I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Alfred LaSpina, LED Product Group Marketing Manager, LEDVANCE. The topic: what’s new in LED downlights. The responses informed an article I wrote for the March issue of tED Magazine.
DiLouie: How would you characterize the downlight lighting market in terms of size, and current demand for downlights?
LaSpina: LED downlights have become the new A-Lamp. Not only have they become more affordable for the customer, but there are also more choices available. We are seeing a high demand and adoption rate of downlight retrofits in residential and commercial applications now. In terms of new construction, the demand for LED downlights has also increased, as energy codes have become more stringent and prices of commercial products have made LED options equal to or less than CFL options in terms of cost.
DiLouie: In what key areas have LED downlights improved over the past three years, and what benefits do these improvements offer?
LaSpina: Form factor choices have definitely expanded, in addition to color temperatures and lumen output options. Where before it was primarily 5 and 6 inch downlights, now we have 4 inch and even 8 inch for high ceiling applications. Slim profile LED downlights are also now available with a 1 inch thin design that allow for installation directly under joists in new and remodel construction. The high performing IC design allows for installation without a housing which means the light can be placed in more locations, making it easier to meet the aesthetic demands of the customer. This also helps cut down on labor costs because you aren’t having to install a can. These savings can marketed back to the end customer as a selling point.
DiLouie: What are the top 5 trends in LED downlight design?
LaSpina: Some trends in LED downlight design are high CRI for color critical applications and being able to be a one to one replacement for incandescent. Trim options are available for some products for those looking for that certain aesthetic. Price points are also becoming competitive for LED downlights, which are being used in both commercial and residential applications. Enhanced gimbal models also spin and tilt more effectively, allowing end users to easily focus the light where they want it.
DiLouie: What are typical benefits of upgrading existing downlights with LED retrofit kits? What’s the market opportunity?
LaSpina: Typical benefits include the well-known energy and maintenance savings but there are also labor savings, especially in high ceiling applications. Installing LED downlights is becoming much easier for contractors due to improved product design. This is a big selling point for contractors trying to simplify their lives, do a job right the first time quickly and move on to the next project. For example, now some professional models can be direct wired to the junction box, thereby eliminating the can and improving labor time, available with either 0-10 V or phase cut dimming options.
DiLouie: What are the main attributes of an LED downlight that electrical distributors would be looking for? How do they confidently select a quality product?
LaSpina: An LED downlight should be backed by a company with a long-standing reputation for quality and one that’s been in business for at least as long as they are offering the warranty. In addition, a good downlight will meet current industry standards for performance and life testing, such as LM-79, LM-80 and in many cases, TM-21. It is important to follow ANSI Chromaticity standards so that all of the lights on a project are the same color temperature.
In areas with utility rebates, distributors should look for Energy Star qualified LED downlights to lower project costs. For areas that don’t offer rebates, for price-driven customers there are also proven contractor-line LED downlights from trusted manufacturers with deep lighting expertise.
DiLouie: What are value-added features distributors should be selling, and for what applications or problems are they ideally suited?
LaSpina: When working with a proven LED downlight manufacturer, distributors can highlight to customers features and benefits like industry-leading warranty and also readily available dimming compatibility listings. More than ever consumers want things their way, so the ability to adjust the lighting to the needs of the space is key to the success of a downlight product offering. Ensure the product you are selling comes with a solid dimming compatibility list. No one wants to install a product that ends up not working with existing dimming controls, and with LEDs that is an important thing to consider.
Some value-added features distributors should be selling include utility rebates for large projects with budget caps, lighting controls systems for large projects with energy consumption regulations, and high lumen outputs for higher ceiling applications.
DiLouie: What impact is the proliferation of LED products having on electrical distribution business practices in general?
LaSpina: LED has revolutionized the electrical distribution business by offering more choices, but also more complexity with a wide range of providers flooding the market. Distributors should work with manufacturers that have a knowledgeable and trusted sales team that can help them work through all the confusion, and that offer robust in-person and online training on product benefits, selling points and installation guidance.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about today’s LED downlights, what would it be?
LaSpina: Feel confident in meeting your customers’ needs by offering LED downlights that are products are backed by an excellent warranty, meet the most stringent testing and quality standards, and are offered in a variety of apertures, color temperatures and lumen packages.
Some distributors are fixated on lowest price and opting to sell their contractors and end users on quick, temporary LED “fixes” that may fail over a short period of time, or provide subpar light quality that won’t make the customer happy. Although a superior LED downlight may not be the lowest cost at the time of installation, end users will appreciate the long-term value of the unit if the correct lighting solution was chosen. Look beyond initial price to offer a premium light source that will exceed application expectations and operate hands-free for years to come. This can help ensure repeat business as customers see you as a trusted business partner, and not just a commodity provider.