LEDs and Common Pitfalls for Builders
Builders are used to relying on their trades and their lighting designers to advise them on new technologies, and give them installation recommendations, but these days, trades don’t necessarily know any more than the builders. Things in lighting are moving too fast.
Lighting used to be easy—install cans, put in bulbs. Now builders have to think about what kind of lighting technology (fluorescent,CFLs, LEDs, incandescent, halogen) to use where, how fast LEDs are coming down in price, even the Kelvin (color temperature) of bulbs.
To help clear up some of the questions, we sat down to talk in-depth with some experts: Erik Anderson, Lutron’s National Sales Manager for Residential Construction, and Lance Smith, Manager of Builder Sales and Marketing at Progress Lighting.
You both seem to agree that LEDs are the future, and that they’ll become mainstream faster than many predicted.
Erik: There’s no question. LEDs perform better, last longer and don’t contain any hazardous materials. Just take a trip to a Home Depot or a Lowe’s – look at their light bulb aisle. The LED section is growing. You’re seeing LEDs on endcaps, prime sales space.
I am just blown away by the prices of some of these LEDs now, and we’re getting there more quickly than I would have anticipated 2 years ago. For example, I wanted to replace the cans in my kitchen with LEDs a few years ago. Cans were going to be $120 apiece to replace. But now they’re $30 a can at Home Depot. I replaced all 8 lights for $260, all LEDs, and that was retail.
When you start getting below $10 a bulb, and it’s good, it’s safe, it’s going to last—you can put it up and forget it—then that barrier to entrance has really come down.
Lance: What we’re seeing in residential is LED technology that commercial has seen for a while now. We’ve reached the performance we need—12 watts for 1000 lumens. But the first question I get from a national builder when we meet is, “Has the price of LEDs come down?” We need to decrease the costs.
LEDs will continue to get cheaper, but because it’s a better technology, there’s a limit to how cheap it can get. Luckily there are other ways to reduce the price. For example, LEDs are so bright now, that we can reduce the number of them in a bulb and get the same effect. Their price will be more in line with fluorescent pricing five years down the road.
One kind of LED we think has special promise is the AC LED. (AC LED works on the alternating current of normal household current rather than requiring additional parts to use direct current.) Commercial lighting has had this technology for a year. It reduces the cost and size of the LED bulb and gives better performance.
Progress is committed to the growth of LEDs. We’re introducing more LED products in outdoor styles, a new LED flushmount series, and we’re making our award-winning Bingo lighting series in AC LED now.
So in your experience, what are the most important challenges builders face in lighting? And what can they do to respond?
Erik: One is that with new lighting technology, particularly LEDs, there’s a faster rate of adoption than builders might think. I know they’re worried about cost, but they need to ask themselves: Do I really want to install a technology that has a short lifespan?
We make dimmers, C•L™ dimmers, that work with both CFLs and LEDs. But if a builder chooses a standard dimmer, and then that bulb burns out or flickers because the dimmer isn’t made to work with that kind of lighting technology—what if it’s before that one-year warranty? Your homebuyer will need an electrician’s visit.What if, 3 years from now, LEDs have made that leap?
Remember those Nutone home intercom systems? At one time, a lot of homes had them. Now, what do homeowners do? Paint over them? Take them out? You want your homeowners to be set for the next 10, 20, 30 years, to have lighting that grows with them.
Builders also need an infrastructure that will help them. Lutron offers online guides to help choose bulbs, and we have report cards for bulbs and fixtures, since quality and reliability varies widely.
Being Off Color
Lance: Another thing builders should pay attention to is the Kelvin, or temperature, of bulbs. We’ve found that a good range is between 2700-3500, and we try to keep it between there. But I’ve seen builders whose maintenance guys don’t know the difference, and they’re installing lights that are 3000, or 5000 Kelvin. That’s not going to be good lighting to most people. Colors are going to look off.
Here’s a suggestion: Builders should set a standard across their organization for what Kelvin of bulbs their homes should have, and where. For example, they could just do 2700 across the board, make it simple. That would save them a lot of problems.
I also see a lot of builders choose lighting that looks good in the model. But the model doesn’t usually have white walls, and the homes do. Pick lighting that is going to look good in the actual home you build.
Erik: Builders should install the same kinds of lights in their showrooms as in their homes. I see more and more builders who have their buyers picking finishes and options under one kind of lighting and then the homebuyers complain because when they see it installed in the home, it doesn’t look the same. When you’re talking about $14,000 worth of granite that has to be replaced because it now looks like it has gold speckles in it, lighting becomes really important.
I know a builder who has a big table in his selection center, and this is where the homebuyer can lay out paints, colors, fabrics and finishes to see how they work. He has an 8-bulb array, of different kinds of lights to make sure they’re selecting under the light they’re using in their home.
Making a (Bad) Deal
Erik: Also important to watch out for is bulb quality, especially with the new LEDs. There are so many offshore companies manufacturing LEDs now, and there is no industry standard for performance—it’s all over the board. Builders need to stick with a brand that has good performance, or their fixtures might not work. We have guides for all our lighting that shows what LED brands we recommend for use with that dimmer.
I knew a lighting designer who got a really good deal, he thought, on LED MR-16s on the Internet. He bought 900 of them, and the bulbs wouldn’t work in his fixtures. They also didn’t have much brand information printed on the bulb. These bulbs could be from the moon for all we know.
Watch next month for Getting Clear on Lighting, Pt. 2: Lighting as a Marketing Tool