Why and how to sole source your next lighting control system

Sole sourcing for an HVAC control system is an unquestioned norm but has not been widely accepted in the lighting control system world. There are many reasons why sole sourcing benefits you. A single lighting control system can not only be networked, but it also allows the facilities folks to learn one control system, freeing them up to maintain the rest of the system.

There is sound legal justification, reasons, and practices to follow when going down the road of sole sourcing. Here’s what can help you through the process.

Evolution of lighting control systems

Lighting control systems were originally line voltage standalone components. Because they directly controlled the power to the fixtures, they had a common control protocol. This means other manufacturers could be substituted.

When low voltage dimming protocols (and eventually digital protocols) were created, the communication and power wiring were separated. This allowed control systems to develop their own protocols and ultimately to be networked.

Unfortunately, today’s specifications are stuck in the line voltage control days, don’t require networking, and allow “or-equal” substitutions. Today’s lighting control systems are systems – a collection of components with proprietary protocols that can’t communicate with other manufacturer’s components.

Code requirements also require networking – commands from a central computer to be delivered to spaces – something that is just not possible with line voltage systems.

Why should I sole source my lighting control system?

Lighting control systems are complex beasts. Therefore, the reasons to sole source become more important.


Sole sourcing provides:

  • standardized hardware,
  • compatibility with existing standards or campus/district/company standards, and
  • networking capabilities.

In addition, design engineer evaluations of different systems are rarely successful because the information provided in submittals is prohibitively long (250+ pages) and there’s not enough industry knowledge of the intricacies of each of these systems. Furthermore, the information to adequately compare systems is often not provided.

How to sole source

Procurement departments may frown upon the legal ramifications of sole sourcing, especially in public agencies. However, there are several legal justifications that apply to lighting control systems and may be used to justify sole sourcing procurement.

Legal Justifications

Legal reasons to justify sole sourcing include:

  • There is no other system that is compatible with the owner’s other system.
    • This is the easiest way to defend sole sourcing.
    • It is standard practice for HVAC control systems to be sole sourced in order to maintain compatibility.
  • There is no reasonable alternative that meets the owner’s requirements.
    • This is a difficult method to defend for lighting control systems. See below.
  • Only one known source for supplies or services
    • This is also difficult to defend, especially with a performance specification. See below.
    • Service capabilities may be a limiting reason for sole source.

Before selecting a manufacturer, the system requirements must be determined:

  • system capabilities
  • compatibility (especially if integrating with other control systems, e.g. HVAC)

For more recommendations for how to select a control system, see our previous blog post on how to choose a lighting control system.


There are four ways to sole source lighting control systems:

  1. Sole source to match existing equipment: This would also include matching existing equipment for system reliability, minimizing spare parts and avoiding the time and cost of added staff training etc. This is the most common approach.
  2. Owner purchase, contractor installed: This is when the owner buys the equipment they want directly and provides it to the contractor for installation. You can cite all of the reasons above for doing it. The drawback of this method is that any warranty claims, even for poor installation, are borne by the owner.
  3. Privatize the project: If you use one of the newer delivery systems like lease-leaseback, for the duration of construction, the project is private and you can buy whatever you want. Doing this just to control sole source equipment is a bit extreme but it would certainly work and it has other benefits like lower project cost and generally faster delivery time.
  4. Basis of design: This is a common approach in which you cite the equipment you want as the basis of design and make it clear you want the features available in the equipment you want, but it is not foolproof. The design engineer must stand their ground against VE efforts and or-equal substitutions in submittals. This is out of reach for many project budgets.

How do I get procurement on my side?

Getting your procurement department on-board with your decision to sole source may not be an easy or straight forward task. Each procurement discussion is unique and varies. So, it’s best to start a conversation with your procurement department first and discover what their specific concerns might be. Then you can begin to address them.


From my experience, customers who sole source lighting systems are happier. It might not be an easy process to justify, but the results are worth it. If you need any advice choosing your next lighting control system or the procurement process contact us anytime.

For further reading, see this paper from NASPO.

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