Mass Appeal

While the residential lighting market is still largely driven by new construction and retrofitting of single-family homes, emerging trends in multifamily residential dwellings are signaling new opportunities for the design and installation of indoor lighting products.

Two divergent segments of the population are spurring construction growth that is putting the multifamily housing sector back on the radar screen. U.S. Census Bureau demographics indicate that the fastest growing need in multifamily structures is for affordable housing, said Jim Knapik, vice president of marketing at Cooper Wiring Devices.

“Most of our country's population expansion is stemming from immigration. As they set their stake for their family's future, the first and most important need is for affordable housing,” said Knapik.

“The other trend we're seeing is at the high end of the business. Builders aren't putting up houses in Manhattan. They're building high-rise apartment complexes, co-ops and condos,” said Knapik, “because people in the city want to have the feel of a home with larger living spaces, more rooms and more amenities.”

Dual trends signal opportunity

Recent Census Bureau figures show that 26 percent of the 120 million housing units in existence in 2003 were in multiunit structures.

The bureau's five-year trend reveals multifamily housing starts averaging approximately 1.6 million units, which exceeds single-family projections by more than 200,000 units. Though multifamily housing will level off to 1.3 million by 2009, there are fewer decreases in the multifamily segment compared to single-family.

According to the National Association of Home Builder's (NAHB) 2004 Housing Facts and Figures, the top five metro markets for multifamily permits were New York City, Houston, Chicago, Atlanta and Las Vegas. Condos continue to lead construction in the multifamily housing market due to cost and convenience, said Bobby Rayburn, NAHB president.

“People across the country are realizing that condos can be an ideal choice for enjoying the financial advantages of home ownership while maintaining the amenity-rich, low-maintenance apartment lifestyle,” Rayburn said.

Results released in January for the multifamily market index (MMI) for the third quarter of 2004 showed a four-point increase to nearly 57 percent. Builders participating in the quarterly MMI survey indicate they expect that number to stay above 50 for the next six months.

Experts in lighting design and production agree that interior lighting technologies in multifamily residential structures are evolving to keep pace with these trends. There has been an increased use of low-voltage fixtures and track lighting as well as greater demand for Energy Star-rated compact fluorescents, electronic ballasts and lighting controls.

According to certified lighting designer, Donna J. Leban of Light/Space/Design, South Burlington, Vt., the needs of multifamily structures continue to mirror those produced for single-family residential dwellings ranging from builder basic lighting packages to remote-controlled sconces and chandeliers.

“Inside the home, kitchens and bathrooms are the rooms where good lighting is the most important,” Leban said. “The quality and position of the light is critical. Under-cabinet task lighting in kitchens is always a plus and is an area where the intensity of fluorescent lighting is most appreciated.”

Typically, lighting specifiers in the multifamily residential market-builders, designers or electrical contractors-are looking for value and quality that is timeless and will appeal to the masses. Lighting scale is important, as most multifamily residences are smaller, more compact areas, said Colleen Visage, senior product manager at Progress Lighting.

“The market seems to be younger, more diversified consumers, as well as those concerned with energy-efficiency and those in search of a casual elegance or soft urban contemporary look,” Visage said.

The allure of the urban look is reflected in an increased demand for low-voltage track lighting, said Visage. Progress Lighting's recent Illuma-Flex system puts a twist on traditional track lighting with a flexible metal track that can be formed to project general perimeter lighting, as well as to accent artwork, illuminate cabinetry or drop down over the dining area.

Efficiency fuels affordable housing

While Leban said all renters and homeowners should be concerned with energy efficiency in lighting, it is generally more of a selling point in affordable housing, where rising utility costs can put a significant burden on fixed incomes.

“This does not lessen the importance of aesthetics and the use of very good warm-color quality fluorescent tubes. In higher-end multifamily units, aesthetics take greater importance, with the quality of light and the ability to create a mood with dimming and multiple types of lighting,” Leban said.

In energy-conscious California, Energy Action provides resources for energy efficiency in privately owned multifamily housing. The San Francisco-based program is funded by California ratepayers under the auspices of the California Public Utilities Commission.

Energy efficiency is essential to the sustainability of affordable housing and is lacking throughout much of the Bay area, said program manager, Clare Bressani Tanko.

“Over the past several years, many affordable-housing owners in the Bay area have reported utility rates increasing from 25 to 150 percent. In our first program cycle from 2002 to 2003, we identified more than $600,000 in potential energy savings projects from just 47 properties,” said Bressani Tanko.

Most of the energy audits Energy Action conducts involve recommendations for upgraded lighting systems.

“LED exit signs, T-8 fluorescents and compact fluorescents are the most common kinds of lighting retrofits we recommend,” said Bressani Tanko. “Because many affordable housing properties house senior citizens, we tend to recommend higher-wattage compact fluorescents in the 20- to 30-watt range.”

Lighting controls such as photocells, dimmers, timers and occupancy sensors are also cutting energy costs. The newest updates to the California Energy Commission's Title 24 residential building energy standards, to be introduced this October, will mandate high-efficacy or fluorescent lighting to be used in all indoor permanent lighting and controls, as well as the use of manual-on and automatic-off photosensor/motion sensors in bathrooms.

Bressani Tanko said contractors can help with the process by creating user-friendly bids, providing life-cycle cost comparisons between the energy-efficient products versus standard products, and identifying utility-rebate opportunities.

“Assuming that electrical contractors have more experience working with rebate programs, affordable housing providers often look to them for assistance,” Bressani Tanko said.

Aesthetics trigger affluent set

The growing movement for mid-range to high-end multifamily residences concerns putting quality and aesthetically pleasing features in a new light.

“In the urban areas where there's more discriminating taste, people want more space for media rooms and amenities like dimmers and remotes to control lighting schemes from several locations,” Knapik said, “They want electronic convenience and ultimate flexibility.”

Consumers are moving beyond standard toggle switches into wiring devices that offer color and architectural style. Cooper's new Aspire line models a European trend toward a streamlined design reflective of an electronic age and colors more consistent with home decor. The Aspire devices are produced in three, dual-color schemes with screwless wall plates and soft-touch buttons.

“Wiring devices used to be things you painted and wallpapered over because you didn't want to see them. Whether it's an apartment or home, more vibrant colors are coming back and people are looking to make their dwellings more of a showcase,” Knapik said.

“If I had any advice for the contractors who really want to be proactive in expanding their markets and their margins, it would be to keep up with the lighting trends and be proactive about bringing them to the builder,” Knapik said. “In today's marketplace or anywhere else, success follows those who take things a step further and provide a more consultative role.” EC

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached via e-mail at


About the Author

Debbie McClung

Freelance Writer
Debbie McClung, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa.

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