Thursday, September 24, 2020
  Into the Light  

One of my duties is to have a 10-year plan for our company. I’m finding the task increasingly impossible.

It’s not for lack of trying, and not for lack of confidence. We’re inspired by the potential of the smart home industry, and excited to evolve our role in it. However, when the landscape of technology shifts so rapidly, we’re not sure what that role will be. Near constant reassessment, and the willingness to re-write that 10-year plan every six months are crucial to remaining relevant in tech.

Case in point: Shading. Ten years ago, if you had told us we would be specifying, procuring, installing, and configuring motorized shades we would have been skeptical. If you’d have further asserted that this category would represent our single largest vendor by a factor of two, we would have been incredulous. Historical perception (or possibly revisionist history) aside that is exactly what happened!

Ten years ago, if you had told us we would be specifying, procuring, installing, and configuring motorized shades we would have been skeptical.

—Chris Smith

Along with shading, lighting control has become an enormous part of contemporary residential design. It cleans away wall acne, lets the homeowner arrive in style and depart with ease, and centralizes control across every fixture with their varying intricacies for optimal effect.

As it turns out, and much to the chagrin of all involved (homeowner, architect, lighting designer, technology integrator), it’s a real challenge to pull this off correctly.

The complexity of lighting design has created a gauntlet of potential headaches. The right performance depends on compatibility across several variables for every circuit: Fixture, driver, wiring, dimming module... One oversight in any element can prevent lights from dimming smoothly—or at all. Poor design could lead to the bottom 10 percent of dimming cutting off completely, or your lights flickering. If you have been on a project site you have likely seen when this goes wrong. It is a nightmare.

So how do you avoid it?

Ask the firm that is providing, configuring, programming, and project managing the lighting control system to also take care of the fixture selection, driver selection, and wiring type. This is the first step in ensuring compatibility across the entire ecosystem. Some firms may also be able to provide the fixtures and, depending upon the fixture type, potentially install them. Adding to the value proposition will be firms that have the ability to do the lighting design (Reflected Ceiling Plans, Fixture Selection, Photometrics) or have the situational awareness within their firms that allow for the required coordination.

It also helps to know the product landscape.

There is no single manufacturer that covers all bases. Applications, interface, and aesthetic preferences all vary. We’ve spent the last few years building our “dream team” of solutions covering entry level products, warm dim, tunable white, circadian, high CRI, indoor, and outdoor lighting.

Lutron provides the broadest and most stable backbone (and user interface) for both commercial and residential applications. Most circumstances tend to be a fit for their Homeworks QS or RadioRA2 platforms. They also offer fixtures. Their entry-level Finiré series (don’t worry, nobody else can pronounce it either) offers 3-inch and 4-inch recessed lights with warm dimming—“Cool white” at full brightness and “warm white” at lower levels.

Early last year Lutron acquired Ketra, which brought products capable of tunable white and circadian rhythm. This technology allows white light to span the full spectrum and do so at the same color temperature and cadence as the sun. The lighting system knows your location on the globe using latitude and longitude, current season, and time of day. It is, hands-down, the most impressive demo you will ever see. (If you are in New York City you can come by the Ketra showroom: 215 Park Ave S #1704, New York, NY 10003.)

Then there’s USAI, a third-generation business started by the man who lit the 1939 New York World’s Fair. USAI gives a wide variety of lighting styles (white, warm glow dimming, tunable white, infinite color) in the same visual trim finish. With 12,000+ possible combinations, lighting designers are empowered to “paint with light” without forcing compromise on the aesthetics of the fixture. A notable design-forward solution is their Bevel LED Micro and it needs to be seen in person. In May 2015 USAI launched their Collabratory space in SoHo to provide a comprehensive interactive experience. (By appointment at 13 Crosby Street New York, NY 10013.)

While many fixtures are high-voltage, the low voltage category is growing quickly. Based in Florida and founded in 2009, LumaStream is leading the marketplace on LED as a low-voltage solution. This concept allows for significantly smaller fixtures by relocating critical infrastructure (power supplies and drivers) to a head-end location. The benefits come in the ability to service a system in a mechanical closet as opposed to at each fixture. Plus, the cost to wire a system is significantly reduced (both in materials and labor.) It seems logical that this style of system will continue to increase in popularity. Sample kits are available for demonstration.

For outdoor applications, the team at Coastal Source has conquered fixtures and wiring. Testing iterations in the harsh salt air of Florida, they have created highly durable solid brass fixtures, and waterproof quick connecters for easy scaling and swapping. Unlike an indoor system where things are “set it and forget it”, outdoor systems have to adjust to landscaping changes and foliage growth. One way to witness the dramatic impact outdoor lighting can have on a space is to schedule a visit to the McIntosh Experience Center (214 Lafayette, New York NY 10012) and head up to their rooftop terrace.

It’s difficult to predict where technology integration will be in 10 years, but if the recent past is any indicator, the days of helping with installation alone are gone. Lighting technology is just one example of rapid evolution. Along with it comes the need for more insightful guidance through the growing landscape of options.

We expect the need for more engineering resources in the future. We expect more market research, and a heightened desire to learn and evolve lock-step alongside new opportunities to remain relevant.
In other words, over the next 10 years we expect to constantly re-evaluate the next 10 years.

Chris Smith is the Chief Operating Officer for Cloud 9 Smart.