Illuminating force: Custom lighting market flourishing

Lighting may not be as high as priority as entertainment or automation for some, but with margins attractive it is an increasingly lucrative business for those willing to make the investment in training. Charlotte Ashley learns more from those involved with high level lighting installations across the industry.

Increasingly planned from the start and down to every small design detail, delivering a lighting system that can truly transform a property’s interior and/or exterior can often be the most rewarding part of a project according to installers. Prices may be coming down and a huge range of scalable options for both new build and retrofit projects are increasingly accessible, but not everyone’s doing it. Like other areas if the professional home technology industry it also faces the task of educating customers on the world of opportunity beyond the products they may have browsed on their online retailer of choice, so how does one be successful in the field in 2018?

Believe the hype?

Products like Philips Hue may have the hype, but they’re often not the products going into professionally installed homes – this is backed by figures recorded by CEDIA EMEA indicating that only 14% off lighting control systems include installing “smart/connected lightbulbs.” Installers say they only give a “taste” of what can be achieved to the typical client with basic understanding of lighting, compared to a centralised system that can support whole-home control.

“Lighting control is one of the most enjoyable elements of what we do as it is the technology that our clients interact with most frequently.."

Sam Woodward, customer education leader for Lutron EMEA, affirms that the value of these products, comes in consumer awareness, which later down the line can translate into them investing in a fully customised system. “The popularity of 'smart' lamps and the ability to change the mood of a room, along with the rise in IoT thermostats and voice assistants are increasing awareness of how technology can help to solve problems in the home, which leads people to considering lighting control systems,” he affirms.

Rako’s director, Paul Wafer, pinpoints voice control a huge driver of the lighting manufacturer’s business. “Voice has by far been the most popular request,” he states. “The launch of Amazon’s Alexa devices has fired a huge wave of requests to control more types of home automation. A few years ago it was the ability to control your home from an app on your phone – now this is an expected standard and consumers just expect integration with Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home devices.”

Clients’ checklist

“Lighting control is one of the most enjoyable elements of what we do as it is the technology that our clients interact with most frequently, they naturally have more input on how things need to look,” explains Anthony Gallon, technical director at UK-based custom installation company Clever Association, a recipient of both 2017 CEDIA Awards and Lutron Excellence Awards in acknowledgement of its work delivering AV and lighting systems. “The biggest draws are ease of use, aesthetics and energy saving,” he adds.

clever assocation keypad and ochre seed cloud lighting pendant controlled by Lutron system

He says the company’s lighting customers are typically comprised of owners of large residences who wish to manage several circuits of lighting, or banks of window treatments, from a single button press. “Having the ability to create lighting scenes that work with the overall property aesthetics and can also be updated and managed by the clients themselves is vital too,” expands Gallon.

Offering tangible energy savings is growing in importance for clients as well – having added control for those occasions lights are left on and being able to react accordingly, and the ability to run circuits at lower intensities throughout the home.

Mark Booth, managing director of the UK division of lighting manufacturer Gira, says it focuses on developing products that offer flexibility whatever the project, “Whether reactive/sensitive operation, remote access, programming and control or simply offering improved utility and convenience, it’s essential installers can provide truly smart lighting through controlling the brightness of the orientation light and devise lighting scenes tailored to the individual.” He adds: “We also find it’s important to offer intelligent range detection through doors and walls, even for materials like glass, stone, plasterboard and wood.”

Tune it right

Savant RGB lighting control user interface on mobile app

Lighting manufacturers are not the only ones dedicating significant resources to the space – key home automation providers such as Crestron, Control4 and Savant are all bolstering their lines in a bid to offer the complete package. “Lighting as a category certainly represents an important opportunity for us,” comments Angela Larson, Savant’s VP of sales operations. “We’re providing this opportunity to integrators directly, especially with technologies such as tunable white and WRGB lighting, which is ideally suited to the customisation capabilities offered by installers. The convergence of lighting and control is definitely here, and we want to help installers be positioned to deliver the best possible connected experience to clients.”

Larson adds that its focus on tunable white light (in collaboration with LED Downlight specialist USAI) and WRGB technologies to set lighting levels and temperatures in harmony with its home control scenes stems from Savant and Larson seeing not just increased demand for intuitive control and ease of personalisation, but “increased awareness toward the health and wellness aspect of lighting systems.” Larson affirms: “We want to allow for a single room or even the whole home to be put into a default circadian rhythm mode mitigating circadian disruption and promoting wellness.”

Looking ahead, Gallon forecasts that investment in tunable lighting among Clever Association’s clientele will only grow in the near future; “Tunable lighting will certainly be a big part of our lighting design and control projects going forward.” He continues: “The Lutron demonstration suite at ISE earlier in the year showed how far this technology had come in a relatively short period of time.” Wafer of Rako, agrees; “Obviously human-centric lighting and manipulating colour temperature has been shown to have benefits when it comes to workplace productivity and staff wellbeing, but it also can make or break a residential project as the colour temperature of rooms is really important.”

Outdoor opportunity

With LED now the standard and the days of halogen lamp sources long gone, options for deploying lighting outdoors are evolving too – and crucially, offering more opportunity for installers to offer a bespoke system to suit a homeowner’s lifestyle. “Outdoor lighting is both more durable, easier to install and cheaper to run,” says Wafer. “The fittings are also much smaller, so can be installed discreetly and control systems allow different scenes throughout the night, allowing for subtle lighting.”

Many also highlight controlling exterior lighting via geofencing and intelligent astronomic clocks as a significant part of their work. “Outdoor lighting continues to be a big part of what we do and working with built-in astronomical clocks that allow external lighting scenes to trigger at the perfect time of day, no matter what season it is are one of the greatest benefits we can offer,” states Gallon. “Increasingly property owners with large exterior spaces want to pay the same attention to aesthetics of their outdoor space to the inside of their home – whether that be to illuminate key features, entertaining areas or for security purposes.”

Booth adds: “Statistically, illuminated and/or lived-in properties are less likely to be burgled: one of the key reasons most end users install an outdoor security light, but it’s also about high levels of functionality, reliability and lasting aesthetic appeal.” These systems can be integrated with the home’s alarm system (i.e. supporting lights flashing to deter burglars and attract police to the right house), as well as with the home’s indoor lighting system for simple management of everything in and outside their home.

Collaboration is key

Although there is often client interest along one or more of these areas in investing in lighting control in the home, the stakes are higher and fulfilling the criteria involves more work than ever. “We feel one of our biggest strengths is that fact that we wear the hat of both being an electrician and a home automation specialist, therefore have always been involved in lighting control,” says general manager at French Riviera and Paris-based installer HENRI, Michael Sherman.

He adds, “But over the years, control lighting has become more technical with the appearance of new protocols such as DALI. It now requires a higher expertise to properly integrate it on high level projects.”

Sherman recalls a recent challenging high-end project which required realising numerous parties ambitions for the project; “Working in the Van Cleef & Arpels historical boutique at Place Vendôme in Paris, we had to mix the light colours in the lamps to get the perfect temperature on every single piece of jewellery.” He says that current residential projects require the installer to carefully balance meeting interior designers and architects requests with making the end users life more comfortable. “We also have noticed that interior designers are increasingly using lighting designers to work on their projects,” he adds.

henri lighting project living room, france

henri lighting project bedroom, france

“Last year we worked on a great apartment renovation in Paris, and the interior designer was very demanding with lighting,” says Sherman. “He loves to use light as a core element of his home decors so we carefully installed LED  lighting  everywhere: on the mirror, embedded in the stone,  cornice, walking nose, behind  the curtains… and on top of that, we created specific lighting scenarios that would emphasise the beauty of each room, whilst keeping things simple for the owner. A lot of precision was needed.”

"There is now often an expectance, by design professionals, to have lighting control in high-end connected homes.”  

Gallon says the situation is similar in the UK; “We find that there is now often an expectance, by design professionals, to have lighting control in high-end connected homes.”  The director continues: “This typically makes the process of designing and planning lighting control systems go smoothly. A good way to break down barriers and build relationships with design professionals is via CPDs – allowing you to get in front of a team, educate them on the benefits of this technology while answering any questions or concerns.”

Wafer says the offering from organisations like CEDIA and CPDs are key for industry-wide education. “The ability to provide these courses to architects and interior designers are instrumental for raising awareness of the importance of allowing for technology in the modern home,” he states. “Too often AV and lighting controls are left out of a specification to be dealt with later in the tender, but this can mean clients are unaware of what's available, what’s involved and haven't allowed a budget.” Booth of Gira agrees awareness is the key challenge to the growth of the industry, and says the manufacturer is investing in specialist courses with the aim of growing its network of integrators and “increasing product familiarity and confidence” in the marketplace.

“We have recently opened a new European Experience Centre in London encourage all our dealers to invite architects and designers they work with to visit together, and it’s certainly been a boost,” adds Woodward.

size and scope lighting stat - turnover increase, cedia market research UK

Other evidence from CEDIA EMEA’s Size and Scope survey of UK 2016-17 UK residential industry found “steady growth in lighting control installations with optimistic levels of up to 30% of project value growth expected” making it “one of the most rapidly growing categories” in the market. Specifically looking at turnover estimated for the past year in lighting, it was up significantly on the year before with investment in equipment growing at a normal rate (see above). The market research also found that around 5% growth in the number of installations involving lighting control and design compared the last time it ran a similar study, back in 2013.

At the same time, lighting control and design was the second most common technology sector that installers admitted would not be part of its plans in the near future (only beaten by security systems) – so why should more perhaps be considering dipping its toe into the market?

“There are two factors why,” says Lutron’s Woodward. “The first reason they should consider bringing lighting control into their portfolio is because more and more customers are asking for it, as it’s an easy-to-understand way to enhance their lifestyle, rather than being a gadget looking for a problem!” He adds: “If installers cannot offer lighting controls, you can be sure that some of the competitors will, so it makes business sense to offer this essential aspect of the project.”

“Secondly, lighting and shading controls remains one area of home technology that still enables installers to make good margins, and so becoming known as one of the best companies to install customised lighting and shade control systems can help to differentiate their business from other integrators,” he concludes.