Most electrical contractors don't spend much time thinking about residential lighting. They can wire three-way switches, dimmers and lighting fixtures faster than they tie their shoes. They curse dead bulbs and the callbacks that come from irate homeowners who want immediate repair of finicky dimmers or other malfunctioning lighting equipment. All in all, the lighting end of residential market doesn't get a lot of attention from electrical contractors.

That's a shame. With some additional study and basic marketing, electrical contractors can make residential lighting a nice little niche for their business. It's a unique and often misunderstood market. While most of an electrical contractor's work in a home is hidden behind sheetrock and insulation and never sees the light of day, everyone can see lighting. Unfortunately, most people settle for so little when it comes to lighting in their homes. In a new home, the home buyer will often blow most of the builder's allowance on a nice chandelier for the dining room and then have little left for anything but the bare basics of residential lighting: a fluorescent fixture in the kitchen with some oak trim, maybe a recessed eyeball fixture highlighting the family photos over the fireplace. Most homeowners are happy with this — unless someone teaches them that there can be so much more to lighting in their home.

That someone could be you. You could be the contractor that the builder brings in to show a home buyer what halogen lighting under cabinetry can do for a kitchen, or how washing a wall with a diffuse spotlight in the hearth room can create a unique feel for that room. You can help them cut their electrical bills by teaching them how to use the most energy-efficient lamps, and make their home look its best with the right light levels in key rooms.

The possibilities are almost endless and can set your work apart from a competitor down the block.

The basics of good residential lighting design are not hard to learn. To get you started or to review the basics, this month's cover story offers a great introduction. CEE News Contributing Author Joe Knisley has covered lighting for more than 40 years, and is respected in the field as one of the best technical writers on the subject. His article also offers a guide to residential lighting resources.

Residential lighting design may be a bit too artsy for some electrical contractors. That's their loss, because there's many opportunities to “sell up” and increase profits with residential lighting. You won't get as many chances to sell up with load centers, receptacles, wallplates, building wire, GFCIs and other products for this market.

Westco Electrical Contractors, a West Coast contractor, built a business in residential lighting by rewiring the mistakes made by other electrical contractors in residential lighting installations. According to its Web site at, home owners were complaining about lights installed in the wrong locations, low light levels and switching and dimming problems. Sensing a market need, Westco has completed projects in homes from 5,000 sq ft to 35,000 sq ft. There's a big chunk of change in projects of that size. It could be yours, too.