What's The Difference Between Residential and Commercial Lighting

August 15, 2016 2 Comments

residential vs commercial lighting

Setting up a residential lighting system and a commercial lighting system can be a very different ball game. Many factors can differentiate the planning, design, product selections, and installation process.

When a lighting designer fails to consider these factors, a wrong application can happen, and can cause the decrease in quality as efficiency.

Thus, here it is, our complete guide to understanding the differences of residential and commercial lighting, and how to avoid common mistakes and misunderstandings.

Comparison Overview

In general, here are the most notable variables that differentiate residential and commercial lightings:

  • Cost: Obviously, a residential lighting system has generally lower cost than a commercial system where the initial outlay is higher.
  • Durability:Residential lighting system won't need a durable system for heavy duty usage.
  • Energy Saving:Energy saving will be a great consideration in a commercial system, as it will be a factor in the business' profitability. Building a highly energy efficient system can be very expensive initially, and will generally hit the budget constraint in the residential application.
  • Applications:There are more varieties in a commercial system,and some will be custom-made and specialized applications.

With that in mind, here are a few considerations when setting up the two.

Purpose and target 

The main difference between the two is its purpose and functionality. For example, a house won't need their parking lot to be too bright. A commercial venue, otherwise, might need a lot of brightness in their parking lot for many reasons: visibility, security, or other reasons.

On the other hand, when surrounding streets are too bright, a commercial venue will need their landscape light to be adjusted to accommodate the overall ambiance.

Commercial applications sometimes have specialized use, a good example is the neon signage we often find in bars, which is generally not found in residential use. Safety and security are more of a consideration in commercial venues, paths and stairs will need more lighting for this reason, and sometimes lightings will be adjusted to accommodate CCTV recordings.



As previously mentioned, commercial lightings will need more durability. That's why the fixtures are manufactured differently than the residential models.

To make sure of buying the right fixtures depending on your needs, check for a commercial grade or residential grade label on the product.

In commercial grade products, the fixture is often of one package with the bulb itself, while it's often sold separately for residential use.

Make sure also to choose the right fixture with the right light types. For example, a LED bulb might lose its efficiency when paired with halogen fixture.


As we have covered in our previous article here, commercial lights above 150W of power need different fittings than residential ones.

Residential lightings typically use E26 or E27 Edison screw fittings, depending on voltage, while industrial-grade commercial lighting will need E39 or E40 fittings.



The design process will always be tied up with its functionality/purpose. In a residential application, very few specialized functionality are needed generally, and that also limits design applications in residential use.

In commercial use, however, lighting design can function for many things ranging from:

  • Decoration: Restaurant and bars are a good example for this one, and this can range from traditional ones to over the top ones at nightclubs like this.
  • Lighting a Large Space: In spaces like warehouses, factories, or barns, lighting the whole area while maintaining energy efficiency can be a challenge, and will require specific design approach.
  • Signage: Would your home need a big, flashy signage? Most probably not. But signage is a very important addition to commercial lighting.

Many other designs can be found in commercial applications, and will only be limited by the designer's imagination. The design will also be tied to the next part of our discussion: controllability.


In residential use, we generally have some form of controllability with dimmers. As the price goes lower, some houses also use motion or day/night sensors and timers.

In commercial use, the need for controllability is a lot more demanding, and might even need intelligent control system operated by a computer.

The design of the lighting system in a commercial environment should consider the control method needed to achieve the result.

Power Consumption

In 2014, the U.S. average electric bill for residential use was US$114.09, while at the same year the average bill for a commercial venue is US$677.97, six times higher than the residential use.

Thus, in a commercial environment, energy saving is a more pressing concern, as it can directly impact the business' profitability.

To achieve energy saving, smart control systems, as mentioned in the previous section, are often used to make sure the lights are only powered on when necessary. Utilizing complex sensors and dimmers, the lighting can turn off automatically when a person leaves a premise, eliminating the risk of human error.


Generally, a residential setup will have more limited budget than a commercial setup. Of course, there can be exceptions if you are a billionaire.Even in that case, your national electric code can limit your residential lighting design to some extent.

The higher budget, as well as more leniency in electric code, can allow more complex designs, higher wattage, more complex energy saving system, as well as more sophisticated control systems.

Common Misapplications

Here are some common mistakes made when a lighting designer failed to differentiate residential and commercial applications:

  • Wrong Choice Of Products: Always remember that for most cases, pick those with commercial-grade labels for commercial applications, and residential-grade for residential use.
  • Design Flaws: Those Disneyland lighting might be cool, but applying it in your house can create a whole sort of new problems. Even if you can afford the initial cost and electricity bill that comes with it, it may be a disturbance to your neighbors, as well as a misconduct for your country's electrical code.
  • Miscalculated Efficiency: Electrical bills can be a major cost for any business, and should be one of the utmost concerns when designing a commercial lighting system. Residential lighting typically has less efficiency than commercial-grade ones, and when misplaced, can harm the efficiency needed by the business.
  • Legality: On a worst case scenario, misplacing a commercial-grade lighting in a residential application can cause legal problems when it's not allowed by the electrical code.


By understanding the differences between residential and commercial lighting applications, you can make better decisions during your planning, design, product selection, and installation stage. When not careful, misapplications can cause unwanted problems, and can even be a legal problem in its worst.

2 Responses

Sam Li
Sam Li

November 17, 2017

Thanks for sharing your article about the difference between commercial and residential lighting. I absolutely agree with what you said about how the quality can be affected if the lighting designer fails to consider the factors that are important in commercial and residential lighting. My husband is looking to open a fine dining restaurant soon. It’s important for us to find a professional that knows how to deal with commercial lighting for us to achieve the look that we desired for the business. I’ll make sure that we will specifically look for a commercial lighting designer soon. http://dhslightingdesign.com/about-us.html

Bobby B
Bobby B

October 09, 2017

Thank you!

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