A Shift to Fashionable LEDs

What you need to know about solid-state lighting’s role in transforming the decorative and residential portion of the industry.

Brian Brandes Satco 

 The decorative lighting market has typically been governed by design principles that help guide the product selection process to create an environment that is visually pleasing. The lighting scheme must be functional, offer variable control in a reliable installation, and perform as intended for many years.

Today, faced with an unprecedented technical metamorphosis, the lighting industry has embarked on a journey into uncharted territory. Preparation for this journey is critically important to avoid taking a wrong path that could lead to unpredictable results. The most important tool required: Information.

Market Overview

Let’s take a snapshot look at LED lighting as it relates to the decorative market. LED technology offers decorative lighting fixture designers a fresh opportunity to create new forms, shapes, and sizes. Previously, a designer’s concepts were restricted or limited by the dimensions and other technical issues related to each specific lamp type. LED’s small size, low temperature emissions, and directional beam pattern characteristics make it a preferred choice for numerous applications such as: undercabinet, down lights, track lighting, and pendant fixtures. However, with these and other LED applications and luminaire types, questions can – and should – be raised.


The first step should be to determine that the LED light source (light engine) can consistently and reliably meet the desired light output (lumens), color (CCT), and CRI (color rendering index) and is dimmer-compatible. So far, so good! There are some good choices out there that can meet this set of requirements. The next question is just as crucial: What happens if there is a failure of the light engine? Can it be easily replaced by a consumer? If the fixture has to be removed and sent back to the factory for repair, who bears that financial responsibility? Can it even be repaired?

Here’s where the road begins to fork. There are many commercial lighting applications that utilize integrated LED solutions in their luminaires. Commercial lighting fixtures typically are serviced at regular intervals, and it is a commonly accepted practice to replace ballasts, sockets, etc., in commercial applications due to the long number hours in operation. Shouldn’t the needs of the residential consumer be considered in that same vein?

Looking Out for the Consumer
Mr. & Mrs. Joe Homeowner want to embrace the new LED technology; they want to save on energy costs and protect the environment. So, how can we help these “Homeowners” without having to train them as technicians to maintain their own home lighting? The introduction of LED lighting into the home should provide benefits beyond energy savings and beyond long life. The “Homeowners” are the next tier to begin the LED transformation. The residential lighting market is fertile with opportunities to bring LED solutions and integration to a welcoming group of consumers; we just need to make certain that we get it right.

Efforts to resolve many of the issues and concerns mentioned are well underway with the formation of groups like Zhaga, an international consortium which is creating specifications that enable interchangeability of LED light sources made by different manufacturers. The goal is to simplify LED applications for general lighting while making LED lighting easily serviceable – and upgradeable – as more efficient devices are developed.

The Certified Lighting Subcomponent Database (CSD) from ENERGY STAR® is another method to ensure the performance of an LED light engine. There is a growing list of qualified products and more are being added regularly, which will add many more LED ENERGY STAR-qualified residential luminaires.

What Showroom Staff Needs to Know
Are we [as residential lighting designers] ready to take the plunge and be 100-percent LED in our lighting layouts? Are there proven products available to meet our needs for performance and design? Can lighting showroom professionals confidently move forward to establish themselves as the true authority on the subject? The answer to all of these questions is “Yes! Yes we can.” New collections of LED decorative indoor and outdoor fixtures with replaceable light engines are becoming more commonplace. No longer are LED fixture designs limited to the sleek, ultra-modern genre of lighting as we have known it. Softer designs have emerged, opening new opportunities to more traditional tastes and allowing a new audience to benefit from LED technology.

What About Retrofits?
For existing installations, there are many excellent LED replacement lamps available for a multitude of applications. When selecting a LED lamp, careful consideration should prevail. There are many factors to evaluate and while cost is certainly one of the top concerns, it shouldn’t be the only one. ENERGY STAR qualification should be at the top of your list to ensure that you are selecting a reliable, efficient product that has met stringent testing procedures. Color temperature, color rendering, beam angle, and throw distance are all important aspects of how the lamp will perform in a specific environment. Think about how the LED replacement lamp or retrofit will look in a recessed downlight or track head that was designed for a PAR halogen lamp. Will the lamp blend in, or look out of place? Will the lamp’s distribution pattern illuminate the room in the same manner as the previous lamp or will there be shadows and dark areas? What about dimmer compatibility? Do the current dimmers need to be changed to ones that are compatible with LED? There are options and answers to these questions. Be sure to ask them.

Understanding Dimming
The fact that an LED lamp, light engine, or luminaire states that it is dimmable is only half of the story. Yes, it is important that the driver (similar to a ballast or transformer) that controls the current to the LED package has a well-developed dimming circuit. However, it is equally important that the dimmable LED is compatible with dimmer controls. Traditional assumptions and knowledge about dimming should be put aside as there are new rules.

First and foremost, select LED products and controls that have been tested and validated by both the LED and dimmer manufacturer that the desired products work well together. Inability to work well together is not a reflection of quality, but rather compatibility. Note that on most wall box dimmers made for LED there will be wattage restrictions that differ greatly from incandescent. A dimmer that can operate LED and incandescent loads may specify a maximum wattage of 600 for incandescent and 150 for LED.

Why You Should Start Now
We’ve established the fact that right now is a good time to begin introducing LED into your design plans. Light output, color consistency, beam control, and dimability are all at a level of performance and reliability to utilize LED today.

Some may say, “I’ll wait until the price comes down more” or “Once the technology is mature, I will use it.” Let’s remember that we are not dealing with traditional lighting. LED is a solid-state device, a semi-conductor.

The advancement of technology will continue for a long time to come. Just look at the computer industry. Consider all of the investment in software and computer hardware that has been purchased and repurchased over the past 20 years as the technology advanced. Flat-panel televisions are no different; especially now that flat-panel LED is abundantly available, consumers are purchasing the latest and greatest.

Don’t we want this same interest to be present in the lighting industry? Shouldn’t we begin the process to gain consumer interest and make them aware of what is available today? Doesn’t it make sense to advise consumers that there are good, useful, and cost-effective solutions in which savings can begin now and not to wait to save on energy costs?

Quick Facts About LED

  • Many LED packages contain phosphor and work similarly to fluorescents.
  • Lower CCT LEDs produce less light due to the additional red color in the phosphor which blocks light transmission.
  • LEDs with higher CCT have lower CRI.

Brian Brandes is vp/Product Development for SATCO Products, Nuvo Lighting, and KolourOne. He has XX years in the lighting industry.

For more information on SATCO please head over to our SATCO home page.

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