Month: April 2009

Howard Brandston Defends The Incandescent Lamp

“If someone really wanted to do a green household, they could use dimmers, they could use occupancy sensors to turn off the lights in case they forgot to. Control of…

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“If someone really wanted to do a green household, they could use dimmers, they could use occupancy sensors to turn off the lights in case they forgot to. Control of the light is really the most energy efficient way to gain benefit.”

–Howard Brandston

LightNOW says: Amen, brother!

Click here to read this interview with Howard Brandston by The New York Times green blog.

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Single-Family Housing Starts Hold Steady in March

More evidence that the housing market may be bottoming out, although the continuing credit crunch and a decline in permits are worrisome for future growth. Characteristic volatility in the multifamily…

More evidence that the housing market may be bottoming out, although the continuing credit crunch and a decline in permits are worrisome for future growth.

Characteristic volatility in the multifamily sector pushed nationwide housing starts down 10.8% in March as production of single-family homes remained unchanged, according to the Department of Commerce. Overall starts fell to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 510,000 units, due entirely to a 29% reduction on the multifamily side that largely offset a big gain in apartment and condo building in the previous month.

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“While improving interest among potential home buyers has builders more optimistic these days, we don’t want to ramp up production until sales of new homes pick up,” notes NAHB Chairman Joe Robson. “A cautious attitude about new building is definitely what’s called for here, and that’s what most builders have wisely adopted for the time being.”

“Today’s numbers are right on target with NAHB’s forecast, which anticipates that housing starts will bottom out in the second quarter, after new-home sales have stabilized,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “Single-family starts remained virtually unchanged over the past three months, indicating that we are closing in on a bottom. Multifamily starts–which tend to bounce around from month to month–were responsible for the decline in total starts as they readjusted following a substantial gain in February.”

Crowe notes that while builders have been seeing more sales office traffic and fielding more calls in recent weeks as consumers respond to historically affordable home buying conditions, many continue to grapple with a severe credit crunch, which could impair market recovery.

While total housing starts declined 10.8% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 510,000 units in March, single-family housing starts remained exactly on par with the previous month, at a 358,000-unit rate. Multifamily starts declined 29% in the month to a 152,000-unit rate, erasing a large portion of the gain posted by that sector in the previous month.

Housing starts were down in three out of four regions in March. The only region posting a gain was the Midwest, which was up nearly 16%. Meanwhile, the Northeast posted a 25.4% decline, the South a 16.8% decline and the West a 26.3% decline.

Building permits, which can be an indicator of future building activity, also fell in March. Total permit issuance declined 9% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 513,000 units, with single-family permits down 7.4% to 361,000 units and multifamily permits down 12.6 % to 152,000 units.

Permit issuance declined across every region except the West in March. While that region posted no change from February, the Northeast posted a 24.3% decline, the Midwest a 2.3% decline and the South a 10.3% decline.

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Inventory of New Homes Continues Shrinking in March

The number of newly built, single-family homes on the market declined for a 23rd consecutive month in March as builders focused on winnowing down their inventories of unsold units, according…

The number of newly built, single-family homes on the market declined for a 23rd consecutive month in March as builders focused on winnowing down their inventories of unsold units, according to the Department of Commerce. Inventory shrank to 311,000 units, which is a 10.7-month supply at the current sales pace.

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Further, new home sales in March remained virtually on-pace with a relatively strong, upwardly revised number from the previous month. Sales were reported at a seasonally adjusted, annual rate of 356,000 units, which was off just 0.6% from February.

NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe says the new home sales market is bottoming out as historically low mortgage rates, attractive prices and incentives like the newly created $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit feed demand.

Regionally, new-home sales activity was somewhat mixed in March, with the two largest markets posting the best results. The West registered a 15.1% gain, while the South held even with the previous month’s improved sales pace, the Midwest posted a 7.8% decline and the Northeast posted a 32% decline.

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Home Builder Confidence Posts Biggest Gain in Five Years

Is the market at or near bottom? Good news is always welcome these days. While still deep in negative territory, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes…

Is the market at or near bottom?

Good news is always welcome these days. While still deep in negative territory, builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes rose five points in April to the highest level since October 2008, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). This gain was the largest one-month increase recorded since May of 2003, and brings the HMI out of single-digit territory for the first time in six months–to 14. Every component of the HMI reflected the boost, with the biggest gain recorded for sales expectations in the next six months.

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“Some of the most favorable buying conditions in a lifetime are now in place, and they are drawing more consumers back to the market,” says NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, OK.

“This is a very encouraging sign that we are at or near the bottom of the current housing depression,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “With the prime home buying season now underway, builders report that more buyers are responding to the pull of much-improved affordability measures, including low home prices, extremely favorable mortgage rates and the introduction of the $8,000 first-time home buyer tax credit.”

Crowe cautioned, however, that a key issue that still must be addressed is the ongoing lockdown on builder acquisition, development and construction (AD&C) financing. “Restoring health to our nation’s economy will require a substantial housing recovery, and that recovery is contingent on breaking the logjam in AD&C lending that presents an ever-increasing obstacle for home builders,” he adds.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations in the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Each of the HMI’s component indexes recorded substantial gains in April. The largest of these gains was a 10-point surge in the component gauging builder sales expectations for the next six months, which brought that index to 25. The component gauging current sales conditions and the component gauging traffic of prospective buyers each rose five points, to 13 and 14, respectively.

The HMI also rose in every region in April, with an eight-point gain to 16 in the Northeast, a six-point gain to 14 in the Midwest, a five-point gain to 17 in the South and a 4-point gain to 9 in the West.

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Study: U.S. Demand for Advanced Lighting to Grow More Than 10% Per Year Through 2013

A new Freedonia Group study, Advanced Lighting, is forecasting that U.S. demand for advanced lighting products will grow nearly 11% per year to $6.8 billion in 2013. Gains will be…

A new Freedonia Group study, Advanced Lighting, is forecasting that U.S. demand for advanced lighting products will grow nearly 11% per year to $6.8 billion in 2013.

Gains will be spurred by legislation aimed at reducing the energy consumed by lighting. Imports are a significant source of advanced lighting products, and will account for almost 70% of demand in 2013, according to the company. Domestic shipments of advanced lighting products will proceed at a slower pace, as products with rapidly growing demand, such as CFLs and LEDs, are largely produced overseas. However, the U.S. is a leading exporter of advanced lighting products, and domestic producers will continue to benefit from growing demand in emerging markets.

CFLs are expected to enjoy the fastest demand growth through 2013 due to legislation targeting household incandescent lamps. Demand for CFLs will surge more than 20% annually through 2013 as consumers transition to the new technology. Nearly one-half of additional advanced lighting demand generated between 2008 and 2013 will be accounted for by CFLs.

LEDs are also forecast to experience robust growth through 2013, benefiting from greater demand in consumer electronics, motor vehicles and nonresidential buildings. Falling prices, increases in light output and improvements in energy efficiency will make LEDs more competitive with conventional lighting products over the forecast period. LEDs will be the fastest growing advanced lighting product through 2018, when demand is expected to approach $3 billion.

Demand for advanced HID lamps will be driven by growth in motor vehicle and streetlight applications. Metal halide lamps are increasingly finding use as motor vehicle headlamps, and demand will
grow as motor vehicle production recovers from its low 2008 level. High-pressure sodium lamps are widely used to illuminate streets and highways, and will benefit from increased spending on transportation infrastructure over the forecast period. Furthermore, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 banned the sale of mercury vapor lamp ballasts, effectively phasing out the use of mercury vapor lamps starting in 2008.

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Advanced Lighting (published 04/2009, 240 pages) is available for $4,700 from The Freedonia Group, Inc. You can check on its availability here.

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Commercial Buildings Deduction’s Interim Lighting Rule

Most lighting professionals are aware by now that the Commercial Buildings Deduction has been extended to 2013. Here is an article I wrote for Electrical Contractor Magazine, published in the…

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Most lighting professionals are aware by now that the Commercial Buildings Deduction has been extended to 2013.

Here is an article I wrote for Electrical Contractor Magazine, published in the March issue, that describes the Interim Lighting Rule, which in my opinion is the easiest and fastest path for an indoor lighting project to qualify for the Deduction, although it requires bilevel switching, which can be problematic for some retrofit projects.

I recently finished a revision of NEMA’s LightingTaxDeduction.org website, which hopefully will go live soon. It will provide lots of good information about the Deduction.

LightNOW’s take: The CBD may be challenging for some retrofit projects due to the bilevel switching requirement but there are plenty of solutions. For new construction, the Interim Lighting Rule is almost a no-brainer. Unlike the Permanent Rules, you don’t have to do intensive energy cost calculations and you don’t need approved software. You just have to cut power density compared to an older energy standard. About half the states now use ASHRAE 90.1-2004, which for many building types can get you much of the way there for a 24-40% reduction in lighting power density (50% for warehouses). The other requirements are 1) meet IES light levels and 2) comply with the mandatory controls requirements, which you would be doing anyway. The main change to typical practice doing ASHRAE 90.1 would be to add in bilevel switching, but this should not be expensive or difficult for a new construction project. The trick is to do the paperwork and for the engineer or contractor, as long as they don’t work for the owner, to inspect and certify the project.

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Architecture Billings Index Shows Early Signs of Improving Business Conditions

Finally, some good news. After a series of historic lows, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was up more than eight points in March. As a leading economic indicator of construction…

Finally, some good news. After a series of historic lows, the Architecture Billings Index (ABI) was up more than eight points in March.

As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the ABI reflects the approximate 9-12 month lag time between architecture billings and construction spending. AIA reported the March ABI rating was 43.7, up from the 35.3 mark in February. This was the first time since September 2008 that the index was above 40, but the score still indicates an overall decline in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry score was 56.6.

“This news should be viewed with cautious optimism,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, PhD, Hon. AIA. “The fact that inquiries for new projects increased is encouraging, but it will likely be a few months before we see an improvement in overall billings. Architects continue to report a diversity of business conditions, but the majority is still seeing weak activity levels.”

Key March ABI highlights:

* Regional averages: South (43.4), Northeast (41.8), Midwest (37.5), West (36.1)
* Sector index breakdown: mixed practice (44.0), institutional (42.9), multi-family residential (39.4), commercial / industrial (35.0)

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OLEDs Can Turn Windows Into Lights

Philips is currently working on transparent OLEDs, enabling OLED panels to function as ordinary windows during the day and become panels at night to imitate daylight or provide attractive indoor…

Philips is currently working on transparent OLEDs, enabling OLED panels to function as ordinary windows during the day and become panels at night to imitate daylight or provide attractive indoor lighting. Even during the day, they could function as privacy shields.

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Transparent OLED panels will be commercialized within the next 3-5 years, according to the company.

Learn more about OLEDs here.

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Introducing Light Painting

I owe Jim Hutchison another hat tip for turning me on to this simple photography technique that uses a simple flashlight, camera and a healthy imagination to create works of…

I owe Jim Hutchison another hat tip for turning me on to this simple photography technique that uses a simple flashlight, camera and a healthy imagination to create works of art.

Here are a few photos from the Light Paint blog. After you take a look, check out the tutorial video at the bottom of this post to see how to do it yourself!

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Incredible!

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Philips Showcases OLED Product Concepts at Euroluce

Wow! Yesterday, Royal Philips Electronics unveiled the first-ever OLED interactive lighting concepts–for both consumer and professional use–during Euroluce International Lighting Fair in Milan. The concepts offer a combination of intuitive…

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Wow!

Yesterday, Royal Philips Electronics unveiled the first-ever OLED interactive lighting concepts–for both consumer and professional use–during Euroluce International Lighting Fair in Milan. The concepts offer a combination of intuitive interactivity, ultra flat shape, soft light-effect and new design possibilities.

“Our concepts demonstrate a new light ambiance, novel design possibilities and unique interactivity of light and human gesture,” says Rudy Provoost, CEO of Philips Lighting.

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For homes, Philips is presenting four different concepts: standing, wall, desktop and ceiling luminaires. All incorporate flat OLED light panels, supplemented with LUXEON Power LEDs for the functional lighting part.

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Each model has different intuitive interactive capabilities. The ceiling concept, for example, features a balance of uplight and downlight that can be changed or dimmed to alter the ambience in a room with a gesture of the hand. All of the concepts on show share a sleek, streamlined design that makes them as decorative as they are functional.

Aside from the range of consumer luminaires, Philips is also unveiling an OLED installation for professional segments in large spaces, such as reception areas. Just like in the case of the consumer concepts, this installation is both functional and highly experiential, featuring a luminescent wall that reacts directly to passersby, creating mirrored reflections of their “shadows” amid the light. Philips invites to “play” with this new technology and experience it as much more than a light only: a softly glowing mirror, an interactive tool, a very aesthetic light source and an inspiration for further products and applications.

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Says Provoost: “The solid state lighting revolution is happening at the right time. What’s particularly exciting is that LEDs and OLEDs offer the possibility to create new lighting designs and experiences that weren’t achievable in the past. With these new concepts Philips is adding a whole new dimension to lighting and the way it can enhance people’s lives.”

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