No Place Like Home: LED Lighting

With 115 million households in America— more than twice as many as there were 50 years ago, according to the U.S. Census Bureau—the demand for residential lighting and controls has both grown and evolved to appeal to a savvier, more high-tech, and more energy-conscious consumer. On the heels of a 2012 McKinsey study that estimated the value of North American residential lighting sales at more than $7 billion, industry experts here share their perspectives on some of the key trends shaping today’s market for residential lighting and controls and ways in which contractors can maximize their participation in this sizable and dynamic market.

Hot trends

“The availability of LED [light-emitting diode] versions of traditional incandescent fixtures is surely one of the hottest new developments in residential lighting,” said Scott Roos, vice president of product design for Juno Lighting Group in Des Plaines, Ill. “Almost any fixture type imaginable is now available in an energy-efficient LED equivalent, and while there’s certainly a wide range of quality available at different price points, the performance of the better designed LED products is often as good or better than the incandescent, halogen and CFL [compact fluorescent lamp] fixtures they replace. For example, LED downlights can now replicate the warm dimming of incandescent lamps, something that could never be accomplished with CFL technology. Based on their small size, significantly lower wattage and reduced heat emission, they’re not only easily integrated into cabinetry like their halogen predecessors, but into insulated ceilings as well to create more dramatic lighting effects, such as grazing kitchen cabinets, accenting art or providing circulation lighting in a home theater from a virtually invisible 1-inch aperture. Similarly, dimmable LED linear and undercabinet lighting now offers outstanding light quality at a fraction of the wattage of halogen without heating up cabinet bottoms.”

Glenn Siegel, director of marketing and product management for Cooper Lighting in Peachtree City, Ga., agreed that LED technology has and will continue to revolutionize the residential lighting market.

“Residential lighting is truly benefitting from the ability of LED technology to be more easily paired with controls systems versus other high-efficacy light sources, while offering the aesthetic appeal and easy-to-use qualities of incandescent. For new construction, retrofit or remodel, whole-house LED solutions can now be installed and controlled by both existing and new systems,” he said.

Progress Lighting, Greenville, S.C., is also responding to increased demands for LEDs in residential settings, said Louie Morales, Progress Lighting’s commercial product manager.

“Consumers want this technology, which was previously limited to commercial projects, at a reasonable price point and with a color/design feel comparable to traditional lighting sources,” Morales said.

From a design perspective, Morales said, “we’re seeing a trend toward larger fixtures, such as two- and three-tiered chandeliers, which are ideal for high ceilings and two-story foyer areas of the home. Brushed nickel and antique bronze continue to dominate popular finish options.”

External influences

According to Roos, “incandescent lamp phase-outs mandated by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) are just now having an impact on residential customers, and lamp mainstays such as the 50- and 75-watt PAR30s are now being replaced with a variety of more efficient choices in multiple wattage ratings, employing infrared and silver coatings.”

In addition to the influence of standards mandated by national and state energy codes such as Title 24 in California and popular certification initiatives like the Department of Energy's Energy Star program, all experts agree that utility rebates have been a key driver behind sales of more energy-efficient lighting and control systems.

“Rebates continue to be available for Energy Star-certified CFL lamps and fixtures, and now, LED lamps and fixtures are starting to be covered,” Roos said. “Some of the rebates are paid directly to the homeowner, while others subsidize retailers to sell these energy-saving technologies at more competitive prices. In particular, LED downlight retrofit trims have become a popular item qualifying for utility rebates.”

Siegel said utilities nationwide are increasingly offering incentives that make energy-efficient products more affordable than ever to purchase and install.

Next up

In the next three to five years, Roos said, ongoing technology shifts will continue to shape the residential lighting market.

“First, we’re seeing a shift from incandescent and CFL to LED lighting technology, which opens up a host of new possibilities for delivering light in residential interiors,” he said. “In the future, we’ll be able to tune the color temperature of the light to create more dramatic cool/warm lighting contrasts as well as positively impact health, sleep patterns and mood. And LED fixtures will be available in new form factors that will more cleanly integrate with a home’s architecture, creating a more natural effect overall.”

Siegel also said future residential lighting systems will continue to offer an increasing number of ways to customize the lighting environment.

“Cooper Lighting’s Halo brand, for example, now offers 4-, 5- and 6-inch LED downlights, wall washers and adjustables, as well as LED undercabinet fixtures and LED trackheads, all of which can be on control systems,” he said.

Roos additionally anticipates the growing convergence of lighting, mobility and demand response will define the industry.

“We’ll increasingly see intelligent light fixtures and other energy-consuming devices in the home, controlled from smart devices, such as smartphones and tablets, which take into consideration homeowner preferences as well as usage patterns and inputs from utilities to help shift load and promote energy savings,” he said.

Getting in the game

In terms of tips to help contractors better understand the lighting market and deliver added value to their residential customers, Siegel recommended that contractors ensure the LED products and control systems they wish to work with are compatible.

“It helps to consult manufacturer-developed compatibility tables, which are designed to give installers the peace of mind that these products will work as intended,” he said.

Morales also feels that compatibility is a key factor that contractors need to investigate prior to installation.

“When approaching a project involving lighting controls,” he said, “we recommend verifying that fixtures are not only compatible, but work well as a whole system. You want to not only choose the most ideal controls for the project at hand, but also select lighting fixtures that meet the wants and needs of the customer in terms of design and efficiency.”

Roos cautioned contractors to be wary of LED product claims.

“LED [lamps] are still a new technology with little industry standardization,” he said. “Learn as much as you can about the technology through manufacturers’ data sheets and by asking your own questions so that you can distinguish between high- and low-performing products. Also, even after you think you’ve selected the right product, it’s best to see an actual sample perform before making your selection. If you simply don’t have the time or inclination to research the nuances of LED technology, then stick with established suppliers with a good track record for quality who you know will be around for the long haul.”

All the experts advised contractors to make use of the many resources available for residential lighting and controls, from instructor-led and online e-learning courses offered by lighting manufacturers to trade shows and trade associations like the Illuminating Engineering Society and the American Lighting Association.

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