Just “google it.”  A term we have used for quite some time now to be synonymous with getting a {correct} answer to any questions our wildest dreams can fathom.   “What is the coolest car in the world?”, “ Who invented wine?”, “What is this itchy bump on my ankle?”…This list goes on and on.  Sometimes Google has the 100% correct answer, sometimes google has AN answer but it’s accuracy is suspect, and sometimes Google doesn’t have the answer correct at all.  Point being, some searches are better fit for Google than others.  {Enter thesis statement here} → Google, Bing, the open world wide web is not the best way to search for decorative lighting.  {End thesis statement}.  So, why shouldn’t I google “decorative light fixture” or “trendy lighting,” or “rustic European modern gothic lighting,” for example?  We have reasons why you shouldn’t.  Good reasons.  We’ve seen and heard it all.  Now we want to share.

  1. 1. Google searches (or any search engine searches for that matter) will likely elicit results from online retailers. Typically, anytime you google a product description, google automatically assumes you are in the market to buy it.  Although the search may bring you pictures of your dream fixture, BEWARE!  There are many other aspects you must take into consideration before adding it to your project’s lighting fixture schedule.  Let us explain!
  2. 2. California Title 24 Compliance. There’s this thing in California called Title 24.  Its an energy CODE, which means our buildings must be COMPLIANT.  Many times, decorative lighting found online does not comply with California Title 24.  Why would the online retailers care?  Their products oftentimes are manufactured overseas, shipped to the US and stored in a warehouse somewhere where there is cheap rent, and shipped to the consumer from there.  No one at the said “online decorative store” knows anything about Title 24 compliance, nor do the likely care.  Be careful.  Selecting the wrong fixture during design and not vetting it’s Title 24 compliance can lead to headaches as you get further into the process and can cause you to have to scramble to find an alternative at the last minute.
  3. 3. Backorder/No longer available. The dreaded backorder.  When you googled it, the fixture you and your client fell in love with was “in stock” and “on sale.”  Well we all know the project life cycle these days.  Project cycles can span months, and even years depending on budgets, timelines, etc.  So When you picked the decorative light fixture in 2017 for the project that is being built in 2020, no wonder why the fixture is no longer in stock, on sale, or moreover even available!  Or in today’s current situation with the global pandemic, there is that much more uncertainty on who is able to ship what, when it will get there, and where it is coming from!  Risk I am for sure not willing to take!  Either of these scenarios force you as a designer to go back to the drawing board to search for that needle in the haystack, decorative fixture, from square one.  More time you will need to spend on the design that you likely did not bill for on the front end.  No one likes to work for free!
  4. 4. Not UL, ETL, or CSA Listed for use in the USA. You know that Rustic, Euro-Modern Goth fixture you googled?  Its available….In Europe!  But with the magic of the internet, there are no territory line boundaries!  Beware of the “CE” Listing.  Yes, it is a listing of the product meeting the health, safety, and environmental requirements that ensure consumer and workplace safety, but only in the EU.  This listing does not translate over to USA standards.  Only products with a UL, CSA-US, ETL or any other NRTL Listing to US standards are capable of being used in the USA.  I have had a few instances in my tenure as a lighting manufacturers’ representative where the non-USA compliant fixture selected was on the fixture schedule throughout the entire, year-long, design process and the fact that it was not listed to US standards was not realized until submittal review, which oftentimes is too late for a project timeline.  This is definitely something you want to make sure you have covered upon selection the first time!
  5. 5. This decorative fixture looks nothing like what I saw on the website! Yep, you picked the winner light fixture.  Its going to look perfect with the finishes you selected and its going to blend right into the aesthetic of the space – it is actually going to be the “cherry on top” of your masterpiece.  Or is it?  You do your due diligence to select the fixture online with your client, the fixture gets ordered through the procurement channels, the electrician installs the fixture, and your client goes through the space during the big reveal and asks what that fixture is?  Pictures don’t always speak 1000 words.  When you select online decorative lighting, you oftentimes are flying blind.  You don’t have the luxury of reviewing finish samples or any samples for that matter.  You’re rolling the dice and the outcome could result in disappointment to your client and more work for you on the back end to make it right for them!
  6. 6. The fixture showed up in a million pieces, now what do I do? The answer to this problem may vary from website to website.  You may have had stellar experience in problem resolution with a particular website.  However, you also may have had quite the miserable experience as well.   Remember most of these online decorative sites have no vested interest in your project, preferences, project timeline, or personal relationship.  They just want to sell as many fixtures online as possible.  Churn and burn.  Getting a post-sale problem solved after the fact can prove to be a nightmare for you and  your client alike.
  7. 7. If it’s a decorative fixture I found online, it must be the least expensive. This is a complete myth.  Even if it’s a reputable manufacturer that you find via a google search or website retailer, the pricing they have to use is a suggested retail price.  There may be instances where you can work through your rep channel and get the same fixture for a lower cost!  In this case, you can always ask your rep!  But the price is the price online – and who really would you call from the online retailer in the first place?  Sometimes its beneficial to have friends in the business that you can rely on 😉.
Now that I’ve given you some major pitfalls with specifying decorative fixtures you found via online retailers, I would be remiss to not provide alternative solutions for you that will take the guess work out of your decision while hitting the mark on your design intent!

  1. 1. Consult with an SDLA lighting rep! Yes, pick up the phone and call, text, or email any of us!  Reps like us at SDLA have a whole arsenal of lines to offer assistance with and we know the lines like the back of our hands.  We will be able to take your vision and point you in the right direction with product options that will meet the budget, aesthetic, timeline, and quality you and your client expect.  And we have access to SAMPLES.  A whole warehouse full of samples.  Finishes, actual product samples, something to review before you take the leap and make the decision on this important aspect of your project!
  2. 2. If you can’t help yourself from “shopping” online for decorative lighting, don’t fret! We have put together our own version of “pinterest” on our website called our SDLA Inspiration Gallery.  This way, you don’t have to know exactly what you’re looking for, rather you can browse the gallery of inspiration photos and pick the ones that jump out at you!  We continue to update it weekly with new products from our best-in-class manufacturers.  Simply go to the website, peruse the hundreds of decorative lighting fixture application shots, click on ones you like and get the spec at your fingertips!
SDLA Inspiration Gallery

Author, Brian Rhea, is the Principal of Specifications at San Diego Lighting Associates.  He has been in the lighting industry for 19 years, having spent most of his career working for 2 major lighting manufacturers in both product development and regional sales management.  He has a B.S. in Marketing from Miami University (Oxford, OH), is an NCQLP LC Professional, is a certified AIA CE Provider, and is an active member of the San Diego IES Chapter.