Letter to a lighting efficiency program administrator

Dear Sir,

While I will continue to do lighting retrofits, there seems to be little incentive out there for participation in the EVT Lighting Designer program.   My lighting design practice, while using the most energy efficient lighting systems, now focuses on saving customers money on lighting product costs over more typical spec methods.   Did you know that currently almost all commercial lighting specs in VT are done by the manufacturers reps?   "or equal" is used by electrical engineers and architects- with the unintended effect of allowing lower cost, typically lower quality products to be substituted by competing rep agencies.  This leads to "a race to the bottom" in lighting quality.  Unfortunately, few engineers and architects understand enough about lighting to prevent this.    Project owners are the losers, as the contractors and suppliers enjoy sizable markups on inferior products.

I save customers money by eliminating the high markups, and specifying and supplying the right products to meet the client's needs at a fair price.  Because the contractor does not see the cost of the lighting fixtures, this also saves on installation cost.  Its typical for electricians to use 2x the fixture cost for their installed cost, which for higher quality products can be too much.

The focus of more of my projects now is on ensuring that my clients benefit not only with energy savings, but also with quality lighting designed to ensure health and wellness. Circadian stimulus is a key health component as determined by the Lighting Research Center at RPI and international lighting agencies.   Some energy retrofits have reduced light levels to the point that the spaces can have a negative impact on daylong occupants.  Others were overlighted, and then rely on dimming to reach proper light levels- sometimes resulting in noticeable flicker from low cost drivers.    I have seen a number of retrofits using magnetic LED strip that are severely underlit, as well as schools which have been delamped to the point that learning is affected.   I'd like to help address these issues, but where does one begin?

If you don't have resources available to assist in these types of projects, I quite understand, as Health and wellness are not part of EVT's goals.

Donna Leban, AIA LC

Light and Health Video Series

To learn about circadian lighting and your health, check out the new Lighting and Health Video Series from the LIghting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. Its a step by step explanation about why we need to be mindful about the effect of light on our sleep.

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Lighting for Human Needs: Where does Lighting for Health fit in?

This could be a great topic for a philosophical discussion or a full-day training session.  Rather than addressing the question scientifically or even as a lighting designer/architect, I will simply ask:  What does the average worker understands about their own lighting needs? 

These are my guesses, although I’m sure some may see priorities differently. 

1.       Need to find the way.

2.       Ability to do work.

3.       Understanding the time of day, and how this affects one’s schedule.

4.       Need for connection to nature, with daylight and views being a major factor.

5.       Psychological need for comfort and support with ability to vary lighting.

Assuming I have correctly tuned into the psyche of the average American (other cultures may rank these differently) it would appear that the health and wellness aspects of lighting are not invisible to the average person.  Based on buildings that most people work in, however, it seems that only the top two are common to nearly all buildings.  Office buildings usually have views to the outside, but these may not be universally accessible to all who work there.  With hermitically sealed windows, the connection to nature is rather limited. 

Psychological and lighting needs vary throughout the work day.  It follows that having the ability to dim and raise the light level or even change the warmth or coolness of the light color would be important if more people realized that such features can be achievable with LED lighting.  

Employees are the most valuable resource in an office building, so logic would tell us that rather than designing and retrofitting lighting mainly for energy efficiency reasons, we should instead be looking to retrofit worker occupied buildings to dimmable and even white-tunable LED light to ensure that we support and nurture the best workforce.  

Recall that in the economics of the workplace:

1.       That $3/square foot (sf) of the cost of a business office is for utilities to run the building.

2.       That $30/sf of the cost of the business is for the real estate and infrastructure cost.

3.       That $300/sf of the cost of running a business is the employees and their benefits which include healthcare and sick time. 

A stressful work environment, exacerbated by a glary lighting system with no manual controls is not conducive to a health work environment.   It would follow that understanding the effect that lighting has on our health and well-being, we also would want our workplaces designed to provide more than adequate illuminance for way finding and performance of work tasks.  And yet, utility costs are the factors driving many lighting retrofits.

Isn’t it time to reevaluate?