the panel's outputs to each light.
  4. Wire from each light to ground.

enter image description here

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This would work. I'd actually recommend using smart switches (or at least wiring so you can in the future) such as Insteon or UPB, as you can program scenes so rather than multiple dimmers, you can press one button and have all the lights go to preset levels. –  gregmac Nov 28 '11 at 3:14

It sounds like what you want is a power source coming into one switch, a pair of 3-way switches at each side of the room, and then off of your 3 way switch, run a 3 conductor wire to each of the lights (white, black, red). You then have the black line switched by your "A" pair of 3-way switches, and the red line switched by your "B" pair of 3-way switches. Now, at each light fixture, you can just chose if you want to have it on the A or B switches by wiring it to the black or red wire.

A similar technique is sometimes used in kitchen outlets to get two different circuits to go to each outlet, either with the top and bottom outlet on separate circuits, or the outlets easily switchable between the black and red circuit.

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