Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently interviewed Brendon Van Campen, Senior Sales Director, Lutron Electronics, for an article about lighting controls trending toward simplicity. The interview fed an article for tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED.
DiLouie: What are the benefits of lighting controls?
Van Campen: Lighting controls impact a project on many levels; from simple energy savings and code compliance to smart, connected systems that help make a space more efficient, comfortable, and versatile. Light is universal. It’s key to every space, and controlling that light impacts the look, feel, and utility of the total environment. Once you have defined the customer’s needs in terms of the lighting control system, multiple solutions can meet the budget, timeline, and performance requirements of any project.
DiLouie: What major trends are occurring in lighting controls that make them easier to specify, install, and use?
Van Campen: In many ways, lighting control has become less complex. You can replace a basic on/off switch with a code-compliant sensor or a smart dimmer, with no new wiring and in just a few minutes. Today, you have the freedom of choice to create just the right light for any situation, reduce your lighting energy use, and even control the lighting from your phone or tablet. That choice also includes controlling daylight through the seamless integration of automated window shading and draperies.
The trend toward wireless systems makes design and installation faster, easier, and more sustainable by reducing the amount of time and material on a job. Smart, wireless systems minimize risk to the contractor and the customer by using existing wiring pathways and can be reprogrammed at any time with app-based software for both residential and commercial jobs.
New technology also enables connected systems that give contractors and their customers tremendous freedom and flexibility. Connected control makes it easier to integrate lighting and automated shading with other smart building systems. You can create simple, preset lighting scenes for any scenario using smartphone apps and provide data to inform adjustments that enhance building performance. These capabilities only become possible with advanced lighting control solutions that can meet the detailed sequences of operation that are driven by code, smart building integration, and new standards that customers are looking for in today’s buildings like Well 2.0 and LEED.
DiLouie: Despite the strong utility of lighting controls, the smaller LED load reduces the value of the energy savings, which can be challenging for payback in lighting upgrade scenarios. In such a scenario, what pared-down, high-impact control options can be included in proposals that are most likely to be approved?
Van Campen: Even in the case of highly efficient LED sources, lighting control systems can continue to automatically reduce lighting energy use and contribute to energy saving and payback scenarios.
The smaller load requirements of LEDs are driving stricter energy codes as well as legislation that bans the manufacture and sale of fluorescents in many U.S. states and even countries around the world. As demand for fluorescents wanes, manufacturers won’t continue to make fluorescent replacement lamps and ballasts – Lutron is ending production of fluorescent dimming ballasts at the end of 2023.
For the approximately 50% of commercial buildings still using fluorescent lighting, LED retrofits are a looming imperative. These retrofits are the perfect time to evaluate your existing control system while making sure you’re taking advantage of your LED upgrade investment. For example, digital control systems can often be added using the current infrastructure. Your new LED lighting system can integrate with other smart building systems and share information. Sensors and luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLCs) make buildings smarter, more valuable, and more sustainable while meeting code and perhaps even qualifying for energy incentives and rebates.
DiLouie: Is there a stepped sales approach distributors can take from there to upsell lighting control solutions that provide greater utility? How can a distributor get a customer who accepts a simple control solution to consider and buy a more complex, more powerful solution?
Van Campen: You want to design a solution, not sell a product. You’re working to pinpoint the customers’ needs and match those requirements to the appropriate solution rather than convincing a customer to buy something more complex and costly than they need.
Lutron distributors know they can provide the full range of solutions from basic wallbox to connected home to commercial solutions for a room, building, or campus. If the customer wants to start small, that’s very possible with a wireless control in a single space, and a plan to upgrade their lighting and controls over time. If the customer wants a smart, connected solution to grow with them for the life of their project, we have options for both residential and commercial projects.
We’re never going to try to convince a customer to buy something they don’t need, but if they start with the right system and plan ahead, that solution will grow with them over time.
DiLouie: What should electrical distributors be looking for in a lighting control solution that is most likely to be approved, easiest to install and use, and least likely to be value engineered?
Van Campen: Those parameters are mutually exclusive in many projects. You want a system that is flexible and scalable and meets the customer’s functional and budget needs. The key is to listen to what the client wants, ask smart questions, demonstrate options, and identify the benefits and value proposition to the user.
Beyond the product, distributors should make sure they are recommending a solution that’s backed by a long-standing history of quality, reliability, and service. Having a support organization with a proven record of being there in a year, in a decade, and throughout life of the project is invaluable. Those are major differentiators.
DiLouie: Errors with lighting controls predominantly come from application and installation. What should electrical distributors be looking for when matching a lighting control solution to an application?
Van Campen: More often, smart, wireless systems make it easier to design, install, and support with the confidence that the customer is going to be satisfied, and happy with their system or products over time. Wireless or digital fixture level control makes it easy to address last-minute zoning changes and can be added quickly, easily, and without tearing open walls, replacing fixtures, or rewiring.
But again, you want to align your solutions around what’s important to the customer and their desired sequence of operations for the space. Is there a sweet spot for tunable white lighting in the luminaire of their choice in the space? Is having the peace of mind that they can upgrade and reconfigure easily important to them? Are they looking for a residential system that will work with a smart assistant? Align the solutions around the customer’s needs, and work with a manufacturer that has the necessary expertise, breadth of line, and commitment to support for the life of the project.
DiLouie: What should electrical distributors be looking for in an electrical contractor to ensure the installation and setup goes smoothly?
Van Campen: We really value the relationships distributors have built with their electrical contractors, and we have products and programs that support, develop, and grow those relationships. In many cases, the contractor will install and setup Lutron solutions with no outside support, but Lutron also has a service organization with dedicated field personnel and Authorized Manufacturer’s Reps who are available to provide additional start up and commissioning support where specified or necessary.
DiLouie: What should electrical distributors be looking for in a manufacturer when it comes to backing products with technical and other support?
Van Campen: Experience and innovation in the category, with the highest quality, proven reliability, 24/7 technical support, and a global service organization with local field-based technicians in the areas they support. Having a trusted manufacturer who can demonstrate their unwavering commitment to Taking Care of the Customer. At Lutron, we’re driven first and foremost by our #1 Corporate Principle, which is to Take Care of the Customer, our Company, and our People, while continuing to innovate with a high degree of quality and deliver superior goods and services (value) to all customers.