I was asked an intriguing question this week. “What do I think lighting will look like in the future?” With all of the changes that have occurred in lighting over the last decade, you might expect a period of rest or inaction, but I really don’t think that is likely. The cat is out of the bag. Users, creators, scientists and researchers are more aware of lighting then at any time since Edison. Lighting will remain a kinetic force in our lives.
Outside of the residence, there are going to be even more changes, but if I strictly concentrate on residential lighting, I (and my Magic 8 Ball) feel pretty comfortable with the following observations.
Less Decorative Lighting
Two-story foyers are gone (for the most part) dining rooms are disappearing, flex-space is growing and landscape lighting is a much more effective way to light an exterior of a home then a surface mounted porch light. Couple that with an increase in the amount of pre-fab or modular construction and lighting built into the fabricating structure of a home will be more and more commonplace.
Decorative lighting also carries with it a “style.” Whether contemporary or traditional, some portion of the population doesn’t like it. Style becomes an alienator, preventing a sale. If the core building is style-agnostic, it becomes easier for a future homeowner to imagine herself in the space. Removing decorative lighting, perhaps as slowly as bedroom lights and hallway light disappeared, appears to be a sure bet for the future.
We are all lighting maintenance people. We don’t service washers, dryers or ovens, but lighting is different. As if it were a birthright, we feel compelled to change light bulbs. Our incandescent mentality causes us to worry about buying lighting that eliminates the need for re-lamping. We are suspicious, unbelieving and skeptical, this innate portion of our psyche being so powerful. Despite our overwhelming resistance, integrated LED lighting will overtake and replace lighting with replaceable light bulbs. It has quietly gobbled up lighting category after category. First landscape lighting, then recessed, linear architectural detail lighting, under-cabinet lighting, contemporary chandeliers and the table is set for bathroom lighting…and the world has not ended! There is life after light bulb replacement.
As we move into tomorrow, the shift will be further advanced by poorer quality (but cheap!) replacement light bulbs and a shifting aesthetic direction that will be more clearly borne out with integrated LED. Well-designed integrated LED lighting will operate in a residential setting for over twenty years. When the average redecoration of a home is every seven years, this is likely to exist through three remodels.
As the Gen Z and Alpha demographic will understand best of all, there will be much better things to do than change light bulbs!
Home automation is inevitable. Your great-grandmother couldn’t understand the need for a cloth dryer, your grandmother didn’t need an air conditioner and your mother doesn’t need a smart phone. Like the preponderance of dryers, AC and smart phones indicates, home automation is going to happen. A voice activated home will be de rigueur. The typical consumer has already linked an intelligent home to automatically turning on and off lighting. It is one of the first things people do with their new Alexa or Google voice system.
A few things could happen. The luminaire will include a smart “dongle” or, “dongles” will be wired between each luminaire and the house wires, but rest assured, the ability to configure it to a smart system will be there. That then leads to the next prediction.
The Elimination of the Light Switch
When a luminaire is intelligent, why does it need something as “dumb” as a light switch? When you remove the switch, you also eliminate the yards of wire that link it physically to the outlet box. The home becomes easier to wire, holes are removed from walls, backsplashes and panels. The cost savings alone might make this the first prediction to come to fruition.
For Better, or Worse
When LED was first introduced, the sky was the limit and lighting professionals felt, finally, we would have GREAT light. That optimism was unfortunately, a bit too much and too soon. To get prices down, many concessions were made. Those concessions resulted in lower quality products. One need look no farther than the surface-mounted, recessed can replacements. These are a poor light source that creates far too much glare. Take a look in a “big box” store, also. The 40,000 to 50,000 hour light bulbs are slowly being replaced with 10,000-15,000 hour models. Yes, they are cheap, but….
I suspect that the future will re-find a place for better lighting. It will appeal to a select clientele who understands the value of good light. More effective, less glary cans, circadian adjusted light output and adjustable bathroom lighting are just around the corner, especially for those who appreciate the difference between good and poor lighting.