Lighting industry journalist Craig DiLouie recently interviewed Michael Smith, VP, Sales, Lutron Electronics for an article about residential lighting trends in Electrical Contractor Magazine. The interview follows.
DiLouie: What are the top trends in residential design and construction, and how are they impacting demand for residential lighting controls?
Smith: In 2016, new homes and home renovations will be about creating comfortable, multi-use spaces – even the garage is considered a living space in many new homes. Other trends include accommodating pets as part of the family, focusing on human-centric design, and paying close attention to all the connected-home options available to homeowners.
Lighting controls plays an important role in supporting all these trends. Dimming lets you adjust the lighting for anything that’s going on in a space from a romantic dinner, to homework, to a high-energy fan fest for the big game.
New options in wireless, connected-home controls let you control your lights from your smart phone, wearable or tablet any time from anywhere. Wireless control also simplifies integration of lighting, shades, temperature, and even appliance control using centralized hubs, and easy-to-use apps. Consider these every-day situations – Already at work and you’re unsure whether you left those lights on? Check your app, and turn them off with a quick tap. Home late and don’t want to leave Fido in a dark house? One touch on your phone can remedy that problem.
As the connected home becomes more commonplace, homeowners will expect smart lighting control to be part of their new home or renovation plan, and contractors/builders will have to offer reliable solutions that are easy to install and program.
DiLouie: How would you categorize various lighting control options suitable for residential applications?
Smith: Lighting control for the home runs the gamut. From a simple occupancy sensor switch that turns lights on when you enter a room and off when you leave that room, to wireless solutions that integrate lighting, temperature and shade control from convenient wall-mounted and remote controls or from any smart device.
Lighting controls save energy, create comfort, increase feelings of safety and security, and give the homeowner total control over their lighting environment from anywhere in the world.
And, don’t forget about shades. Daylight is free and abundant, and most people find beautiful sunlight just makes them feel better. Battery operated shades are simple to use, easy to install, and affordable, helping clients invite just the right amount of sunlight into a space. Controls include wireless remotes or smart phone app, so there’s no need to reach behind furniture, and it’s easier than ever to control shades in hard-to-reach places.
Homeowners will count on their contractors to recommend products that will work simply and easily, meet their budget requirements, and offer new solutions with changing family needs. Today’s homeowner is savvy and more educated about smart technology than ever before. Lighting controls can effectively enhance their homes and improve their lives at every price point and with every light source.
DiLouie: What are the benefits of these lighting controls?
Smith: Many people never think about how important lighting control is until they have it. Then, they’ll all tell you they don’t know how they lived without it. Think about the convenience of getting into bed at night, wondering whether you remembered to turn off your lights, and being able to solve that problem by touching the “all off” button on your bedside remote, without ever getting out of bed. Lighting controls just improve your life.
Occupancy sensors can automatically turn lights on in the laundry room when both your hands are full. Battery-operated shades install in just minutes, and allow you open the shades with the touch of a button to let in just the right amount of sunshine in the morning, making that early wake-up just a little easier. New, wireless lighting control solutions allow easy centralized control of lights throughout the home, and put control as close as an app on your smart phone, or a wireless remote by your bed.
When you help clients choose the right lighting control solution for their homes, you not only make their lives better, and more comfortable, lighting controls even help reduce electricity bills. Every time you help your clients dim their lights, or lights automatically turn off in an empty room, you reduce their energy use and put a little money back in their pocket.
DiLouie: What are the top trends in residential lighting control technology, and where are they taking us?
Smith: Wireless technology is giving homeowners tremendous freedom to install lighting controls exactly where they need them, control lighting right from that smart phone that’s always in their hand, and add lighting controls to any home whether it’s new construction or just a quick, weekend room update. This is one of the most powerful trends for letting clients choose the kinds of control they need, when they need it, at a price point they can afford.
Lighting control is also becoming part of the robust, expanding smart home eco-system. Choose a lighting control manufacturer who is actively working to integrate easily with other smart home systems. Cutting edge technology today will be part of what homeowners just expect tomorrow. Work with manufacturers who are committed to delivering products that work, and who have a long history of innovation in the market.
DiLouie: What progress have lamp and controls manufacturers made in ensuring compatibility between LED lamps, luminaires and dimming controls?
Smith: Compatibility between LED lamps, fixtures and dimming controls can be confusing, but high-quality, customer-centric manufacturers are committed to providing clarity, and simplifying your LED purchase. Look for manufacturers who publish, and continually update, compatibility lists that clearly show which LED bulbs work best with which controls – check out your manufacturer’s websites, and make sure this information is readily available before you invest in a control or a bulb.
Several manufacturers, and the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA) are working together to develop a new LED standard, called SSL 7A, that will make it even easier for clients to select compatible controls and LED bulbs.
LEDs are also getting closer to providing the warm, familiar light that we all know and love from the good old incandescent light bulb. As the technology continues to improve, so will consumer choice in high-performance LED controls. Be sure you look for manufacturers with a proven history in the LED control market, and with online support tools that help ensure that you have the right combination of LED bulbs and controls.
DiLouie: What are common pitfalls in selection of residential lighting and controls that electrical contractors should avoid?
Smith: Don’t be intimidated by wireless technology. There are lighting control companies who have been in the smart home arena for more than 20 years, and will be around in another 20 years. Count on these manufacturers to deliver wireless control solutions that are easy to purchase, install, and program.
Be sure to choose a company that offers the greatest flexibility with its control solutions. Your clients may not want to replace all the switches in their home at once. Many wireless, connected systems can start with a simple dimmer or a few lamp controls, and capability can be added over time without complex wiring or difficult programming. Wireless remote controls also allow homeowners to add control points in virtually any location without having to pull additional wires. Look for wireless remotes that features 10-year battery life for greatest versatility and user convenience.
LED compatibility is critical for a happy customer. Check the manufacturer’s website to make sure you are installing bulbs and controls that work with the latest control systems and deliver the lighting performance and color your clients expect.
Remember the simple solutions, too. Your client may not want to focus on a lighting control system. Helping them control their lights might be as simple as installing a $20 occupancy sensor switch in the laundry room. Make sure you work with the client to understand how controls will best meet their budget and performance needs.
DiLouie: There’s been a great deal of talk about the Internet of Things and how it might play out in the commercial building sector. What is the current state of development and future potential in the residential sector? What role will lighting controls play in this?
Smith: As the Internet of Things becomes a more common household term, savvy clients are willing to invest in smart products such as connected lighting, shade, temperature and security systems that make their lives easier. They are not interested in paying for technology that doesn’t work as they expect it to, or doesn’t add value to their lives.
Greater mass-market acceptance, and our combined success, ultimately depends on offering products and solutions that are easy to use and provide obvious benefits such as making their homes more welcoming, more comfortable, more accessible, and more efficient.
Lighting control systems are particularly essential in the universe of home systems products. The best way to make sure clients are happy with their connected home controls is to offer them world-class, reliable, long-life products that will work well and make their lives better.
DiLouie: What should electrical contractors be doing right now to maximize the value they offer to their residential clients with lighting controls?
Smith: Whether your clients live in a 400 square foot rental property or a 50,000 square foot retreat, they want the technology in their homes to improve their lives, save energy, and perform reliably every time they use it. Lighting, in particular is essential to every day life, so make sure you work with manufacturers who are committed to delivering products and solutions that work – the first time, every time.
Recognize that virtually every client has a smart phone, and more and more of them have wearables and tablets. 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 – you’ll have a customer for life!
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about the current state of the art in residential lighting products and design, what would it be?
Smith: Success in the connected-home market will largely depend upon meeting customer expectations, simplifying their lives, and enhancing convenience. Smart phones are becoming our held-hand computers, every day communication devices, new-age encyclopedias, and entertainment centers. They’re not going away, and that presents tremendous opportunity for our entire industry.