Properly designed lighting is a powerful asset.
By Omar Rivera, LEDVANCE
The LED revolution has changed many things, one of which is the conversation the building industry is having about lighting. Since the beginning of the revolution, the an important topic has been how much light can be squeezed out of lamps and luminaires for the lowest wattage and cost. While energy efficiency is important, the lighting industry has reached its practical limit, and as always, efficiency must be balanced with other considerations.
Light may be a commodity to be obtained for the lowest ongoing energy cost, but properly designed lighting can be a powerful asset. For the sighted, vision is how people get most of their information about the world. As the medium of vision, light produces physiological and psychological effects. These effects vary according to lighting, which is the application of light in a space. From highlighting key merchandise to facilitating interpersonal communication in an office, lighting is a critical part of a building’s design.
It’s time to change the lighting conversation by going back to basics and looking at new lighting capabilities that are redefining the basics. The conversation we should be having is about applications and users, not just energy. Are users getting the right amount of light where they need it? Is the illumination visually comfortable and supportive of wellness and productivity? Is the system robust in control capabilities?
No matter how much lighting technology changes, good lighting is about proper design and application. Consider:
• Layering is flexibility. One of the most important fundamentals in lighting design is layering. This entails combining general (ambient) lighting, task lighting, and accent lighting as needed to accomplish visual goals in a space. This approach provides extraordinary flexibility, allows the creation of visually interesting scenes using controls, and offers opportunities to increase energy efficiency by placing light sources closer to the task. With layering, the designer gets to decide what the user focuses on in a visual hierarchy.
• Start with light levels and visual comfort. The main job of lighting is vision, which allows users to perform visual tasks. Make sure you are familiar with the latest Illuminating Engineering Society, New York (ies.org), recommendations for minimum light levels. Ensure the light is delivered to the user without glare at typical viewing angles, a rule that applies to electric light and daylight. Zone the lighting appropriately for whatever is needed, whether it is a dynamic visual hierarchy of focal points or uniform light distribution across the task area.
• Application efficiency is critical. While selecting efficacious luminaires is important, real energy efficiency resides at the work plane, where light is consumed. This entails placing light only where it is needed and emphasizing the task-lighting layer. If relying on furniture-mounted task lighting to deliver minimum recommended light levels, ensure this lighting will, in fact, be installed.
• Take advantage of dimming. This is part of a general rule to take advantage of the new capabilities LED brings to lighting, but one that deserves special attention. In the old days of fluorescent and HID lighting, dimming was an expensive proposition. With LED, the majority of products are dimmable at a negligible cost. This offers a powerful capability for lighting design, not only to save energy, but also for task tuning to right-size light levels and mitigating glare. Dimming provides an excellent way to fine tune an installed design.
• Understand LED’s capabilities. LED lighting can change color, white-light shades, turn on instantly, operate in cold environments, demonstrate greater resistance to shock and vibration, offer long life, integrate with intelligent control, and produce actionable data that can be used to create new services and generate revenue. Be sure to familiarize yourself with everything today’s LED lighting can do to gain a much larger toolbox to solve application problems and correct issues that otherwise would be very difficult to address in the field.
• Control is king. The latest generation of energy codes and standards is very demanding in terms of mandatory lighting-control requirements. Today, compatible lighting controls can switch or dim LED sources very easily to save energy. Due to the complexity of code requirements, a big trend is integrating control into the luminaire, along with intelligence allowing either autonomous, ‘out of the box’ energy-code compliance or centralized, programmable operation managed by a trained and authorized user. Meanwhile, easy access to dimming offers new opportunities to use controls to support visual needs in a much broader application range.
Controls are now going much further than traditional switching and dimming, creating new lighting and building applications by allowing color control and the generation of data. The latest advanced-lighting systems offer wireless connectivity for highly responsive energy management, color tuning, and occupancy, thermal, and other data to be collected for analysis. These connected lighting systems are potentially foundational for Internet of Things implementation, as the luminaire could integrate many types of sensors. Cloud connectivity allows future-use case applications to be rolled out to enhance space utilization, focusing on providing customer solutions beyond energy conservation and great lighting design.
• Stay up to date with trends. New trends are emerging in lighting, such as a growing understanding between light and human health, leading to the potential to design more circadian-friendly spaces. Lighting products are not inherently circadian-friendly, though some are more so than others; as with other trends, good application and design is essential.
• Design for maintenance. Maintenance in the LED era can be challenging because of dramatically compressed product cycles and non-standardized components. What does the warranty cover, and how long will the manufacturer maintain replacement parts?
• Choose your supply partners carefully. It’s absolutely essential to choose suppliers who will stand by their product over the long term, while also offering support from a deep well of application experience and technical knowledge. Because of the wide variation in product quality in the market, of course it also applies that any specified product should be rigorously scrutinized. When in doubt, seeing is believing, which is why mockups are often advisable.
• Be the lighting expert. Continue your education, familiarize yourself with trends and advanced capabilities, and choose partners able to provide this education along with the other support you need as a designer and specifier.
It is truly an exciting time to be in the lighting industry as it undergoes a massive technological shift that is bringing with it opportunities and challenges. Change brings risk but also opportunity. Designers who seize this opportunity will gain valuable expertise and more satisfied clients. The good news is while technology is changing, the fundamentals of good lighting are the same: layering, light levels, visual comfort, daylighting, and application efficiency. As your lighting expertise grows, you will find that today’s lighting technology delivers far more opportunity than risk.
Omar Rivera is head of luminaires in the United States and Canada for LEDVANCE, Wilmington, MA (sylvania.com). A 30-yr. lighting-industry veteran, he is Lighting Certified with the Illuminating Engineering Society, New York (ies.org), and a Certified Lighting Energy Professional with the Association of Energy Engineers, Atlanta (aeecenter.org).