Below is my contribution to the September issue of tED Magazine, on the topic of residential lighting trends. Reprinted with permission.

In 2016, residential put-in-place construction spending increased to about $467 billion, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. This marked a fifth year of double-digit growth since the 2008 recession. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) forecasted 2017 housing starts would increase to 1.2 million, a five percent increase over last year. Up until June 2017 (the time this article was written), builder confidence remained consistently sound, as measured by the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index.

Traditionally, lighting consumes more than 10 percent of electric energy used in homes, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Relatively new technologies such as compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED promised substantial energy savings, putting residential lighting on the radar for policy makers. DOE has regulated incandescent reflector lamps, while the Energy Policy Act of 2005 targeted incandescent general-service lamps. Meanwhile, a majority of states now have a residential energy code in place regulating lighting efficiency in new construction.

As of January 1, 2017, 13 states had a residential energy code in place at least as stringent as the 2009 version of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), eight states had adopted a code at least stringent as the 2012 or 2015 versions, and 16 states were transitioning between the two, according to Three states, meanwhile, such as California with its Title 24 energy code, had a code in place that was more stringent.

IECC 2009 requires that 50 percent of lamps in permanently installed luminaires must be high efficacy, necessitating CFL or LED. IECC 2012 and 2015 increased this to 75 percent of lamps. California Title 24-2016 requires that all permanently installed must be high-efficacy (at least 45 lumens/W), have a color rendering index (CRI) rating of at least 90 (with an R9 >50), and a correlated color temperature of 4000K or lower.

CFL, once the most viable high-efficacy option, is in decline due to competition by LED and halogen A-line lamps that comply with the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Q1 2017 Incandescent Lamp Index published by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) showed CFLs had declined from a peak of about 25 percent of lamp sales to 13.3 percent, while LED A-line market share had grown to 32 percent. According to the latest DOE Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS), about one-third of American homes by 2015 had already installed at least one LED lamp.

The new ENERGY STAR V2.0 Lamp Specification, which became effective January 2, 2017, will likely hasten CFL’s decline. An analysis of CFLs qualifying for the older V1.1 specification showed none satisfied V2.0, which may cut out CFLs from the majority of rebate programs that rely on ENERGY STAR. While some utilities may continue to promote CFLs, the majority will likely begin to shift their funding from CFL to LED lamps.

“More and more families are interested in energy efficiency and consumers are more aware of the energy-saving benefits of LEDs,” said Alfred LaSpina, LED Product Group Marketing Manager, LEDVANCE. “Having LED lighting in new residential construction and design is a good differentiator and selling point, especially for buyers who want a home with the latest and greatest options.”

Image courtesy of Lutron.

Product trends

“The promise of energy savings with LED lighting over traditional sources is now an expected outcome, so the focus of residential lighting can shift back to design in choosing the right light for the occupants, task and visual environment,” said Bill Johnson, Market Development Manager – Residential Recessed Lighting, Eaton. He pointed out that today’s LED luminaires have matured as a viable and accepted design solution, no longer viewed as merely an energy-saving alternative.

LED source efficacy has increased to a level allowing highly compact and integrated luminaires, the opportunity to rethink traditional form factors, and greater choice of beam spreads and adjustable functions.

“The development of surface-mounting, thin-profile, flat-panel LED luminaires that create wide beam downlight-like illumination and install in a ceiling junction box has created great interest for residential lighting,” Johnson said. These luminaires offer the appearance of a downlight but are surface-mounted, ideal for applications where plenum space for a recessed downlight is limited. It eliminates the need for an air-seal recessed housing or fire-rated box, expanding design flexibility.

Johnson also pointed to smaller apertures as another leading design trend. “Small apertures in 2-, 3- and 4- inch are growing as a preferred choice due to LED technology advancements,” he said. New LED products can deliver higher light output in smaller apertures to match or exceed traditional sources. In addition, the smaller LED housings are IC rated, which wasn’t possible with traditional incandescent sources due to higher thermal test temperature.

LaSpina noted that in lamps and some luminaires, the predominant trend is imitating traditional form factors and performance to satisfy consumer expectations. “Many consumers want lighting that has a form factor that looks like what they are used to, which is why in recent years we have modified our LED products to go from an unflattering design to one that looks like a traditional light bulb,” he said. “Filament LEDs have become a growing trend with a full glass body design, giving that retro look.”

Dimming is no exception. Consumers expect LED lighting to dim similarly to incandescent lamps. For this reason, Johnson pointed out, dim-to-warm LED lamps and luminaires are available that dim from warm (e.g., 3000K) to very warm (e.g., 1850K) over the dimming range.

The result is specifier and consumer interest in something old, something new. The familiar feel and performance of traditional lighting but with value-added features based on the unique characteristics of LED lighting. In addition to smaller and problem-solving form factors and more choices, interest is growing in smart lamps and luminaires offering color tuning.

Image courtesy of Eaton.

Consumers get control

“Lighting control improves comfort and convenience, enhances security and peace of mind, and saves energy,” said Michael Smith, Vice President of Sales, Lutron Electronics. “LEDs can be inherently dimmable and can provide an excellent user experience when bulbs and controls are properly paired.”

While interest in dim-to-warm dimming is growing, immediate expectations are that the lighting will dim reliably without flicker. In 2015, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) updated its SSL 7A standard, which details manufacturer compatibility requirements when a line-voltage dimmer is matched with one or more dimmable LED light engines. While providing confidence, however, the standard is voluntary.

“There is currently no universally manufacturing standard for LED bulbs,” Smith said. “As a result, consumers who are used to the predictable performance and experience of incandescent and halogen bulbs can be very frustrated by inconsistent dimming performance and flicker from their LED bulbs.”

Smith believes lamp manufacturers must continue to work toward standards that improve the performance and simplify the selection of LED lamps and controls. To that end, NEMA recently launched a labeling program to better communicate compatibility between dimmers and LED lamps and luminaires, he said. The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) is also developing standards for phase-cut dimming of LEDs that will apply to both forward- and reverse-phase dimmers, he added.

Dimmers provide flexible user control of aesthetics and visual comfort, while vacancy sensors save energy by turning lights OFF in spaces such as bathrooms and utility rooms when they’re not being used. More recently, the industry began introducing smart lamps and luminaires that provide unprecedented user control enabled by wireless connectivity. These smart LED products provide dimming, timeclock control and in many cases color tuning while also potentially integrating with other home smart devices.

“New options in wireless control solutions allow homeowners to control lights from any smart device, and even using just their voice with Amazon Alexa, Google Home and a variety of other digital assistants,” Smith said. “Control solutions have to offer seamless integration with a variety of digital platforms and simple control from intuitive apps, while still providing convenience and familiar control options such as dimmers, switches and wireless remotes.”

To take advantage of today’s lighting opportunities, electrical distributors should think beyond product and more on design, LaSpina said. And they need to think bigger.

“Consumers want to love living in their home and are more focused on style and decor than perhaps a commercial customer who is focused on price,” he noted. “Distributors need to ensure availability of a wider portfolio of LED incandescent replacements to meet the needs across the house, and not just A19 and BR30. LEDs are no longer just being installed in major areas of the house but also closets, garages and laundry rooms. Distributors need to think about areas of opportunity that aren’t typically top of mind when thinking about residential lighting.”