Few areas of electrical contracting have changed at a rate greater than residential lighting controls. Residential product offerings have grown exponentially as social and political agendas continue to shape energy supplies—as more middle-income homeowners take control over lighting. Manufacturers are accommodating current needs and charting the course of lighting convergence on future technological advancements.

Wired and wireless lighting controls have been around for more than a decade. Today, industry experts say they are entering a new era in convenience, efficiency and commodity that will allow homeowners to dramatically transform a room or an entire house with light while reducing energy consumption and costs.

Win-win for homeowners and contractors

Setting the global energy debate aside, there are two distinct customers in the residential market with a need for dynamic product from a manufacturing standpoint, according to Jason Sherrill, product manager of structured wiring, wireless technologies and energy protection at Cooper Wiring Devices.

“Homeowners are looking for more safety, security, comfort, convenience, style, control and possibilities. Installers are looking for more sales, options, reliability, control and an innovative technology platform,” Sherrill said.

Residential lighting controls are no longer a tool exclusively for wealthy homeowners.

The Lighting Controls Association (LSA) reports while automated lighting control offers utility for larger rooms with multiple light fixtures and types, it can be a realistic option for new or existing homes as small as 2,000 square feet.

“Lighting may be stand-alone [or] whole house, offer room and/or house control, and be tied into the security system (about 30 percent of new homes), a home theater system (about 8 percent of new homes), or a complete home automation system,” said LSA’s Craig DiLouie.

Such technological advancements, said Brad Wills, Square D director of installation systems and control, are driving electrical contractors into more low-voltage work.

“It’s expanding their scope beyond pure electrical work to include lighting control, A/V, security and HVAC control. As a result, contractors are either going to work more closely with low-voltage contractors for installations, or they are going to have to make the decision to enter those areas themselves,” Wills said.

Although advanced integrated entertainment controllers are growing faster than lighting controls over the next five years, lighting controls are still big business, said Bill Ablondi, research analyst with Parks Associates.

“Total lighting controls this year will be about $180 million for the hardware, the intelligence and basic controls, with the market growing to $350 million in 2012,” Ablondi said.

The lighting control industry is continually moving toward total integration with entertainment controllers and other home automation/intelligent building systems as the emphasis for user-friendly expandable systems with remote access grows in the face of stricter energy regulations and maintenance efficiency.

“While manufacturers have been providing residential lighting controls for quite some time, recent federal mandates on energy-efficient lighting controls are driving the development of the latest technologies, which involve ‘greener’ controls protocols, requiring less energy consumption and producing less waste,” said Bryan Matthews, public relations manager for Lightolier Controls.

Lighting controls are being watched closely and are landing on several major energy agendas, including the 2005 federal Energy Policy Act, the Title 24 Energy Code in California and continued pressure to adopt similar measures in neighboring states, as well as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

Sorting it out

According to Grant Sullivan, product marketing manager, Leviton Home Automation Products, previous automated home control and home lighting products fell into two distinct levels. “Either they were high-priced, hard-wired or proprietary wireless systems, or they were low-priced consumer products dominated by marketing hype and less-than-reliable performance,” he said.

The latest lighting control advancements are not only elevating controls to a commodity level, but there are new categories of products being developed, which places new responsibilities on electrical contractors, said Mike Piraino, lighting controls market development manager at Pass & Seymour/Legrand.

“The toughest job an electrical contractor has right now is learning about all the new systems and devices. No one manufacturer can offer the best solution in every application. So, the contractor quite often has the tough job of sorting through the different products and figuring out the best way to go,” Piraino said.

Cooper Wiring Devices

Cooper’s Sherrill added that another factor driving technological developments in residential lighting is interoperability (plug-and-play). Cooper Wiring Devices plans to introduce ASPIRE RF, a wireless lighting control device later this year.

“With interoperability, electrical contractors can move forward with an open protocol that allows them to bring a scalable and interoperable system to the end-user with a package of options from various manufacturers under one universal umbrella for ease of installation and use,” Sherrill said.

Residential vacancy or occupancy sensors developed for California Title 24 mandates, such as Cooper’s 01-400R, require users to turn on a light upon entering the room, but the sensor automatically turns it off once motion is no longer detected, a feature that can’t be overridden. However, at this time, the mandate only applies in single and multiple dwellings in California.

Lightolier Controls

Innovative occupancy sensing and daylight harvesting are becoming major players in energy conservation.

“Being able to distinguish when energy is truly needed and at what level, allows the homeowner to properly control the amount of energy consumed in the home,” Lightolier’s Matthews said.

Lightolier’s occupancy sensor (at left) doesn’t rely on conventional motion detection to determine occupancy. IntelliSight has a significantly expanded detection range of 4,000 square feet, which product developers say directly correlates to energy savings.

LiteTouch

“Today’s homeowners are increasingly committed to saving energy and to doing their part on a personal level to conserve,” said Don J. Buehner, LiteTouch president and CEO.

Daylight harvesting is now benefiting homeowners through the LiteTouch DayLight Harvesting keypad. Daylight harvesting technology allows for artificial lighting in a room to be supplemented by natural light coming through windows.

As natural light is “harvested” and measured by an ambient light sensor, the LiteTouch keypad automatically dims the light fixtures, so the natural and artificial light work in concert to maintain the desired lighting level in the room.

Pass & Seymour/Legrand

Pass & Seymour/ Legrand’s LightSense is a new entry in RF whole-home mastering controls for lighting, fan speed and small appliances. LightSense has matching wired devices for a consistent appearance for system and non-system controls.

“For new construction or for retrofitting existing homes, LightSense makes it easy to add a little or a lot of light control to the home, and because it uses radios to send and receive commands, there is a minimum of special wiring,” Piraino said.

Square D

A completely new category of lighting controls is growing out of distributed lighting control topology recently introduced by Square D. As explained by Square D’s Wills, when employing a distributed topology, an electrical contractor doesn’t have to be as exacting in the design phase because functionality is built into each input and output device itself, eliminating the need for a centralized controller.

“Communications wiring between input and output devices is typically made in a free topology arrangement that does not depend on daisy chain loops or radial feeds,” Wills said.

Leviton

Product developers at Leviton Manufacturing point out that wireless devices such as Vizia RF, also part of the Z-Wave partnership, have experienced the most dramatic changes in recent years due to the implementation of advanced digital circuitry allowing enhanced features with tactile dimmers and switches.

“In previous decades, a typical home had only a few dimmers, such as a dining room or a master bedroom. With new wireless lighting systems, dimmers are installed in many more places throughout a home—enough, in fact, to create an energy-saving home control network,” said Leviton’s Sullivan, who adds that wireless provides retrofit opportunities in older homes as easily as in new construction.

Lutron

More of these wireless options, especially for wallbox products, are creating whole-house lighting control. For the residential market, Lutron’s AuroRa whole-house lighting system requires no new wiring and no programming.

According to Mike Cunningham, Lutron marketing communications director, “Homeowners are increasingly interested in security features, such as the ability to create light pathways inside and outside the home, the use of handheld and car-visor remotes so that people don’t have to walk into a dark home, setting up a flashing distress signal for a porch light or front-door light so that emergency workers can find your home quickly, and the ability to integrate with home-security systems.”

Another key trend is the need to provide lighting controls that are tailored to individual needs and tasks. Added Cunningham, “As the population ages, more people need brighter lighting for such tasks as reading and cooking. But they still want to be able to set lower light levels for other activities, such as dining, watching television and entertaining guests. Dimmers allow people to use more light when they need it, less light when they prefer it, all while saving energy.”

Progress Lighting

New from Progress Lighting is the P83-26ICATDM, the industry’s first dimmable compact fluorescent recessed fixture, which works with a standard incandescent dimmer. Dimming down to a 15 percent light output, the recessed fixture meets California Title 24 requirements as well as all state standards for airtight recessed fixtures. “[It] captures the energy savings of high efficacy 26W twin triple tube compact fluorescent lamps,” said Craig Wright, product manager.

What’s next

The bottom line, according to Wills, is a continued emphasis on research and development for manufacturers and more homework for contractors because future users will demand more sophisticated lighting designs in their homes.

“The industry is going to have to balance with demands for more energy efficiency. State governments are going to demand homes use less energy, but homeowners are going to want multiple layers of lighting, which is going to add more energy consumption. The lighting control industry is going to be caught in the middle, and as an extension, so will electrical contractors,” Wills said. EC

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached at mcclung@lisco.com.