Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently had the opportunity to interview Zach Schroeck, Director, Product Management, Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. for an article about “things every electrical distributor should know about lighting controls” for an upcoming issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Transcript follows.
DiLouie: What are typical contact points with the lighting controls category that electrical distributors have during new construction and retrofit projects?
Schroeck: The distributor’s role on each project will reflect their individual relationship with the electrician and/or contractor and may be impacted by whether they have access to a commercial lighting department as part of their core business.
On new construction projects, distributors may work directly with engineers, architects, and contractors to understand the scope of the job, identify the appropriate lighting controls/systems for a project and offer technical expertise on the different options available.
In retrofit projects, the distributor may focus more on product recommendations to achieve code compliance, integrate with an existing system, or upgrade lighting to improve performance while managing costs. They will typically work with facility managers, maintenance personnel, and contractors to identify areas where lighting controls can be installed or upgraded to save energy and reduce operating costs.
Distributors most commonly have expertise in the following areas:
1. Occupancy sensors: These sensors detect when someone is in a room and turn the lights on and off automatically. In most states, sensors are required by code in many areas of a commercial building, and in some states, this extends to the home.
2. Daylight sensors: These sensors detect the amount of natural light in a space and automatically adjust the electric lighting levels to maintain the recommended lumens in the space.
3. Dimmers: Dimming controls allow users to adjust the level of lighting in a space to create the desired atmosphere or save energy; they can also be integrated into a smart system to adjust lighting in response to sensors, timeclock settings, or other programmed events.
4. Energy management systems: In most large commercial buildings, lighting control systems integrate with other smart building systems to monitor and control the lighting throughout the facility to support energy efficiency, enhance comfort, and create a more productive, human-centric space.
Overall, electrical distributors can be integral to the project’s success in both new construction and retrofit jobs.
DiLouie: What’s in it for distributors to understand at least the basics of the lighting controls category, and what are the things they need to know?
Schroeck: The more a distributor knows about how lighting control can impact a space, the greater their opportunity to add value, differentiate their services, and become a key part of project success. Many lighting manufacturers offer online and in-person training opportunities for distributor personnel who are looking for ways to grow their sales and foster customers for life.
DiLouie: How would you explain lighting controls as consisting of devices versus systems? How does this relate to any decision-making or tasks for the distributor?
Schroeck: Lighting control can be a single dimmer controlling a light fixture or an integrated system typically consisting of four main components:
1. Lighting controllers: These are devices that control the operation of lighting fixtures in a space. They can be centralized, like Lutron Athena, and HomeWorks systems in which a system processor provides system control, or distributed control throughout a building, like Lutron Vive or Ra3 systems. In either case the system receives input from sensors and other control devices to determine when and how the lights should be turned on, off, or dimmed. Lighting controllers can also be programmed via app or cloud-based control to respond to specific events or schedules.
2. Sensors: These devices detect changes in the environment, such as motion, light levels, or temperature, and communicate to the system devices via wireless RF or low-voltage wiring.
3. User interfaces: These are devices that allow building occupants to interact with the lighting control system, such as wall-mounted switches, touchscreens, or mobile apps.
4. Network infrastructure: This is the system of power wiring and/or low voltage wiring, RF signals, hardware, and software that allows the lighting control system components to communicate with each other and with other building systems, such as HVAC or security systems.
The location of lighting controllers can vary depending on the specific system architecture. In a centralized lighting control system, all the controllers are in a single location, such as a control room or equipment closet. In a distributed system, the controllers are in each zone or area of a building, allowing for more granular control and flexibility.
As for the distributor’s role in designing lighting control system architecture, they play a critical role in helping customers select the appropriate components for their specific application. This includes assessing the customer’s needs, providing technical expertise and support, recommending specific products and brands, and ensuring that the components will work together seamlessly. A distributor often has excellent relationships with the Contractor, GC, GM, or facility manager that allow them to play a key role in delivering a system optimized for the customer.
DiLouie: What checklists would you recommend a distributor use to ensure a proposed solution has everything it needs to go into a project?
Schroeck: Rather than a specific checklist, a distributor might use a standard set of topics (I have recommended five topics, below) at the start of each new project and work with their customers to build a working solution from the information gathered in the initial project meeting.
1. System design and layout: Review the job specs and plan out where the lighting controllers, sensors, user interfaces, and other components will be located and how they will integrate with other building systems. Distributors may want to review the plans with the customer and ensure the proposed system supports local building codes and regulations.
2. Component selection: Once basic system layout is determined, the distributor may help identify the appropriate lighting controllers, sensors, user interfaces, and other components needed to meet the customer’s requirements. Distributors may want to ensure that the components are compatible and will work together seamlessly. They may also want to verify that the components are certified by appropriate standards organizations and meet energy efficiency requirements.
3. Wiring and installation: Once the project team has determined whether the job will be a traditional wired system or a wireless one, it is time to address system implementation. This includes ensuring that system wiring (power wiring and/or low voltage wiring) and installation of the components is planned correctly and in compliance with local building codes and regulations. Distributors may want to review the installation plans with the customer and provide guidance and support as needed.
4. Programming and commissioning: How will the lighting control system programming reflect the customer’s preferences? How will system commissioning ensure it works as designed? Distributors may want to provide training and support to the customer to ensure they are comfortable using the system and can troubleshoot any issues that may arise.
5. Maintenance and support: What are the plans for ongoing maintenance and support of the lighting control system including regular inspections, software updates, and troubleshooting? Will the customer need a technology support plan, other warranties, or scheduled maintenance contracts and can the chosen system manufacturers provide these services?