LED lighting, home security system installations on the rise in Cedar Rapids

Contractors, electricians say new technology in demand for homes, businesses

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All you need to help keep your business and home secure is a smartphone and a few thousand dollars — and perhaps a lighting contractor to set it up for you.

“We are seeing more people, especially owners of high-end homes, wanting home-security cameras linked to their iPhones. Home security can then be monitored by the owner at any time from their phone,” said Nick Streff Jr. of Streff Electric in Cedar Rapids.

“We’ve done a dozen of these in last few years for high-end homes and custom homes. It’s an app on the phone — and involves a wireless transmitter that can be controlled with the phone. The cost is several thousand dollars.”

Such a modern-day miracle is one of many new ways lighting companies and contractors are trying to attract new business and keep existing customers in the crowded, fast-changing, field of lighting, electrical contracting and supplies.

LED (light-emitting diode) lighting is an up-and-coming bright light in the business.

Boiled it down to the basics, LED is gaining favor because it offers more light using less energy, according to Tyler Olson, vice president of Paulson Electric of Cedar Rapids. The company, in business 84 years and with 100 employees in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo and Dubuque, does strictly commercial electrical work.

“It’s fairly new and still pretty expensive. If (customers) look at the end result, usually we can get them talked into it,” Streff said.

The bulb life is quadruple and LED uses 25 percent less energy and requires less maintenance, he added.

There’s no ballast involved, and LEDs do not get hot.

Streff expects cost to decrease as more customers go to LED and more fixtures hit the market. Bulbs have dropped 10 percent in the last six months, he added.

Many lighting contractors tout higher efficiency lighting and fixtures to businesses with large warehouses or parking lots with a pitch that the technology will save clients money in reducing energy and maintenance costs over time.

They also offer other kinds of higher efficiency lighting such as high-efficiency fluorescent, known as T-5 and T-8.

Paulson Electric’s Olson gave an example: A 110,000 square-foot warehouse running two shifts could replace its existing lights with 54 watt high-efficiency l

amps and fixtures, potentially reducing the electric bill from $35,600 to $27,700 a year.

New fixtures costs are $51,000, after utility and other rebates.

Olson said with the savings, the company could recoup payback in 6.4 years.

“There is some upfront capital expense, but the return is very good. We see paybacks anywhere between two years and eight years,” Olson said.

“These numbers also assume the cost of electricity does not increase, which is very conservative.”

Paulson’s has developed a facility assessment service to show clients a range of options. Each option has an upfront cost, but discloses available rebates, tax credits and payback calculation.

Options range from relighting through solar generation, Olson noted.

There’s considerable competition in the lighting/electrical business, and companies must adjust to changing technology, trends and economics, said Jerry Duball of Duball Electric in Cedar Rapids.

Duball, in business for 25 years, does commercial and residential work.

Competition, Duball added, has made “it tough to raise prices the last several years (despite increasing costs). That’s good for customers but tough for my (25) employees who want raises now and then.”

An option Duball uses is to bid the blueprints and offer add-on options of what he thinks the project should have to be better, knowing many customers will want some of those extras.

Streff said his company, with its 30 employees, relies heavily on customer relations built up over 25 years in the business. About 75 percent of Streff’s accounts are commercial, and nearly all the company’s residential work centers on long-term relationships with new-home builders.

“I think we need to definitely be more aggressive” in seeking business, Streff conceded.

Streff vies for public sector jobs — he landed projects for the Linn County Public Service Center and the new Juvenile Court building, for example.

“We’ve always been forward-looking by adding services comparable to customers’ needs,” Olson said, noting Paulson Electric got into construction design early. After all, Olson said, Paulson’s 84 years in business is due to its ability to “create good relationships with customers and to think ahead.”

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