How To Choose a Lighting Control System

Just as the PC industry faced consolidation in the late 80’s, the lighting industry is also consolidating. Legrand started it off when it bought WattStopper and Vantage/Equinox/LCAP decades ago. Philips is now Signify. Siemens recently purchased Enlighted. GE has begun the process to sell their lighting and control systems businesses. Given the changes in the industry, it’s important to know how to choose a lighting control system that meets your needs for the immediate and long term.

In general, when choosing a lighting control system consider the following.

Reputable Manufacturer

Choose a manufacturer with a long track record, commitment to support of legacy products (and/or provide backwards compatibility) and are not strategically desirable.

  • A long track record can be a sign that the system will be supported for the 10-20-year lifetime of your system.
  • Just because a manufacturer has been in business for a long time doesn’t mean your product line will be around or supported throughout its lifetime. Lighting control systems are capital level investments that require 10+ years to pay off. The most reputable manufacturers not only support their legacy products but develop new systems that are backwards compatible with the older ones.
  • Consider avoiding “strategically desirable” companies likely to become someone else’s acquisition. This provides a level of insurance that your product will continue to be supported.


Installed Cost

Choose a system based on total installed cost and maintainability. Choosing solely on first cost of the equipment is a recipe for long term dissatisfaction.

  • In this market, the major cost is labor. This includes installation and configuration. Paying a premium for better quality equipment is a small fraction of total cost.
  • Total installed cost should also include fixtures. This will accurately account for fixture integrated controls and the additional cost to add controls to non-integrated fixtures.
  • 50% of a building’s cost is in operation. Who will maintain your system? Will it be an outside vendor? Or maybe you want to keep it in house. Some manufacturers only allow service by their service techs. If uptime is an issue, consider manufacturers that sell parts locally (i.e. through an electrical distributor) and allow you to service your equipment.



We strongly recommend standardizing your systems by using only one manufacturer across the building portfolio, similar to what is already done with HVAC control systems.

      • Lighting control systems are very different and are not compatible with other manufacturers. Furthermore, the same control system for all the buildings on your campus will make your facilities staff happier.
      • Sole sourcing for control systems has ample legal precedent. Look for a detailed breakdown in a future blog post. If you can’t wait, check out NASPO’s brief.


The Big Picture

When evaluating systems, compare initial quality (i.e. infant mortality), control capabilities, and integration with other systems (including emergency lighting, exterior lighting controls, HVAC, etc.).

      • Your system won’t perform well if the equipment fails early/often. There can be as much as a 6 week wait for parts and labor to fix the issue!
      • Developing a list of desired operational capabilities (i.e. control intent narratives) before starting the evaluation is helpful.
      • Integration must be addressed up front. Not all manufacturers are created equal – they may not be able to easily integrate with others.
      • Prioritize! Figure out which features are “must haves” vs “nice to haves.”


Limit Battery Operated Systems

Choose a battery operated system ONLY if you have spaces that will need to be reconfigured often or the cost of a wired system is exorbitant.

      • Battery powered devices will need the batteries replaced. Consider if you have the staff for regular replacement? Are locations of controls easy to access or are ladders needed? The cost of this labor should be included in the life cycle cost.
      • The capabilities of battery powered controls are usually limited. PIR is the detection method of choice in order to minimize power use. PIR only sensing requires more devices to provide good performance.
      • Asbestos abatement can make the cost of a wired system prohibitive. In this case, wireless might be cheaper.
      • Wiring details matter! Systems that use CAT-5 cables can be easier to reconfigure than those requiring multiple, separate, strands of communication wiring.


Prioritize Staff Training

Specify training at construction completion, and two more at 3 and 6 months. Why?

      • The building engineer is often hired after occupancy.
      • Even if they are present at turnover, the stuff they need to learn is huge. There is little retention of the nuances of the lighting control system operation/configuration/maintenance.
      • Knowledge retention is often dependent on using it. At turnover, building engineers haven’t used it enough to retain they key information.


Coordinate with IT

If integration with other systems is desired, coordinate with IT and carefully specify the services required for integration.

      • IT is in charge of the security and infrastructure for network the systems use to communicate. Coordinating early might be painful, but it is certainly less painful than coordinating later.
      • For more tips on working with IT, see this excellent article by the IES.
      • See this article on cybersecurity for building control systems.


Hardware and Software Maintenance

Provide time for facilities personnel to maintain software as well as hardware.

      • When systems are maintained, energy savings will persist. This also goes for system setpoints, and calibration or adjustment of sensors.
      • Security of internet-connected systems relies on facilities engineers being diligent about applying security patches. What we see is that they are focused on physical repairs. Network/computer/digital maintenance is ignored, forgotten, or de-prioritized because it doesn’t have the urgency of a person alerting them that they are cold. If IT is siloed from facilities, patches may be applied without regard to how they’ll impact system performance.
      • See this article for tips on software maintenance for cybersecurity.

Lighting control systems are a big investment. It’s important to choose carefully and maximize your chances of smooth, effective and efficient operation. If you have any questions about getting started on your next lighting project, contact us any time. Stay tuned for a future post on how to sole source your lighting control system.


Like this post? Share it on LinkedIn.

Scroll to Top