I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Scott Roos, VP of Product Design, Juno Lighting Group, on the topic of residential lighting trends. I’m happy to share his responses with you here. The interview informed an article I wrote for the March 2016 issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR.
DiLouie: How would you characterize demand for residential lighting?
Roos: Between remodeling the aging stock of existing homes, continued strength in multi-family construction driven by a strong rental market and relatively good levels of new single family home construction, demand can definitely be characterized as strong. Couple that with the buzz around LED technology and an ever-increasing awareness for the impact that great lighting can have on the aesthetic value of a home, and it is a great time to be in residential lighting!
DiLouie: Looking at product channels and product selection influences, what do the residential and commercial lighting markets have in common, and how do they behave differently?
Roos: High end residential and high end commercial lighting markets have a fair amount of similarities. Typically, someone takes on the role of lighting designer to do a surgical layout of the lighting and vet which product best supports the design intent. In commercial construction, this is usually a lighting designer employed in the electrical department of an A&E firm or an independent lighting design consultant. In high end residential construction, the “lighting designer” is more likely to be a trained professional working for an electrical wholesaler, showroom or a specialized electrical, remodeling or low voltage A/V contractor that targets the high end residential market. For decorative lighting an interior designer or architect often works with the owner to select the exact fixtures to be used. In lower value homes, the electrical contractor or builder often sets a very basic, economical lighting package to minimize costs while providing acceptable lighting, with the actual brand of fixture determined by what the supplying electrical distributor has on their shelves.
DiLouie: As a follow-up to that question, what is the role and level of influence of the electrical contractor in the residential and commercial new construction markets? Who are potential customers, and who is most often the customer? Is the electrical contractor’s role in the residential market changing, and if so, what is causing that change?
Roos: As explained previously, in a higher value home electrical contractors can be very influential if they have invested the time to become lighting experts. Actually they are in a better position than any other trade to educate themselves on the principles of residential lighting design, apply what they learn and then continually adjust/refine their techniques based on the outcome and the latest offer of available fixtures. Their customers can be the homeowner, the builder, the architect and/or interior designer, although the homeowner will likely be paying for their services as part of the overall electrical package. By building a portfolio of homes with outstanding lighting, contractors can put themselves in a great position to command a premium for their lighting design expertise and garner referrals from satisfied homeowners and allied professionals. In commercial construction it is much more difficult for contractors to exert their influence on the lighting design, with the exception of design/build projects. Typically on a commercial project the contractor installs what is specified unless asked by the owner or general contractor to “value engineer” the project, which will typically consist of substituting lower cost luminaires in cooperation with their partner distributor.
DiLouie: What are the top trends in residential design and construction, and how are they impacting demand for residential lighting and lighting design?
Roos: We are seeing more open floor plans, increased use of natural materials with interesting colors and textures, a more holistic treatment of outdoor spaces as an extension of the home’s interior, and rooms that take on multiple uses – such as a dining room that might also serve as a library or serving space for more informal gatherings. There is also a greater appreciation for art and artisan objects. All of these trends support the transition away from a “one size fits all” uniform lighting layout to a more nuanced design which focuses on placing light on vertical surfaces and architectural details in coordination with intended furniture layouts and art placement. Nuanced lighting design has become prevalent in higher end homes and continues to build in the mid-range home sector. The contractor mindset of “I have always used a uniform spaced grid of fixtures and no one has complained,” which harkens back to the days of the BR30 lamp that spilled out uniform light everywhere, is slowly fading away. To be fair, while not necessarily great lighting, this ‘one size fits all’ approach is easy and quick to layout, and less educated homeowners were mostly happy with the results unless they had something better to compare it to. But as awareness spreads through home remodeling television shows, more sophisticated lighting showrooms, new home showcases, home design web sites and other media, homeowners are increasingly expecting more from their lighting.
DiLouie: What are the top trends in residential luminaire design, and what do they bring to the table in terms of value to the end-user?
Roos: The ability for LED technology to provide precise lighting in ever smaller and less conspicuous luminaires is working hand in hand with the discussion above. One-inch, two-inch and three-inch aperture recessed fixtures can now provide enough high quality illumination in downlight, wall wash or aiming adjustable accent configurations for just about any residential applications, such that they can replace legacy four-inch, five-inch and six-inch fixtures. Trims with extremely low aperture brightness can be mudded directly into the ceiling such that they all but disappear from the visual field, which greatly increases the dramatic impact of the lighting design. The eye naturally looks at the brightest point in the field of view, and now it is easier than ever to have the brightest point in the field of view be a wall, architectural detail or art/display objects as opposed to the light fixture itself. This miniaturization also makes it easier than ever to integrate the lighting into architectural niches, casework and areas with very restricted plenum space such as soffits and under eaves. And of course, all of this can be done with exponentially lower electricity costs and, when well designed fixtures are utilized, have a high probability to be maintenance free for the occupied life of the home. Another trend that is emerging with LED adoption is warm dimming. Many homeowners value the ability to warm the quality of light as they dim it to replicate the effect of incandescent and halogen lighting. On very high end homes, we are just now seeing early adopters using tunable white lighting to adjust the color temperature to enhance the appearance of each specific piece of art or to support circadian health with blue rich light in the morning and warmer red rich light at night to promote relaxation and sleep.
DiLouie: LED has gained a significant market share in new luminaire sales in commercial lighting. How would you characterize LED’s share in the residential lighting market? What are the benefits of LED lighting in this application?
Roos: In the commercial space we are seeing LED penetration of close to 100 percent in recessed downlighting, track, undercabinet, troffer, high bay and exterior lighting. It simply does not make economic sense to use anything else. And when an incandescent fixture is sold for a commercial project, in almost every case it will receive an LED lamp. Residential is lagging far behind with relatively low LED adoption rates due to concerns over cost, quality of light, reliability and ability to service an LED fixture should it fail. As these factors improve, penetration rates selectively increase. For example, LED undercabinet lighting is well on its way to displace low voltage halogen and xenon because fixtures have proven reliable with good quality lighting and are near cost parity in the category. With utility rebates, the price of installing LED recessed retrofit trims can be close, or in some cases even less, than an incandescent trim and lamp; when you factor in a nominal 40-50 watt savings multiplied by 20-30 cans in a home, it is pretty compelling. At this point integral LED fixtures are being primarily used in higher end homes, with the adoption rate there rapidly increasing for the reasons discussed previously.
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 play in this?
Roos: In regards to residential lighting and the Internet of Things, this is still in its infancy. But it won’t be long until every light fixture in the home has the ability to connect to the Internet of Things, either out of the box from the manufacturer or by using a bolt on wireless interface. Homeowners increasingly will expect the convenience of controlling their lighting from a smart device either within the home or remotely, just as they are doing for every other appliance or device in their house.
DiLouie: What should electrical contractors be doing right now to maximize the value they offer to their residential customers with the lighting category?
Roos: As homeowner expectations for better lighting increases, it creates more opportunities for electrical contractors to put themselves in the position to be the lighting experts in their market to drive increased market share and the ability to earn higher value-add margins. While the owner of a $1.5+ million home might be willing to pay for the services of an independent lighting design consultant, the owner of a $.5M home or home remodel project more often will rely on the expertise of their contractor or distributor. As noted above, there is not a better time or opportunity for residential electrical contractors to educate themselves on how to create great lighting design both from an aesthetic and technical aspect working with LED technology. Doing so will position them to do higher end, more profitable work and establish a reputation as the go-to contractor in their market on projects where customers expect more from their lighting.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about the current state of the art in residential lighting products, what would it be?
Roos: While there is still a wide discrepancy in the design and performance of LED lighting, great performing products in almost every category are available, and it’s worth customers’ time to find the products and suppliers that they can count on to keep them out of trouble.