Bright Ideas

8 Considerations When Comparing Residential, Commercial and Industrial Lighting

Posted by Joe Lightman on Jan 20, 2016 9:30 AM

We often get questions about what makes commercial or industrial fixtures different from those people use for their homes. These questions sometimes come from customers who have a basic knowledge of lighting, but also from professionals in the industry, including electricians, contractors, lighting designers and property managers.  So in part two of our Lighting Essentials series, we cover the key things you need to consider when comparing residential, commercial and industrial lighting. While there are differences between commercial and industrial lighting systems, we group them together here and will do a deeper dive in future. RAB_Residential_Commercial_and_Industrial_Lighting.jpg

1. The Environment

The first consideration in looking at lighting for the residential versus the commercial/industrial sector is the physical environment. While energy efficiency is important, here we are talking more about the purpose of the light, the location requirements and the needs of the people using the space.

Typically a home requires lower light levels, along with friendlier or softer light. Most people don’t want the outside of their home to be lit up like a parking lot. At the same time, depending on the location, a parking lot might require more light for security or lower light levels (and more energy savings) if nearby street lights provide a decent amount of general (ambient) light.

2. Luminaires (a.k.a. fixture or in Europe, light fitting)

When comparing fixtures for your lighting applications you will find that commercial/industrial grade fixtures tend to be stronger, more versatile and flexible in terms of construction and light output. They also come in a wider range of options. In a commercial/Industrial fixture, the lamp or light source is often included as part of the system.

As LED bulbs and fixtures become the standard across the residential and commercial/industrial sectors, there are even more things to consider. In some cases, adding an LED bulb to a fixture may only give incremental energy savings if the fixture was designed for a different light source such as incandescent or fluorescent.

3. Light Sources (a.k.a. bulb or lamp)

LEDs have brought a radical shift in our options for light sources which also impact our decision making. Incandescent bulbs were the standard until more energy efficient fluorescent bulbs came along. In turn, LEDs, providing more features and light colour options both for residential and commercial/industrial usage changed the game again.  

Switching to LED bulbs might be the optimal solution in a home where most lights can be accessed with a ladder. Solving an issue with a fixture on a building, street light or chemical plant is more of challenge. This impacts the choice of lighting system, maybe calling for something hardier with lower maintenance requirements.  

4. Controllability

Lighting controls include everything from simple on/off switches, dimmers, light sensors, architectural controls to the intelligent lighting control systems run by a computer. While controllability is important in residential lighting, the push for cost savings, and greener building code requirements have
put more focus on lighting control systems in the industrial and commercial sector.

More options for residential are now available at lower price points, but generally a standard dimmer switch which works for your home, might not be enough for an industrial commercial application requiring centralized control for a large number of fixtures and a longer lifespan. New technology is
also now available, such as daylight/motion/hi-lo sensors, which turn the light off at dusk, operating in a reduced light mode, then when a person or vehicle enters the sensing zone, the light will turn to full brightness. A key consideration is to match the right lighting control for the lighting source or load
type, also following safety requirements.

5. The Warranty

Not all warranties are created equal. When comparing warranties for residential versus commercial/ industrial lighting, it’s important to read the fine print. On residential fixtures, warranties are typically shorter, that is 1-2 years compared to the 5 or in some cases 10 year warranties offered on industrial/commercial fixtures. 

It’s also important to read the fine print on a lamp/bulb where the promise of a 10,000 hour or 10 or 20 year lifespan depends on factors such as how and where the bulb is used. Typically commercial/industrial grade product warranties will rate with much longer lifespans – for example 5 years or 100,000 hours (or longer) lifespan.

6. Components

When comparing lighting fixtures or bulbs, it’s important to also consider the component parts. Commercial grade products generally have better component parts such as drivers, heat sinks, housing and lenses, therefore they will last longer than residential grade products. 

With LED, the most significant parts are the LED chip and the driver. These component parts might significantly impact the price – again, it’s important to consider the lighting requirements, application and usage. In residential applications, it’s not always necessarily to have the most heavy duty components.

7. Rebates  

Energy savings are a big consideration and in many cases this translates into cost savings in the form of rebates. Generally rebates are offered by local utilities and each province in Canada has their own rebate structure. To be eligible for rebates, some utilities require fixtures to be either Energy Star or Design Lighting Consortium (DLC) approved. Since false claims are often made, both DLC and Energy Star have websites where you can verify if a product is listed.

Energy Star is a voluntary certification program established in the United States in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to promote energy efficient consumer products.

DLC is a project of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) which promotes energy
efficient commercial lighting solutions, focused primarily on LED since 2010.

8. Applications 

Last but not least is the importance of considering lighting applications. This generally refers to where your fixture or bulb is going to be used. Lighting manufacturers, distributors and retailers typically group and sell fixtures based on their own classification of “application” which might be
as broad as indoor/outdoor or more specific to the location or application for which they are used – such as street, landscape, architectural, sign/facade lights, wall lights, area lighting, under cabinet etc.

Typically there is crossover with the application of lighting fixtures – many fixtures have more than one application. In some cases people might choose commercial/industrial fixtures for their home if they want a particular look or require something heavy duty and the cost/benefit makes sense. Certain commercial/industrial lighting manufacturers offer the benefit of being able to customize fixtures for very specific requirements of a project.


Hopefully this post helps to explain some of the criteria you need to consider when comparing residential, commercial and industrial lighting. 

Stay tuned for the next installment in RAB Design’s Lighting Essentials Series, where we'll cover The Ins and Outs of Light Sources.

If you have any questions about your project, we are happy to help. RAB Design offers free lighting consultations, where one of our lighting specialists will work with you to answer questions about energy considerations, cost management and fixture selection.  We can also create a customized blueprint for your project. Click the button below to schedule your consultation.

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Topics: Commercial and Industrial Lighting Essentials