Electrical contractors have seen the bright lights of opportunity borne by involvement in lighting specification and installation. Over time, market forces have drawn ECs further into the fold, allowing them to increasingly influence brands and make specification decisions and, ultimately, become very vital decisionmakers when it comes to lighting-related projects. This change has occurred across the lighting spectrum, through all categories, including lamps, ballasts, fixtures and controls.
To highlight the latest developments in the lighting industry, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR conducted a survey of more than 700 readers in commercial/industrial/institutional (CII), residential and nonbuilding projects in fall 2010. About 60 percent of the surveys were taken using the Internet, while 40 percent were completed through postal mail. Renaissance Research & Consulting, New York, conducted the survey. The results that follow provide a roadmap for electrical contractors (ECs) as they make decisions about lighting at the design table and on the job site.
Survey respondents were asked about their lighting work in terms of where it was done: CII, residential and nonbuilding projects; what was done by lighting category: lamps, ballasts, controls and indoor and outdoor fixtures; what roles they played: specifier/decisionmaker, someone who influenced lighting choices or installer; and to what degree they had brand influence or made brand decisions.
When it comes to lighting, in what areas are ECs involved, and to what extent? Ninety-seven percent of respondents indicated they work with indoor or outdoor fixtures (on a combined basis), while 95 percent perform work with lamps, 93 percent with ballasts and 85 percent with controls. There are no surprises there, as lighting is a bread-and-butter segment for ECs. Also as expected, more lighting work is done in residential and CII projects than in nonbuilding projects (Figure 1).
Between 80 percent and 90 percent of those responding indicated they work in each of the lighting categories, which is to say they have performed some aspect of lighting work in the broad category of “specify or influence or install.” However, between 45 percent and 60 percent of firms perform “everything” in a given lighting category, meaning they specify or influence and install lighting products. In addition, nearly all ECs who work on every aspect of a lighting category do so in multiple product types.
According to the survey, 90 percent of ECs perform some lamp work, while about 60 percent work on all aspects, meaning they specify or influence and install lamps. Of the 58 percent that specify/influence and install lamps, 53 percent do so with two or more lamp types. Nearly one-quarter of those surveyed specify/influence and install five or more lamp types.
What’s interesting about lamps is that fluorescent lighting and compact fluorescent lighting received the most mentions by ECs, followed by incandescent, metal halide and high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting. Mentioned the least were light-emitting diodes (LEDs). However, ECs are proportionately more involved in LED specification than with other lamp types.
LED trends are something to keep an eye on. One-third of electrical contractors say that LEDs are poised to replace incandescent lamps, compared with 23 percent thinking LEDs are currently ready to replace compact fluorescents and another 19 percent suggesting LEDs are ready to replace fluorescent lamps. An additional one-third of those surveyed think that LEDs will be ready to replace each of these lamp types within the next one or two years. The remaining survey respondents see LEDs becoming more viable later, or they “don’t know” when viability will occur. Of those who said LEDs were not ready or they didn’t know, 19 percent said lower cost was a factor, while 10 percent mentioned improvements in performance (Figure 2).
Across the total sample, more than 90 percent of electrical contractors do some ballast work, while 45 percent perform work on “all aspects,” meaning they specify or influence and install ballasts. Respondents mentioned low-voltage/electronic ballasts most often, with fewer mentioning traditional/magnetic ballasts or controllable dimming ballasts. Digital addressable lighting interface (DALI) protocol/digital ballasts were mentioned least often.
Of the 45 percent of ECs that specify/influence and install ballasts, 28 percent work on two or more types of ballasts—16 percent on two types and 12 percent on three or more types. About 17 percent said they work only with one type of ballast.
More than 90 percent of ECs perform some work with indoor fixtures, while 50 percent perform “all aspects” of indoor fixtures (specify or influence and install). The most-mentioned types of indoor fixtures in the survey included safety/emergency/security lighting and downlights. Respondents mentioned architectural/decorative fixtures, troffers, specialty fixtures and high bay fixtures less often.
Of the 54 percent of ECs that specify/influence and install indoor fixtures, 47 percent do so with two or more types (9 percent with two types, 10 percent with three types, 10 percent with four types and 18 percent with five or more types). That means nearly one-fifth of electrical contractors specify/influence and install more than five types of indoor fixtures.
About 90 percent of ECs do some work on outdoor fixtures, while 50 percent perform “all aspects” of work on outdoor fixtures, meaning they specify or influence and install. Just as with indoor fixtures, safety/emergency/security fixtures were mentioned most often. The least mentioned types include garage/tunnel, dark-sky compliant, street lights and traffic lights. In between, there’s a middle tier that includes landscape lighting, architectural/decorative lighting, parking lot lighting and specialty fixtures.
Of the 55 percent that specify/influence and install outdoor fixtures, 44 percent do so with two or more types (10 percent with two types, 9 percent with three types, 8 percent with four types, 6 percent with five types and 10 percent with six or more types). That means more than 15 percent of ECs specify/influence and install five or more types of outdoor fixtures.
More than 80 percent of ECs perform some controls work. Fifty percent of them work on “all aspects” of controls (specify or influence and install). The most-mentioned types of controls included wall dimmers, wall timers, touch panels, and sensors and occupancy/motion sensors (photocells), followed closely by relay or circuit breaker panels and outdoor controls. Least-mentioned types among respondents included distributed lighting controls and daylight harvesting controls.
Of the 51 percent of electrical contractors that specify/influence and install controls, 46 percent do so on two or more types of controls (7 percent on two types, 9 percent on three types and 12 percent on four types). In addition, nearly 20 percent specify/influence and install controls with five or more types (Figure 3).
Among those who work in a given category, the survey concluded that electrical contractors have at least some brand influence between 60 percent and 80 percent of the time. They have brand influence more than 60 percent of the time with controls, more than 70 percent of the time with lamps and ballasts, and more than 80 percent of the time with fixtures.
Their degree of influence varies somewhat by construction type and is highest (more than 80 percent) in the case of lamps in residential and CII work, and ballasts in CII construction. The degree of brand influence ECs have on indoor and outdoor fixtures doesn’t vary much by construction type. With controls, electrical contractors’ brand influence is somewhat higher when working in CII versus residential or nonbuilding construction.
On average, a single brand is specified 25 percent of the time in the case of lamps, ballasts and fixtures (Figure 4).
The rest of the time, “multiple brands” or “equal to” or “performance-specified” come into play, providing ECs with greater opportunities to make brand selections. On average, a single brand of controls was specified 36 percent of the time to ECs in the residential realm, 31 percent of the time in CII work and 28 percent in nonbuilding construction (Figure 5).
When it comes to controls, ECs are much more willing to choose products based on “single brand” or “single manufacturer” than they are with lamps, ballasts or fixtures. These decisions may be derived from a need for design and technical support on various products.
In addition, regardless of construction type, about 40 percent of lighting projects are done on a design/build or design/assist basis. About 20 percent of the survey respondents indicated that manufacturers could help ECs work more closely with building owners and the design team if they “make information and support available to us when we need it.”
When it comes to influencing and specifying brands, ECs indicated that the most important factor for them is “availability/quick delivery,” which was “strongly” influential for 70 percent of the respondents when deciding on lamps, ballasts and fixtures and 68 percent when deciding on controls. The least influential factor was “distributor recommendation,” which was indicated as “strongly” influential by only 22 percent of ECs with respect to deciding on lamps, ballasts and fixtures and about 25 percent when choosing controls.
Interestingly enough, “price/cost” was not among the top choices by ECs, meaning getting the right products to the job site quickly outweighs the cost associated with the lighting product. With reputations on the line, ECs refuse to cut corners on lighting to install cheaper products and save some money. Instead, they are specifying and installing high-quality products they have relied on for years and the ones they can get easily and quickly.
As far as training goes, hands-on training was the preferred method of learning to use new lighting products, systems and technology by 60 percent of respondents. The next-closest training method was self-paced videos and CDs at a mere 10 percent. The remaining categories fell below that (Figure 6).
The lighting survey clearly sheds light on electrical contractors being relied on to specify/influence and install high-quality products. They need those products quickly and with more information and support from manufacturers. Also, the survey points to a brighter future for LED technology, but we aren’t there yet. Sounds like a retrofit opportunity for many electrical contractors.
KELLY is a former editor of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR and a Baltimore-based freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.