Becoming a Lighting Trends Authority

What’s the secret to keeping up on the latest in residential lighting upgrades? Just ask the neighborhood remodeler, note the ubiquitous variations of new products at a trade show, or chat with your supplier. Knowing the newest trends makes you an invaluable adviser to your customers and other specialty contractors.

Some potentially good news has appeared on the residential front, according to some industry experts.

“Remodeling activity has been rising slowly since the first quarter of 2010. Expected improvements in the job market and the overall economy are beginning to increase homeowners’ confidence, and remodelers are seeing indications that business will pick up,” said David Crowe, National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) chief economist.

Like any recent economic reports, the news is cautious, but it points upward.

LED curiosity and manufacturer response
One positive development is in residential lighting. New technologies will be available for homeowners to implement, and retrofits can create business opportunities for electrical contractors.

Lighting manufacturers from across the county are pushing the boundaries in lighting technology. Many partner with the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC), at the University of California, Davis. The research center works to commercialize new products in five years or less. Efforts in light-emitting diode (LED) lighting are significant.

“A recent Sylvania Socket Survey found that approximately 9 percent of households own at least one LED light bulb,” said Kelly Cunningham, outreach director. “There’s enough familiarity with LEDs by homeowners that the idea of an LED light bulb isn’t so outrageous. We are seeing market growth in LED product categories spanning both high-end and more affordable price points. From the remote-controlled Philips LivingColors lamps to solar-charged $20 IKEA task lamps, there are unique offerings in every group.”

“Compact fluorescent can lighting in residential was the trend,” said Michael A. Menn, principal and architect for Michael Menn Ltd. in Northbrook, Ill. Menn is a certified graduate remodeler (CGR), a certification through NAHB Remodelers. “Ultimately, customers didn’t like the color rendition. Now we’re seeing recessed LED lighting. This trend is undetermined but offers promise.”

Dan Bawden, CGR, and president of Legal Eagle Contractors Co. in Bellaire, Texas, also sees LEDs as a growing option for efficient lighting in residential applications.

“Can lighting with LED and fixtures now offer a pleasing light and color temperature,” Bawden said.

LED costs, however, remain a factor.

“If you take a simple recessed can with a 75-watt lamp, it might run $60 (Juno IC2),” Menn said. “The LED equivalent might be $250. Most clients will never see the payback. However, costs will come down through market penetration and competition. I do have customers where cost is not a problem. So you need to discover where LED lighting can be a discussion.”

Bawden said the discussion requires some finesse.

“To sell customers on LEDs, I need to explain their multiple advantages. For example, the lighting runs at a cooler temperature, which is especially attractive in a kitchen. It uses less energy and offers [a much] longer life. There’s also a certain wow factor. Knowing costs will come down, it doesn’t hurt to sell a customer on later adoption, as well.”

Today, LED lighting is finding a home in over- and under-cabinet lighting.

“It’s reasonable in price,” Menn said.

“I’ve had success with Ribbon 2 LED products like those from,” Bawden said. “I’ve worked with 1.3-watt and 3.3 watts-per-foot in interior and exterior rated versions. Some vendors call them ‘tape lights.’ To install, they require a driver, either 300-watt or 100-watt, depending on the length of the run. Ribbon is so much brighter than rope lighting. I’m using it in the kitchen and in game or media rooms. It can serve as indirect lighting to illuminate a ceiling or dim down for a movie in an entertainment room.”

Cunningham said the LED downlighting market has enough players so comparisons between quality products can be made.

“Five years ago there were limited choices. This has changed significantly. To name just a few, there’s Cree’s CR6, Cooper Lighting’s HALO (the first Energy Star-rated LED), Progress Lighting’s Everlume, or remote phosphor offerings from Philips Lightolier or Focal Point. Strong warranties, Energy Star labeling, color choices, and increased lumen output with good distribution mark significant progress in the LED downlight products.”

Finding trends in green
Regreen is a little known residential remodeling program created by the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Though not a rating system, it offers certification for building professionals. What is unique is how the program works to bring together the homeowner and contractor to make informed decisions in sustainable home remodeling.

Regreen’s suggested strategies in lighting and electrical can reveal trends in lighting and power management. Recommended practices and products include programmable thermostats; management of phantom loads; daylighting; task lighting; on-demand hot water recirculation systems; tankless water heaters; LED (indoor/out) and cold-cathode (outdoor) lighting; tight-sealing insulation-contact cans for recessed lighting; motion detected outdoor lighting; dimmers, timers or whole-house controls; passive solar heating; photovoltaic (PV) power production; and more.

To learn more about Regreen certification, visit NAHB offers a similar program called Certified Green Professionals. Visit —J.G.

Cunningham made an important point regarding LEDs.

“It helps when new products like the CREE CR6 Series or Philips Capri Retrofit Module feature a medium screw base for easy replacement. But here’s where the ECs can really do themselves and their customers a favor—know that LED lighting is not just a bulb. It’s a module or system meant to last a decade or longer. That is an investment.

“The homeowner needs to be happy over time with the lumen output and correlated color temperature (CCT) of the LED unit they have selected. If they aren’t, they will have to replace the complete LED module not simply a bulb,” Cunnigham said.

Cunningham recommends that ECs direct their clients to sites such as Energy or to learn basic lighting terms, such as efficacy, lumen, CCT and color rendering index.

“Smart shoppers who buy with these terms in mind are more likely to select a product that will match their expectations,” Cunningham said.

Getting creative with light
While LEDs may be a growing trend, it is not at the exclusion of other lighting. Cunningham sees the future as a mix of technologies, not simply one lighting source dominating another.

“Solid-state lighting products are simply the newest technology to join other valid lighting options,” she said. “We have choices including linear fluorescents, compact fluorescents, halogen, devices that use a hybrid, and even traditional incandescent where it makes sense. Our motivation at CLTC is reducing the amount of energy used for lighting, but not at the expense of functionality or quality. The informed decisionmaker will examine the source, luminaire, controls and intended application.”

Interior lighting is also being used in more creative ways, especially to accent home decor.

“One home trend coming to an end is overillumination using too many downlights, often all on one switch,” Cunningham said. “Layering light with different luminaire types as well as controls and switching that matches use patterns has replaced that practice. For example, separate lighting over a food prep area, over cabinet, and breakfast nook provides opportunities for occupants to use just what they need.”
Bawden said he is seeing more expressive or artistic lighting in the variety of glass fixtures and more eclectic choices in the kitchen and bath.

Controlling light and other trends
Lighting control continues to advance, as well, with new technologies coming to the forefront.

“Home integration has evolved offering much more integration bang for the buck,” Bawden said. “Wireless functioning is better with the use of radio frequency and the need for fewer signal boosters throughout the house. While customers still tend to be high income for us, we have had some middle-income customers—typically gadget enthusiasts. It does help that these systems can be installed incrementally.”

Part of this controls trend has included the introduction of vacancy or occupancy sensors in the home. Light can be set to turn off immediately after someone leaves a room or set to a timed delay. Some models also include daylighting sensors.

“WattStopper and Lutron are two companies offering such products,” Cunningham said.

Menn added that he too is witnessing the trend in wireless switches and home integration as the costs come down. He cites the lower cost of home standby generators as a factor that is increasing their appeal. Finally, he’s observed canned lighting making way for more surface-mounted fixtures.

“Now it is 60/40, recessed to decorative,” he said. “That’s a 33 percent shift.”

The idea of blending or extending an indoor living space to the outdoors is also a noteworthy trend. Patios now feature more elaborate hardscaping, outdoor kitchens, pergolas, even home entertainment centers. Remodeling and landscaping, both modest and elaborate, is requiring additional power and light. But that’s another story.

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at

About the Author

Jeff Gavin

Freelance Writer
Jeff Gavin, LEED Green Associate, is the owner of Gavo Communications, a sustainability-focused marketing services firm serving the energy and construction industries. He can be reached at .

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