Noon Lights — an IoT Review

I’ve been gradually installing some IoT automation at home over the last few months, and was looking for a lighting solution to fit a fairly complex situation. It’s a large open plan area with several connected zones, kitchen, patio, dining area, living area, with lots of light bulbs and far too many light switches.

Upgrading all the bulbs to something like Philips Hue didn’t look like the right way to go, there are too many bulbs so it would be expensive, and we’d need to keep the light switches on all the time. When I looked at replacing the switches themselves I found the well established Lutron and Leviton brands, along with a few others that each had some disadvantage that put me off.

The main set of lights are controlled by three switches, so I needed a multi-way controller, that excluded several otherwise promising options. I wanted a system that still works manually and during network outages, and didn’t really want to have a separate hub to gateway the signal.

Eventually I discovered a new option called Noon (noonhome.com) — they launched in October 2017, and were founded by people with experience at Nest (thermostats) and August (locks). While it’s still new to the market, I thought it was worth a try, so over the last few weeks I installed it, and thought it was still novel enough to be worth writing up as a blog post.

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noonhome.com

Their over-all architecture is to manage one room at a time, using one special switch as a Noon Director and up to ten Noon Extension switches. They all fit by replacing a standard light switch as long as it’s the large flat rocker kind. The Noon Director has a black glass finish, and contains a small color touch screen, it acts as a hub, is connected to WiFi and lets you easily turn the entire room on and off, or switch between scenes. It’s connected to the white plastic Noon Extension switches via Bluetooth Low Energy, and since they are all in the same room, the signal doesn’t have to go through walls to get there. They all contain a built-in rechargeable battery, and all can act as dimmer or as on-off switches, there isn’t a separate part for each as with other lighting options.

The Noon switches don’t mount flush like the conventional rocker switches, and have a curved lower end. They are operated by clicking that end in, and that toggles the circuit on or off, which works directly and locally, with no network involvement. For the Director, clicking it turns all the switches on or off, which I like a lot, for my complex room setup. The Director also has a motion detector, so it lights up with the current scene icon as you walk up, and can trigger a night light option. For each Extension it’s own circuit is toggled and there are also small up/down dimmer level buttons. For multi-switch groups, the network is used to coordinate the group on-off and dimming levels. This all works as you’d expect, and seems intuitive to other family members and guests in the house.

I setup using their iPhone/iPad app, which works well, looks good and is responsive and reliable. I shouldn’t have to say that, but I’ve seen so many IoT apps that look terrible, are slow and crash a lot! On each circuit, during setup Noon runs tests to see what kind of bulbs are being used by turning them on and off a few times, and lets you know if you have dimmable lights or not. I have a mixture of dimmable and non-dimmable LED bulbs installed. After setup it’s easy to change the bulb type setting if you change the bulbs, but I couldn’t see a way to restart the discovery process for a particular switch. I did the initial setup once I had the Director and a few Extensions installed, then easily added more Extensions as I completed the wiring work.

The systems comes with some standard scenes, and the app lets you customize with a reasonable selection of standard icons to create the scenes you want, and to change the order of them. I setup six scenes in order of ascending brightness since they are swiped through on the Director, and it made sense to go gradually from night time to full bright. When the Director is off, there’s the automatic night light option, but we found that the motion detector didn’t trigger reliably for the orientation/location we used, so I setup a Nightime scene that keeps a few dim lights on all the time. The next scene is called Relax, and has low lights for chilling out, then I have Outside which mostly lights the patio, Cooking which adds full light in the kitchen area, Everyday which is medium light everywhere, and Bright, which is everything on maximum. The last is mostly useful for finding light bulbs that don’t match, or when cleaning. Scene setup is intuitive, can be tweaked easily via the app or by using the switches directly, and switching using the Director works pretty well. There’s some helpful artistic advice built into the app and documentation to help decide which lights to use for what.

Hardware installation was a lot of work but not too frustrating, I did it in about two days over the holidays. About half of the time was spent up a ladder installing 30–40 new dimmable LED lightbulbs in key places and walking back and forth tracing which circuit breaker really connected to which switch. This has nothing to do with Noon, but if you’re looking at this kind of work, you need to take it into account, and it’s good pre-work even if you have a professional contractor do the wiring for you. I’ve done a fair amount of house re-wiring projects over many years (I also started my career working on hardware with a degree in applied physics and electronics) so felt confident doing the full install myself.

The Noon switches only control lights. They can’t be used to control ceiling fans or outlet plugs, as they have a maximum power draw limit that’s too low for a plug or a fan motor. For my multi-way switch fascias that meant I was mixing some Noon switches with the existing switches. Noon provides its own fascia options that have a metal frame with a clip on cover, and since our old fascia’s were fairly ugly I bought a set of replacements from Noon for most of the room so everything would look good.

The first thing I did before I ordered anything was take a photo of every switch in the room, going clockwise from a starting point, and document in Evernote what each switch did, whether it was in a multi-way group, and whether I was going to replace it with a Noon or not. There’s a limit of 10 Noon Extensions per Director, and I ran into this limit, so had to decide which minor lights not to control. I think they should increase this limit, I really needed 12, if I’d had more multi-way switches to manage I could have needed more. 20 would be a better limit. I positioned the Director as the switch we would pass last in the evening, going to bed and first in the morning when we get up, which was one of the three multi-way main light switches.

I ordered directly from the Noon website, and it arrived in a few days, no problems, a bit over $1000 for one Director, ten Extensions and a lot of faceplates.

I checked the current light bulbs to be sure I was within limits (200W total for LED per Noon in my case) and found a mixture of types (some CFL, some LED) and brands that were mostly non-dimmable. I ended up replacing 30+ bulbs with Sylvania 9W and 12W dimmable warm white LED bulbs after reading some poor reliability reviews for cheaper brands.

The circuit breakers for the house were seemingly labeled at random, with no relation to reality! I ended up removing almost all the labels and starting again until I had identified every connection that went to a switch in the room I was working on. Don’t underestimate how long this will take!

The Noon website has very detailed and clear instructions on how to setup the wiring. The most complicated setup is for multi-way, and the approach Noon takes scales to allow many switches in a group, wired in parallel rather than the traditional wiring method. After I’d very carefully followed these instructions I found that the lights were on all the time, and the Noon troubleshooting guide correctly suggested moving one wire, which fixed the problem. Other than that, it was repetitive work, but straightforward.

The mechanical part of the installation was hardest, I had to get the existing switches into the Noon switch mounting hardware, which is slightly deeper. I found that in some cases the existing switch screws weren’t long enough to bite once the switch was re-installed. In four way switch boxes the white neutral wires form a large bundle of connections, and the supplied twist-on connector was too small to fit, when adding several additional Noon wires to the bundle. For a professional installer, they would have additional larger twist-on and longer screws at hand, but it would have been be easier if a larger twist-on and some extra long screws were provided by Noon. It was also tricky to get all the switches to align, and even so, sometimes the snap on fascia didn’t want to fit until it was adjusted some more. The end result looks good though.

Noon supports Alexa, and I ran the connection and discovery process which found the switches and scenes. I then ended up changing the names to simplify identifying each switch, and seem to have confused everything. I’m getting around to deleting everything from Alexa and starting again. Noon doesn’t support Apple Homekit, and I’ve found that interface useful for some use cases, so hope they will add it eventually.

Bottom line, I think Noon did a good job on thinking up a new approach to automating lighting on a room by room basis, it’s nicely implemented, well documented and works well in practice. I’m very happy with it in a large highly traffic’d room, I’m not planning to go round every other room in the house adding Noon Directors for a whole house solution, although I might eventually add one or two more large rooms that have more complex lighting setups.

Disclaimer: I don’t have any connection to Noon, don’t know anyone who works there, or know what cloud if any their back end runs on.

Final collection of suggestions for Noon — support up to 20 Extensions per Director (I’ll buy two more when you do). Provide a re-discover bulb type option in the app. Supply more and longer mounting screws. Supply a larger gauge neutral wire twist-on connector. Add plug control capable and fan control Extensions (I’ll buy some). Add a sensitivity adjustment for the motion detector in night light mode. Add Apple Homekit support.

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