Where the Light Is: Home Lighting Trends

Published On
Mar 15, 2016

The 2008 housing-market crash ended the home construction boom. A steady recovery began in 2012, and it continues today, bolstering the U.S. economy. Historically, residential construction averages 5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.

Total construction spending jumped 10.5 percent in 2015 to $1.1 trillion, the highest level in eight years, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. With spending increasing 12.6 percent for the year, home construction was a bright spot in construction. Meanwhile, according to the National Association of Home Builders’ (NAHB) Housing Market Index, builder confidence remains strong.

“For the past seven months, builder confidence levels have averaged in the low 60s, which is in line with a gradual, consistent recovery,” said David Crowe, NAHB chief economist and senior vice president, in mid-December 2015. “With job creation, economic growth and growing household formations, we anticipate the housing market to continue to pick up traction as we head into 2016.”

Several major trends are affecting home design, according to the American Institute of Architects (AIA), which asked a panel of 500 architects what they thought would be the hottest home-design features over the next decade. The results included technology integration offering greater control of temperature, security and lighting; energy-efficient and sustainable design elements; senior-friendly options such as added handrails; kitchens remaining the home’s focal point; and outdoor and home-office spaces growing in importance.

Lighting plays a role in all of these trends, from greater connectivity and control, to energy efficiency, to satisfying the particular vision and lifestyle needs of the growing senior population. In turn, a number of key trends is imposing major technological change on lighting.


The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 established energy standards for general-purpose 40–100-watt (W) incandescent lamps that effectively phased them out. The halogen A-line lamp satisfies the standards while providing similar lighting performance and an economical cost. Once the heir apparent, the compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is now declining as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) gain traction.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s (NEMA) Lamp Index puts numbers to these trends. In the third quarter of 2015, demand for LED A-line lamps surged 237.2 percent on a year-over-year basis, while halogen A-line lamps increased 33 percent, incandescent A-lamps decreased 31.5 percent, and CFLs dropped 28 percent. NEMA estimated that halogen A-lamps represented about half of all consumer lamp shipments during the quarter, followed by CFL at 27.3 percent, LED at 15.1 percent and incandescent at 9 percent.

When the energy act was passed, LEDs were still developing and very expensive. CFLs briefly achieved a market share of 30 percent but never really caught on due to consumer concerns about lighting quality, dimming compatibility, flicker, warmup time and mercury. Today, LEDs are competitive in performance and cost. For instance, Sam’s Club sells a 60W equivalent LED lamp for $3.33.

“LEDs are definitely becoming more prevalent in today’s homes,” said Pamela Price, retail marketing manager, Osram Sylvania. “The seventh annual Osram Sylvania Socket Survey last year found 65 percent of Americans have purchased LEDs for use in their homes, and the majority—64 percent—of Americans who did purchased LEDs for sockets in general illumination.”

Respondents who had tried LEDs cited a number of valued benefits, including reduced energy consumption (96 percent), longer life (93 percent) and cost savings (93 percent).

The outlook for LEDs compared to CFLs is so strong that manufacturer GE announced it will cease production of coiled CFLs for the U.S. market and focus its consumer efforts on LED lamps. GE is now helping such retail partners as Walmart and Sam’s Club make the transition; Sam’s Club, GE announced, will be 100 percent LED by the end of the year. IKEA has also announced that it will exclusively sell LED lamps. GE predicts that more than half of U.S. light sockets will be fitted with LED lamps by 2020. 

The CFL has also lost some favor with Energy Star, which introduced a new specification to take effect in 2017 that is expected to disqualify many CFL lamps on the market today, thereby placing them outside of many utility-rebate programs. According to Strategies Unlimited, global CFL market share will be reduced to just 8 percent of lamp sales by 2022.

Osram Sylvania’s Price pointed out several technological trends in LED lamps, notably demand for familiar A-lamp shapes (particularly important where the lamp will be visible), dimming to a familiar warm color appearance, cost reduction and smart lighting. Smart lamps are of particular interest because their capabilities go beyond the familiar and into new consumer benefits and value. These lamps feature embedded wireless radio communication and firmware. They can be networked with other smart products, such as switches, sensors and plugs, and can be automated or controlled using mobile apps, rule-based triggers, scenes and timers. 

For integration into a home-automation system, a gateway may be required. Lamps may be connected wirelessly using ZigBee, Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. A user can change both intensity and color appearance manually or automatically from a single interface device. For example, selected lights can automatically turn on so the user doesn’t return home to a dark house. Or, lamp color appearance can adjust from cool to warm throughout the day.

“Additionally, the really ‘smart-smart’ lights can even begin to learn how they are being used and then begin to modify their behavior for the user, making our homes more autonomous and less ‘controlled,’” said Aaron Ganick, head of SMART Home Americas, Osram Sylvania. “We have only begun to scratch the surface of the potential for these smart bulbs.”

He cautions against installing smart lamps on circuits attached to a standard dimmer, spacing products out of range, and mixing home-automation systems that control a single lamp; no one wants to use multiple apps for lighting control. 

Since smart lighting is new, Ganick said, some consumers will need to be educated to understand the benefits.

“Smart lighting is getting a lot of buzz in the market, but it is still confusing for consumers,” he said. “LEDs are becoming an easier sell for electrical contractors because the benefits are clear—long lasting and saves energy. Electrical contractors should utilize tools provided by smart lighting manufacturers, like videos on YouTube or their website, that show the products in use. When customers see smart lighting in action, they get it and start to think how they can apply it in their homes.”


"Smart lighting is getting a lot of buzz in the market, but it is still confusing for consumers. When customers see [it] in action, they get it and start to think how they can apply it in their homes." —Aaron Ganick, Osram Sylvania



Scott Roos, vice president of product design, Juno Lighting Group, said lighting and luminaire designs are being driven by residential decorating trends, such as open floor plans, increased use of natural materials, treatment of outdoor space as an extension of the interior, multiuse rooms, and a greater appreciation for art and artisan objects.

“All of these trends support the transition away from a one-size-fits-all, uniform lighting layout to a more nuanced design, which focuses on placing light on vertical surfaces and architectural details in coordination with intended furniture layout and art placement,” he said. “Nuanced lighting design has become prevalent in higher end homes and continues to build in the mid-range home sector.”

Roos said uniform luminaire grids are easy to design, but that mindset is fading as homeowners become more educated about the possibilities with design.

“As awareness spreads through home-remodeling television shows, websites and other media, homeowners are increasingly expecting more from their lighting,” he said.

“Lighting is often referred to as the ‘jewelry of the home,’ meaning that finishing your room’s design with stylish fixtures can completely transform its visual appeal,” said Todd Roy, national sales director, Progress Lighting. “Lighting is no longer the secondary player in the room. It can serve as a focal point or a work of art. Homeowners are recognizing that lighting is a beautiful way to add personality to their home and make it more distinctive. It offers something you can’t achieve with other accessories—through light, contrast and reflection.”

Roy cited four trends in residential decorative luminaire design:

• Vintage electric: Inspired by mid-century design, which Roy sees as a general residential trend, these luminaires are fashioned with an industrial flair, lending a more masculine look.

• Jewelry inspired: Elegant luminaires traditionally found in dining rooms and foyers are making their way into unexpected areas such as kitchens and bathrooms.

• Statement pendants: Pendants are being used instead of chandeliers in a growing number of residential interiors, Roy said. For example, placing multiple pendants over a dining table can add drama to a space.

• New metallic finishes: Warm metals, such as copper lighting finishes and brass sinks, are growing in popularity.

As with lamps, the proliferation of the LED is a major technological trend in luminaire design.

“Code compliance and utility rebates have accelerated adoption of solid-state lighting,” said Steven Pyshos, marketing manager, Eaton’s Lighting Division. “Additionally, homeowners are demanding green solutions that reduce energy use. Homebuilders are using LED light fixtures or are offering them as an option to the homeowner.”

He added that luminaire designers are paying more attention to color quality and optical control, providing decor options that produce visually pleasing lighting effects in addition to long life and energy efficiency. He also sees new design possibilities due to the LED’s unique characteristics.

“Traditional luminaires were designed around light bulb shapes and managing high temperatures associated with incandescent sources,” Pyshos said. “Safety standards focused on protecting the building environment from fire and electrical hazards. LED sources provide fixture designers the freedom to develop exciting new forms not bound by traditional light bulb geometry.”

Roos said 1-, 2- and 3-inch aperture recessed fixtures can provide enough high-quality illumination in downlight, wall wash or aiming-adjustable accent configurations for almost any residential application, so they can replace legacy 4-, 5- and 6-inch fixtures.

“Trims with extremely low-aperture brightness can be mudded directly into the ceiling such that they all but disappear from the visual field, which greatly increases the dramatic impact of the lighting design,” he said. “This miniaturization also makes it easier than ever to integrate the lighting into architectural niches, casework and areas with very restricted plenum space such as soffits and under eaves.”


As residential spaces become multiuse and homeowners become more interested in ergonomic design, comfort and lifestyle remain critical, and the utility of lighting controls continues to increase. A variety of lighting control devices are available, including occupancy sensors, dimmers, wireless systems that integrate controls, and remote and smart controllers.

Michael Smith, Lutron Electronics Co.’s vice president of sales, said wireless connectivity makes gaining the benefits of lighting control easier.

“New options in wireless connected home controls let you control your lights from your smartphone, wearable or tablet, anytime from anywhere,” he said. “Wireless control also simplifies integration of lighting, shades, temperature and even appliance control using centralized hubs and easy-to-use apps. Consider those everyday situations. Already at work and unsure whether you left those lights on? Check your app and turn them off. Home late and don’t want to leave Fido in a dark house? One touch on your phone can remedy that problem.”

Interest in lighting controls is increasing as smart LED lighting becomes more prevalent in homes, but general compatibility between dimming and LED products remains an issue. Before investing, Smith advises contractors to look for manufacturers that publish and continually update compatibility lists that clearly show which LED lamps work best with which controls. Additionally, for wallbox installations, specify a new forward-phase line-voltage dimmer and LED product with a light engine that are both compliant with the NEMA SSL-7A standard, which ensures the pairing will perform reliably.

“Recognize that virtually every client has a smartphone, and more and more of them have wearables and tablets,” Smith said. “Provide lighting control solutions that work easily with the technologies they already have and use every day. Show them how, with the right lighting control solution, they can easily control lights, shades and thermostats, and they can also save energy and enhance peace of mind. Finally, recognize that there is a lighting control solution for every space and every home. Introduce your clients to the benefits of lighting control, help them choose the right option for their needs, and you’ll have a customer for life.”

Become an expert and stay current

Rising residential construction spending translates to strong demand for electrical installation services as well as consulting on how to find the right products, navigate technological change and satisfy current design desires. By developing their lighting design expertise, electrical contractors can become more competitive and increase revenues. In lower-value residential construction, the contractor or builder often establishes a very basic package that provides acceptable lighting. In high-end residential construction, however, ECs can have a high degree of design influence—an opportunity to add value and gain customers.

“In a higher-value home, electrical contractors can be very influential if they have invested the time to become lighting experts,” Roos said. “Actually, they are in a better position than any other trade to educate themselves on the principles of residential lighting design, apply what they learn, and then continually adjust and refine their techniques based on the outcome and the latest offer of available fixtures. By building a portfolio of homes with outstanding lighting, contractors can put themselves in a great position to command a premium for their lighting design expertise and garner referrals from satisfied homeowners and allied professionals.”

For more information about lamps, luminaires and controls, check out the Lighting for Tomorrow Awards, an annual competition recognizing energy-efficient lighting products, at www.LightingforTomorrow.com.

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