Residential Lighting Designers Flex their Collective Muscles — a Great Debate at IALD

by | Oct 3, 2022 | News

update, 4 OCT 2022:  We received the following comment from a residential lighting designer: “Eco system drivers were only available in Lutron’s Finiere line of downlights and rebranded as Homeworks digital. Ketra was their only other digital solution.”   

Thomas Paterson (Lux Populi) was the moderator and Anne Kustner (AKLD) and Sean O’Connor (Sean O’ Connor Lighting) were panelist for the Luxury Residential Lighting Forum

On 6 SEP,  we posted a controversial article by Thomas Paterson on Thomas called out Lutron and its business practices in the residential market.  He questioned why Lutron only made their EcoSystem drivers available to only one lighting manufacturer.  That one manufacturer is Ketra—owned by Lutron.

Crestron, Legrand, Lutron, and Savant were invited to the Forum.  While Lutron was called to account for their business practices, the door was opened for Lutron and its competitors to pitch their case for how they meet the needs of the community.  This writer believes that the purpose of the meeting was to have Lutron publicly explain their business practices; having three other competitors on stage made the goal less obvious.  As the discussion progressed, having all four manufacturers proved to be a great decision as much was learned by the audience. As a grab for the specification market, the playing field was leveled for each of the companies to pitch on merit.

More importantly, these four control companies learned what is important to the luxury residential lighting designer.

As the moderator, Thomas kept the discussion honest, pointed, sharp, but civil.  As he kicked off the meeting, he said, “Controls are the biggest risk to a residential lighting designer.”  Typically, a luxury home lighting system is designed a few years before construction.  He reminded control manufacturers of the obvious competition from Amazon and Google and implied that the white-glove service offered by high-end designers offer growth in the manufacturers’ battle against these conglomerates.  Thomas contrasted residential lighting to commercial lighting explaining that residential is focused more on color, accent, and endless integration into millwork.

Thomas discussed the benefits of the Lutron EcoSystem drivers, such as their compact size and cost-effective wiring due to their digital typology.   He named other residential lighting designers who were unhappy learning the EcoSystem drivers were withdrawn from the residential market unless that designer specified Ketra luminaires.

Thomas spoke about Lutron’s trouble in supporting existing projects.  He said that Lutron told CEDIA clients to use Ketra or there would be a risk on the Lutron system. Thomas stated, “That is tantamount to saying you have a lovely house here, but it’s a shame that it burned down.” 

Sean O’Connor agreed with Thomas, stating, “Key relationships with owners in the residential market are more intimate than in commercial market.” Sean explained the role of integrators and how they sell speakers, amplifiers, home theaters, TV’s as well as lighting.   The end user may choose the integrator based solely on the brand of TV that the integrator carries.  Sean added, “Lighting controls is just another widget in their basket.” 

Each company had five minutes to speak before being peppered with questions.

Below are my main take aways:

 Crestron (Jamie Stott and Marielle Brys)

  • Systems sold three years ago and have Crestron Home OS are smarter today because of free continual software updates.
  • With the Crestron Wellness Environment, Crestron now offers controls for fully tunable lighting.
  • If problems can’t be solved by a dealer, Crestron has an internal SWAT team to visit the job site and make things right.

Legrand (Dave Keller and Aaron K Severtson)

  • Discussed the history of Legrand and their acquisitions. Vantage was founded in 1986 and acquired by Legrand in 2006.
  • Sells only through electrical contractors and custom integrators—no internet, no distributors.
  • Discussed freedom of design—the designer can work with any company; this was clearly a dig at Lutron.
  • Started a fixture alliance two years ago and have many fixtures now approved.
  • Boasts of a design services team to work with the designer before the job goes to a dealer.
  • 750 certified dealers for US and Canada. If not certified, dealers can’t bid the project.

Lutron (Erik Lind and Tom Ike)

Erik Lind stated, “We made a decision 18 months ago…can’t correct it as fast as we want. We understood that we took away a choice, we have been actively supporting the lighting design community for 50+ years…It concerns me that we took away a choice and it is as if I shot someone.” 

  • Big advocate of wired and wireless and now support DALI-2; have been studying DALI since the 1990’s.
  • EcoSystem was developed to have a turnkey solution.
  • Supply chain has had an impact on EcoSystem.
  • Prioritized residential jobs and have taken EcoSystem out of the commercial portfolio.
  • Dealers have one-and-a half to two weeks of training.
  • They made news by announcing that, because of supply chain issues, 2-wire Phase control drivers are being suspended from new orders. They will satisfy all existing orders.

Savant  (Greg Barrett)

  • Savant-premium smart home allows the user to control the entire home: entertainment, power supply, lighting, all under 1 app.
  • Emphasized that residential is personal.
  • Uses scalable, standards-based control—not custom.
  • Spent a lot of time developing dealer channel and acknowledged their regional reps have not done a good job support lighting designers.
  • Provides as much control to the homeowner as possible.

Thomas challenged many of the speakers throughout the event, often saying, “The experience you are describing is not the experience that we are seeing.” Below are a few topics discussed throughout the session:

Support for Residential Design

Anne asked each company about supporting the residential lighting designer, asking “Do you have a program set up for residential lighting designers?  The answers were all very similar: Information on the web/app, integrators or dealers can provides support, manufacture can provide phone support and finally the manufacture can visit the job if needed.  

There was a lot of talk about how the manufacturers train the integrators and dealers. Do they really train them, and do they require certification? All companies confirmed that their dealers were well trained many using almost identical words: ‘an Incredible array of educational resources for the dealers.’

Deep Dimming

The panelists asked how the companies measure % of dimming?  Is one percent dimming 1% of lumen output, or 1% of energy consumption and is it an arbitrary value?  Changing from 2% to 1% is a 50% reduction.  At 1 a.m. our pupils are wide open and the difference between 2% and 1% is huge. At the end, it seemed as if the manufacturers had a new appreciation for dimming to 1% and to .1%.

Compatibility Responsibility.   The panelists asked throughout the session about responsibility for compatibility as there is a disconnect regarding who is legally responsible when the client is disappointed.  There were different answers, but most agree that when something is not working, the manufacturer and the contractor work together to resolve.

An audience member followed up, “What about publishing data incompatibility?   Why not publish things that you know are incompatible?  Our project cannot be your training wheels.”  I did not hear any satisfactory answer.

As the discussion began to wind down Tom Ike emphasized the importance of a vertically integrated solutions saying, “When we have a completely integrated solution it is our responsibility.” 

His closing sentence doubled down on having the lighting designer specify Ketra—and that was the main purpose of the meeting.  They don’t want to.