The recent national energy bill banning incandescent bulbs by 2014 has mandated energy-efficient residential lighting. Before introducing the latest lighting devices, electrical contractors (ECs) need to survey homeowners’ needs and lifestyles.

Planning is essential to designing rooms with light sources that create a variety of living environments. ECs who can serve as good lighting designers become problem solvers in determining precisely where lighting is needed to accomplish specific tasks—then install it with tasteful flair.

In kitchens, ECs should prepare for the typical ceiling fixtures but also consider under-cabinet and over-cabinet lighting, which continues to grow in popularity, said Jeffrey Dross, product manager at Kichler Lighting, Cleveland. “In addition to functional and ambient light sources, accent lighting adds a touch of jewelry to the home. Don’t forget to prepare the home for these mini-pendants and island lights.”

Energy-efficient recessed cans always should be considered, especially in kitchens. Some ECs are reluctant to use fluorescent recessed mainly because they are unaware that dimming residential fluorescent lamps now is possible with a range of products from several manufacturers.

Homeowners have several options. Using recessed fixtures can be restricted to where detail work is being performed, such as computing, paying bills, reading recipes or doing homework.

“After the EC completes the job, multiple switches allow the homeowner to define innumerable environments with the switching and dimming of various light sources,” Dross said. “Prepare for a chandelier, over-table recessed accent lights, cove lighting and wall sconces. Each should have a separate control switch, and most should be dimmer controlled. The same planning should be done in the foyer.”

When entertaining, subtle cabinet lighting and dramatic pendants can set the scene. The homeowner and guests will look their best, and the home will look more inviting.

Don’t overlook the garage and basement. Will homeowners have a workshop, a laundry area or hobby work space? Each would have unique lighting needs.

Outdoor lighting options

In high-use outdoor areas, it’s essential to plan for energy-efficient lighting.

“Wiring the entire outdoor system to a high-quality photocell unit will make outdoor lighting effortless for the homeowner,” Dross said.

When planning exterior lighting specification and installation, ECs must consider the purpose of the lighting and the types of exterior lighting loads. For example, will there be holiday light displays, a spa or an outdoor swimming pool? Will homeowners entertain frequently? Think of what homeowners are trying to accomplish.

“They may want exterior lights to turn on at sunset and off at dawn or just on and off at certain fixed times,” said Bart Manguno, home system sales supervisor at Lutron Electronics Co. Inc., Coopersburg, Pa. “Owners may also want the lights to come on at sunset and then possibly dim to 50 percent at midnight, or they may want a motion sensor to trip and turn on a pathway of light. Find out their intent, and then provide recommendations to best meet their needs.”

Manguno suggested to take note of the types of landscape lighting, especially when low voltage (magnetic, electronic) is used, because different load types may require different dimmers.

“Although dimmers control exterior lighting, the physical placement of the dimmer should be inside the house or in a completely weatherproof [nonmetal] box and installed in accordance with all national and local electrical codes,” Manguno said.

Dimming saves energy

Lighting accounts for nearly 20 percent of the average home’s electricity bill. According to Michael Jouaneh, Lutron market development manager, installing just one dimmer in every U.S. home would save $230 million in electricity per year and reduce CO² emissions by 4.3 billion pounds per year—the equivalent of taking 370,000 cars off the road.

Dimming—from a range of 0 to 100 percent—reduces energy consumption and extends bulb life. For example, when using four 75-watt bulbs for three hours per day, dimming them merely 25 percent saves 20 percent electricity and extends bulb life up to six years each.

In addition to energy-saving and environmental benefits, ECs can tell home builders and homeowners how easy it is to control lights without compromising quality. Besides saving energy, dimming offers more lighting level options than just “on” or “off.”

A wide variety of dimmers enables matching homeowner requirements for style, comfort, ease-of-use and function with energy-savings capability. If a home builder or homeowner wants a dimmer that has a glow-in-the-dark on/off button and a slide control that also glows, it would be fairly easy to find such a dimmer through your preferred manufacturer.

Lighting control yields profits

Lighting control is within reach of virtually any home and household budget. Lighting control, the primary component in home-automation systems, is said to be the fastest growing home technology, according to Thomas Pickral Jr., HAI business development manager, Metairie, La. This puts ECs in a prime position to profit.

Lighting control systems vary greatly in design, scope and implementation—with a wide range of products for different projects. Pickral said costs range from $40 per circuit up to the $200-plus range in sophisticated systems. Become familiar with several lighting systems in different price ranges to avoid losing a job because you are perceived as too expensive.

Traditionally, there has been a linear relationship between lighting control products’ cost and performance, and more capable systems have not been available for retrofit installations.

According to Pickral, a relatively new technology called universal powerline bus (UPB) is a digital communications standard for lighting and home control, bridging the gap between cost and performance. UPB works over existing power lines in a home and, therefore, doesn’t require running new wires. UPB has about 95 percent of the features found in high-end systems. The devices have a dealer price of $55 to $120, making them cost-effective for all but the most price-sensitive installations. UPB has been extensively tested and researched in residential environments and found to be 99.9 percent reliable.

Used for single-phase, 120/240-volt systems, UPB transmits using a spread spectrum pulse over the AC sine wave with peak strength of 60V.

“This pulse has a long range and can travel up to one mile through the power lines. UPB has advanced addressing that allows 256 devices per house, 256 houses per transformer, which has greatly reduced the chance of overlap between houses,” Pickral said.

ECs are strongly encouraged to incorporate residential lighting control as part of their revenue stream. Lutron can help contractors raise their knowledge and understanding of residential lighting options by teaching ways to successfully promote and sell dimming products.

Home automation and lighting control

Homeowners are requesting the hottest technology in residential markets: home-automation systems, which could be an upsell from standard lighting control packages. The best way to break into this market is to get educated. Home-automation systems can include lighting control, energy management, security, audio and other subsystems. The challenge for ECs is to educate the customers. Although owners are interested, they may lack the knowledge or ability to specify exactly what they want the system to do. Thus, when designing a home-automation system, ECs must become educators as well as designers and contractors.

Start by asking homeowners to share their automation system expectations.

“Educate homeowners on what other options are available for their system that complement the products they’re installing,” Pickral said. “Tell owners about other popular options they may not have considered. When you have a sense of what the customer wants, you can assemble the framework for the automation system.”

To help electrical contractors in selecting the correct lighting control or home automation systems, Lutron offers tips to figure out what the owner wants. Determine the following criteria to evaluate individual homeowner needs:

  • What needs to be controlled and for what purpose
  • The type of lighting being controlled (incandescent, fluorescent, low voltage)
  • The physical distances of components being controlled
  • Whether the job is new construction or retrofit
  • Budgetary concerns
  • Homeowner aptitude for using technological devices

HomeWorks is Lutron’s premiere system for luxury homes, new construction or major renovations. It features a selection of control styles and finishes to complement and enhance various home styles.

Because home-automation controllers come in a plethora of shapes and sizes with a dizzying array of options, selecting the right controller is a critical decision. Pickral recommends selecting a controller that supports the subsystems and technologies usable today in addition to those a homeowner may add later.

But how does a homeowner choose the right one with the correct functionality? There is no single language or protocol for home-automation and lighting control systems. There are many. The more products and protocols the central controller supports, the easier it will be to integrate different systems together and add on later.

“Popular protocols on the market today are RS-232, Ethernet, UPB, Z-Wave, ZigBee, plus many proprietary protocols. Look for central controllers that support as many protocols as possible, and avoid proprietary systems that lock you into one particular product line,” Pickral said.

Select a controller capable of handling the entire house, ensuring it has enough capacity for the future. The worst thing to tell an excited homeowner who wants to add more is, “Sorry, you are maxed out.” Choose a controller with sufficient capacity to manage every light in the house, even if the customer only wants a few locations now.

The way homeowners interact with their systems is critical. If everything works flawlessly, but the homeowner does not know how to use it, the entire system becomes useless. Interaction options include keypads, telephone, touchscreens and the Internet. Touchscreens, available in many sizes and styles, are an easy way to use a home-automation or lighting control system. Friends and neighbors are impressed with touchscreens, leading to lucrative home-automation and lighting control referrals.

Because many homeowners want to access their system remotely, consider telephone and Internet access. Most systems offer remote access. Remind owners they likely will have a telephone, but they will not always have Internet access.

Congress has mandated tripling energy-efficiency standards by 2020, and lighting manufacturers are up to the challenge. Stay tuned as more new lighting solutions debut.

WOODS writes for many consumer and trade publications. She can be reached at patwoods123@hotmail.com.