Getting it Right: The value of on-site LED lighting demos

Be it for selection, verification or refinement, a light-emitting diode (LED) lighting installation demonstration is a useful step in ensuring your choices meet the customer’s desires, needs and requirements. While LEDs are ubiquitous in today’s marketplace, they are constantly advancing. Confirming LED lighting meets your client’s expectations is not only a winning service but an on-the-job opportunity for discovery and education.

Because LEDs require many considerations to be effectively deployed, demos are especially valuable. For example, light quality of the same product across manufacturers will vary. One might cast a more pinkish hue while another looks greener. Demos are a great opportunity for comparison. Manufacturers and distributors are often eager partners for electrical contractors (ECs) because each player wants to ensure the lighting looks good and meets client needs.

“With a demo, the owner can see and feel the lighting choices he or she is considering,” said Jon Zelinsky, director—contractor marketing for Philips Lighting, Somerset, N.J. “The same goes for the EC who may be new to the product. Most people are visual, so they want to see and make LED lighting choices more tangible. Demos help do that. It’s difficult to assess LEDs from a photo or data sheet. The more ECs understand lighting beyond install—such as layering lighting, types of light, and the use and role of controls—the better they can give the owner what they need in terms of expected aesthetics and cost savings.”

Though popular in renovation and retrofit projects, LED lighting isn’t a slam dunk sale. It requires product education often provided by the manufacturer, sometimes the distributor or the informed EC. Whether for lighting consideration or refinement prior to installation, on-site demonstrations have become aan increasingly appealing education tool.

“I think demos are critical, and we see them happening a lot more when it comes to LEDs,” said Dave Moeller, national market manager for Graybar, a St. Louis-based wholesale distributor for electrical, communications and data networking products. “In a building renovation, owners view change as risk, and changing lighting is one of those risks. A demo of LED lets them see what they are getting and often reduces the anxiety. Poor lighting drives change; better lighting sells. To us, demos are a value-added service.”

The change should be as seamless as possible.

“At a minimum, the LED light should look like the light it is replacing,” Zelinsky said. “[It should be] even better if it improves the light quality. The EC can be in position to educate customers and possibly train them before they hand off the lighting.”

From simple to something more

LED lighting demos can be as simple as swapping out several competing products until you find the desired look and feel. Demos can also be more elaborate. For instance, an office retrofit might benefit from creating a space to try out various lamps, fixtures and layout designs.

“That owner may be considering several buildings or multiple floors or campuses,” Zelinsky said. “They may be eyeing control systems as well.”

Moeller said LED lighting projects that include controls have risen by as much as 40 percent. Consequently, demos to confirm controls’ performance are becoming more common and might require a more sophisticated demo.

“A mockup space can make a difference in smart planning and installation for the EC, distributor, manufacturer and owner,” Zelinsky said. “It also allows you to show a ‘good-better-best’ scenario in terms of product and lighting strategy.”

While demonstrations can’t effectively reveal LED end-of-life—an instructive graph is the better visual—they can show other characteristics.

“Color rendering is one immediate feature you can see in an LED lighting demo,” Moeller said. “Beam focus is another, such as adjusting light cut-off in a parking lot when demoing LED outdoor lamps. We just won a job with a well-known manufacturer who was able to beat their competitor through demonstrating their product’s higher performance in terms of light output and controllability. In fact, fewer fixtures would be needed. The customer was not only convinced, but they purchased what was the more expensive fixture due to better lighting results.”

“When engaged in an LED lighting retrofit or other installation, demos are dependent on your relationship with the customer,” Zelinsky said. “The customer might ask the manufacturer to get a demo going. Maybe the distributor suggests it. Maybe you. Either way, the demo is most successful and fruitful when all parties work together.”

In the business of providing demos

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is a private research university with three campuses, with the central campus is in Troy, N.Y. It is home to the Lighting Research Center (LRC), a leader in lighting research and education. Its Demonstration and Evaluation of Lighting Technologies and Applications (DELTA) program is committed to finding energy-efficient lighting solutions. LEDs and controls are often prominent in the program.

“Some clients are seeking verification of manufacturers’ claims,” said Jennifer Brons, director of design demonstrations and adjunct assistant professor, LRC. “Other demos might discover how to best light, say, a high-rise office with LED, yet others might focus on the operation and performance of a control system.”

Brons said demos are valuable when working with a technology that has hard-to-predict features.

“For example, while light levels are easy to capture with engineering tools, occupant influence, especially with controls and lighting use, is unpredictable,” she said. 

Having a discussion with the facility owners will help focus the demo and determine objectives.

“If it’s a retrofit demo, is [the goal] to maintain current light levels, increase them or lower them?” Brons asked. “Will a demo help you advise or recommend technologies that will help meet objectives, give you the opportunity to try them out? Will it also help you better analyze the space, be it an office, campus building, warehouse or other setting? Are occupancy sensors or dimmers going to be the best way to lower energy costs? Can you do more with fewer fixtures?”

Many of these questions came to the fore in a DELTA demo for Siena College’s Rosetti Hall, located in Loudonville, N.Y. The contemporary, three-story, 25,000-square-foot building houses classrooms, meeting rooms and offices. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) was awarded funding to change the originally specified conventional fluorescent lighting to LEDs.

The objective was to ensure LED lighting achieved a comfortable visual environment, provided classroom flexibility and saved energy. Eleven different LED luminaires were installed, ranging from recessed to wall mounts to 2-by-4 troffers and pendant strip lights. After verifying engineer lighting calculations and occupancies in areas to be equipped with lighting-control technologies, other areas of the installation needed review.

“It became a discovery process to when and where to apply photosensors to achieve energy savings,” Brons said. “In the classrooms, we needed to explore when to apply LED down-lighting and LED up-lighting. Input from students to facility [managers] was significant in deciding and fine-tuning the LED lighting. It was through the demo results that the campus decided to go all LED in Rosetti Hall. The best indicator of acceptance was how few occupants noticed the lighting change out. There was no annoying flicker, and the LEDs did not interfere with audiovisual equipment. After some trial and error, the wall-box dimmers worked well with the drivers in the teacher lounges and other rooms.”

The demo revealed LED lighting energy savings of 33 percent over the originally specified fluorescent.

In this particular case, lessons learned included the importance of specifying LED dimmers that could accommodate the load size; the value in clustering and labeling controls used for multiple light layers or perhaps using an integrated scene controller; and locating restroom luminaires with integral passive infrared sensors closest to the door so they reacted to movement (e.g., door swing) as soon as the occupant entered. Also, switches and dimmer controls were found to be confusing and ineffective in public spaces such as hallways and lounges. Controls that provided scheduled turn-on or sweep-off were more useful in these spaces.

“Lessons learned from DELTA demos can generally be gleaned based on the setting and the application and its impacts on LED performance and/or controls,” Brons said. “Certainly, you can’t just walk away from a LED installation, especially with controls, without verifying and fine-tuning. I think it’s especially useful to get occupant feedback as you try to reach the best lighting design. If a demo permits, I may stand with building occupants and have them answer questions to help me fine-tune LED color rendition as it relates to a hallway or other location. That might involve swapping out product or dialing in a change through a controller system to achieve agreeable color.”

DELTA has just completed a demo in a warehouse where mogul-based high-intensity discharge socket-base lighting was replaced with 150-watt, screw-in base LED lamps. Brons said that results were showing better (higher) light levels with the LED product while using less power. A follow-up report will be completed soon. All DELTA case studies can be found at

Carving out a nondisruptive space to test a new technology, such as LEDs, can be well worth it. If the owner is amenable, demos are a valuable way to explore light levels, dimmability, light distribution and more. They may also be an opportunity to grow your LED knowledge and be more expedient on that next project.

About the Author

Jeff Gavin

Freelance Writer

Jeff Gavin, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction, and urban planning industries. He can be reached at

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