Cancellation of the 2005 National Electrical Contractors Association’s (NECA) convention in New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina was a minor disappointment compared to the loss of life, destruction of billions of dollars of property and the diaspora of many of the city’s residents.

It was still a disappointment, however, as months of planning had gone into the trade show and seminars, especially the new Conference on Lighting Education, which was intended to school electrical contractors in lighting and lighting design opportunities.

While another lighting conference is set for the 2006 convention in Boston, this article contains an overview of 2005’s speeches and a preview of 2006’s offerings, which come from Randy Burkett, Mary Beth Gotti and Rebecca Hadley-Catter, all of whom were scheduled for the New Orleans’ convention. Burkett, former president of the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) and president of Randy Burkett Lighting Design Inc., St. Louis, was slated to present “Substitution: Value Engineering with Quality” and “Make More Up-selling than Substituting.”

Substitution and up-selling

Electrical contractors stand to gain in this market, Burkett said. Lighting designers perform about 10 percent of lighting jobs, potentially leaving the rest to electrical contractors, engineers and design-build contractors, for whom education and energy-consciousness is a must, especially when energy codes are key considerations and thousands of products from which to choose.

Contractors and specifiers should learn how to work together, Burkett said. Setting up a day-one communication protocol between contractors and designers will prevent problems. If a contractor knows what a lighting designer is trying to achieve, it will be easier for he or she to explain purchasing and engineering decisions to an owner.

“So often a project is specified and designed, goes out on the street, contractors bid and get the job, and the contractor never speaks with the original specifier,” he said. “On almost every occasion, the contractor is working in a void. He doesn’t know anything other than the numbers on the page; he doesn’t know what the specifier is trying to achieve, and rarely does he go back to the specifier.”

An even better strategy: to establish communication early on—without compromising each other’s independence and expertise—can yield future work for both parties.

“Lighting professionals and specifiers really are in a good position to recommend quality contractors,” he said. “Not partner with them; I don’t think we need to do that because it strips some of our independence. But it doesn’t mean we can’t say, ‘We’ve worked with these guys and they’ll do right by you. They’ll go by your specifications; they’re diligent; they’re good.’ There’s more work after that.”

Burkett said that contractors who know when to up-sell and when to substitute keep the peace with designers, without sacrificing quality over cost-effectiveness.

“So often contractors end up looking like the bad guys because they’re poking holes in the original spec, which sets up adversarial relationships oftentimes between the specifier, the lighting contractor and the electrical engineer,” he said. “What can actually be more profitable for everybody is to look at specifications and look for alternatives where it would be good to save money, but to look at areas where there can be upgrades in lighting.”

Thanks to leaps in technology, today’s lighting possibilities are nearly endless compared to 15 years ago. Lighting designers are increasingly asked to perform small miracles, devising strategies to meet complex client needs that are emotional, psychological and biological—while keeping within boundaries imposed by finances and ever-stringent energy codes.

At a time when construction and renovations nationwide—commercial and residential—are on the rise, mortgage rates are low, energy restrictions are tight and retailers and wealthy baby boomers are shelling out for sophisticated products, the demand for high-quality, energy-conscious lighting is everywhere.

According to industry analysts, the five-year sales outlook for fixtures is expected to pass $11 billion in 2008, up from around $9 billion in 2003. Residential lighting projects totaled about $1.84 billion in 2003 and are expected to hit $2.2 billion by 2008.

To this, add the Department of Energy requirement that states observe, at a minimum, the new and more stringent American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) 90.1 standard, which experts say is pushing the development and sale of energy-wise—and more expensive—fixtures and lamps. At the same time, energy codes are driving product innovation.

The five forces of change

Rebecca Hadley-Catter, market specialist with the SOURCE, the educational facility at Cooper Lighting Center, Peachtree, Ga., was part of a team that featured Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) board member and SOURCE manager Mark Lien.

She was to have presented “The Five Forces of Change in the Lighting Industry.” The session was set to cover an energy-crisis update, the globalization of lighting products, energy and environmental legislation, and radical new technologies.

“What’s happening in lighting as a result of the energy crisis is really interesting,” she said. “It’s changing the design of our fixtures; it’s changing the type of lamp we’re going to use; it’s changing the hours that a lamp is going to last.”

Hadley-Catter also mentioned the field of photobiology—that is, the environmental effect light has on organisms. There is dispute over the research, she said, but some contend that better light sources can lower depression levels and even affect cancer levels. And proper lighting can dramatically affect the well being of elderly citizens.

All of these factors have yanked lighting design out from behind the shadows of its sexier cousins—architecture and interior design. Pick up a high-profile architecture magazine and you will see the lighting designer credited separately. Not so, 25 years ago, Burkett said.

“The complexity of lighting as an industry has increased manifold a number of times,” he said. “It’s no longer, ‘Should I use a cool white or a florescent or a white florescent?’ Now, there are dozens of choices—different shapes, different cross-sections, different source-types, lamps, LEDs, metal halide, fiber optics—things that 25 years ago were just a glimmer in the industrial engineer’s eye are now realities, and people have to be able to sort these out.”

Opportunities today

Mary Beth Gotti, manager of General Electric’s Lighting Institute, Cleveland, was to give the keynote address: “Opportunities in the Lighting Market Today.” She said it was designed to show contractors the profits available in this market. She also cited the effects of changing environmental policies and increased use of automated lighting, along with a new emphasis on safety and security.

“The contractor can play a key role in providing value-added solutions,” Gotti wrote in an e-mail. “To be a ‘consultative’ contractor, however, means staying on top of the latest lighting developments and legislation.”

Good designers, she said, have always kept abreast of developments in their field; however, energy legislation and lighting technology have become far more complex than a decade ago. Still, contractors should “take the plunge” and hire a lighting designer.

To integrate lighting design successfully into a business model, contractors must decide what role the designer will take in their business: Will he or she be a subcontractor, consultant or employee? If the electrical contractor is small enough, will he or she take on the job after learning the basics?

“An experienced lighting designer can help the contractor—and the client—make more money,” Gotti said. “And they will be far more effective than an electrician who takes a few classes on lighting. Lighting designers, like those that are members of the IALD, are experts in their craft. So what does that mean to the contractor? Their lighting designs may employ fewer fixtures, use less energy and comply with all the changing codes and regulations. They can enhance the ‘salability’ and appeal of buildings and residences and can suggest value-added solutions that most people wouldn’t even think of.

“Now, that’s not to say that lighting education for the contractor is a bad idea. Awareness of good quality lighting and the ability to at least recognize the opportunities for improvement are important for everyone.”

Many manufacturers offer two- to three-day lighting courses, and IESNA offers lighting education, usually in the evenings, over a period of several weeks.

Lightfair, NECA and others provide seminars, and the National Council for the Qualifications of the Lighting Professions (NCQLP) offers a Lighting Certified credential, which includes an exam and indicates a basic level of lighting knowledge. Gotti also said to look at the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which provides tax incentives for energy-saving lighting retrofits in 2006 and 2007.

“These incentives can open up new opportunities for the electrical contractor. Contractors should consult with professional organizations and manufacturers to get updated on this important development,” she said. EC

COLSTON is a freelance writer from Portland, Maine. She can be reached at PAColston@aol.com.