The Guiding Hand Of Regulation



Why are governments stepping in more, and how does this affect commercial operations?

This September the European Union phased out the production of GU10 halogen spotlights. The logic behind this move was a desire to decrease energy consumption and increase consumer savings. Noble goals, but many contractors and commercial facilities managers are left wondering if the lights they install today will be made obsolete tomorrow.

If you or your customers are feeling that unease, then there are a few simple steps that you can take to stay ahead of unexpected government regulations.

Reasons for Regulation

There are three primary reasons for the regulatory legislation that affects the lighting industry: Safety, Consumer Cost, and Energy Consumption. Critics may point out that publicity and lobbyists weigh in as well, but even if those factors do come into play any laws passed will be under the banner of those three factors.

There’s no better example of how this kind of legislation plays out than the regulated steps that moved the market away from traditional incandescent bulbs. Although sometimes portrayed as an out-right ban on the lighting we’ve used for generations, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 is actually aimed at manufacturers rather than tradesman or consumers. The regulation didn’t prevent electricians or individuals from owning or using incandescents of any kind, but it did tie maximum wattages to specific lumen ranges. This caused the cost-benefit of the manufacturing process to tip towards alternative lighting. So while there was never any risk of the feds coming to seize light bulbs out of our desk lamps and bathroom lights, it was still a de facto phase out of the traditional bulb.

Looking back at the three driving factors, safety is the only one that wasn’t involved in the incandescent phase-out. The legislation was passed under the auspices of decreasing energy consumption, with an eye to incentivizing the market in the hopes of creating lower costs for consumers. By watching for similar moves in public policy, it’s possible to get in front of potential legislation, rather than reacting to it after the fact.

To navigate governmental regulatory waters, think like a surfer. Find ways to anticipate upcoming regulation and put yourself ahead of it, the same way that a pro surfer sees the swell of the water and jumps in right before the break can wash her away.

Watching the Waters

It should come as no surprise that once a given regulation starts, the chances of it decreasing is slim to none. If any lamps or equipment used by you or a customer have begun to come under scrutiny, then it’s only a matter of time before more regulation will be headed your way. For example, that EU ban on halogen spotlights? It’s expanding to include non-directionals in September of 2018.

The idea that regulation only grows is just as true on the local level. Regulations passed by one state often spread to its neighbors. And as requirements become more widespread, it’s just a matter of time before a tipping point is reached and regulations are enacted on a national level.

By contrast, regulations are much slower to leap over international borders. This is driven by both geographical distance and the existing standards of each country. When two nations have different requirements for receptacle type and voltage levels, for example, then their respective lighting regulation tend to not be interchangeable. In other words, US-based professionals are better off tracking things like California’s 2014 passage of Title 24 rather than a new development in Quebec.

Riding the Wave

The trick to avoiding unnecessary headaches when it comes to regulatory issues boils down to staying informed and staying organized. Staying informed means keeping abreast of current industry news and being aware of what regulations have been passed, while staying organized can range from something as simple as putting compliance dates and deadlines onto your calendar, to something as complex as helping a customer keep track of what kind of fixtures they use and where they’re located.

Keep up to date with developments in the industry from sources such as Needham’s news feed, and organizations such as the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). Energy consumption often drives regulation, so keep an eye on new technologies by following trade magazines like LEDs Magazine or Residential Lighting. If you begin to hear growing buzz about a less energy-hungry option than the one you’re installing, take a minute to consider whether you’ll be building-in obsolescence.

Finding that sweet spot between mainstream acceptance and ‘bleeding-edge’ technology can be tricky, but most regulatory changes have a graduated implementation schedule that provides plenty of time to plan your response. The Energy Independence and Security Act, for example, was passed in 2007 and rolled out over the next several years, including extensions and adjustments to accommodate unexpected bumps in the road.

Remember that no one is going to come and seize your new light fixtures. However, if a specific type of lamp is being phased out in September, then August is a poor time to install fixtures that use that type of lamp. Staying informed will keep disruptions to a minimum and allow you and your customers to stay in front of regulations rather than scrambling to update systems or respond to laws after they passed.

Safety First

Regulations driven by safety concerns function differently, and are generally the hardest to get in front of. No one manufactures or installs intentionally hazardous electrical equipment, so when safety concerns are raised it’s usually well after materials have been produced and installed in the field.

When it comes to regulations driven by safety concerns, the most prudent response is simply to comply. It’s common sense, and the last thing you want is additional risk of injury or litigation caused by a slow adaptation or failure to remedy a dangerous situation.

These simple steps can go a long way towards minimizing any headaches resulting from new regulation. By anticipating regulations you can provide guidance and valuable expertise to your clients, and ride the next wave of regulations to success.


With over a decade of construction experience, Dan Stout writes articles that help demystify the industry for both contractors and customers. Visit him at


Copyright 2015 Needham Electric Supply. All Rights Reserved.

Sign Up for Contractor Advantage and Enter to Win a Night on the Town!

Enter to win one free night’s stay at Boston’s Seaport Hotel, and enjoy an evening out with a $250 American Express Gift Card!