Housing starts in 2007 had declined by more than one-third from their 2005 peak, but the market for home technologies remains strong, according to the Sixth Annual State of the Builder Technology Market study conducted by the Consumer Electronics Association.

Electrical contractors, losing ground to system integrators/custom installers for years in this market, bucked the trend in 2007. The study found that 72 percent of home builders installing home technologies hired electrical contractors in 2007, up from 63 percent in 2006, while 58 percent hired integrators in 2007, down from 62 percent in 2006. About 73 percent of these builders are highly satisfied with the work provided by electrical contractors (for more coverage of the report, see Industry Watch, page 14, June 2008 issue).

The results suggest a growing number of electrical contractors are offering specialized services and low-voltage expertise, which enables them to go to builders with a complete offering for home control, including automated lighting controls.

About six out of 10 builders (58 percent) offer automated lighting controls, but only about one in 10 are proactively marketing them to buyers. This presents an opportunity for electrical contractors to sell their lighting design and control expertise to increase revenues and add value to their relationships with builders—particularly small and regional builders that are most likely to install automated lighting controls.

What can a contractor do to sell lighting controls to home buyers?

Ask about dimming

Ask the buyer if they want to discuss a dimming control system. Many buyers believe automated lighting controls are only affordable in luxury homes and may not think that lighting control can work for them.

Regarding affordability, a preset control or whole-house lighting control system costs about $2–8 per square foot, based on prices from one manufacturer. The study found the average home buyer price of lighting controls to be $4,600 in 2007, down from $5,100 in 2006, suggesting costs are declining.

Code compliance

In California, the Title 24 energy code requires that all homes install either high-efficacy (fluorescent) lighting or dimming in certain living spaces and vacancy sensors in bathrooms. For many buyers, it is no contest: They want dimming with halogen or incandescent lighting in living spaces, requirement or not.

Sell CASH

David Bruce, Eastern regional sales manager for Square D/Clipsal, advises installers to sell CASH, which stands for convenience, ambiance, security and high efficiency, as primary benefits of automated lighting control. Do not focus on the things a lighting control system can do, he said. Instead, focus on a specific solution the buyer wants, such as the ability to turn on all of the lights in the house from the bedroom or to control lighting, entertainment and blinds to create a home theater experience.

Regarding energy efficiency, dimming reduces input watts by an average of 20 percent, according to a Heschong Mahone Group study, making it a green strategy. Note that 86 percent of Americans would choose one type of home over another based on energy efficiency, according to Shelton Group.

See for yourself

Gary Meshberg, controls business development manager for Lightolier Controls, said manufacturers often offer their products at a significant discount to electrical contractors as a training tool and to help turn them into advocates of lighting control. Since the primary benefits of lighting controls relate to lifestyle, experiencing them firsthand enables installers to relate to customer needs and provide solutions.

Meanwhile, secure a means to demonstrate how controls work. If home technologies are not installed in the model home, or if the model home has too much daylight and the lighting control effects do not have sufficient impact, take the buyer to a local design center, showroom or even your own home.

Wire now or later

Preset control and whole-house lighting control systems are not do-it-yourself products, and require professional installation. Even if the buyer doesn’t want controls right now, they can be encouraged to install lighting control wiring during construction, as it will cost more to add controls and wiring later unless they are willing to go with power line carrier or wireless controls.

Sell design

Developing good lighting design skills can further differentiate contractors through specialization, enabling a discussion with the buyer that begins with what they want from their lighting, focusing on benefits, not products. The more the buyer wants the lighting to do, the more layers may be developed, each requiring a separate control that can be consolidated into keypads. If controls are consolidated into keypads, more lighting layers can be added, Meshberg said. More lighting can be installed, which can be roughed in and installed as an upgrade, after the certificate of occupancy is issued without delaying the other trades.

DILOUIE, a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at www.zinginc.com.