Learning Lighting Design

By Susan Casey | Sep 15, 2005
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If you want to learn about lighting design, opportunities are plentiful and easily accessible. With the increasing demand for energy efficiency, organizations and companies focused on lighting and lighting products are offering tutorials, seminars and workshops open to electrical contractors and others. Many of the programs offer continuing education credits.

“To understand lighting design, you need to understand lighting terminology,” said Dan Frering, manager of education, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), Troy, N.Y., the university that is the home to the Lighting Research Center (LRC). “To choose a light bulb, you have to understand how to choose a correlated color temperature and the color rendering index or you can’t choose the appropriate light bulb. If someone says, ‘I need 50 foot-candles on the desk,’ and the electrical contractor doesn’t understand the term, he can’t do the design. You have to know the words lighting people use.”

Lighting design education can begin online. Many beginner courses are available free of charge. Here are some examples:

°At the LRC Web site (, a terminology course provides information on basic nomenclature including ballast factor, candle-power distribution, glare, reflectance and spectral-power distribution. A class on residential lighting teaches contractors how to select, design and install lighting in homes. “We offer the courses online because time is money for an electrical contractor,” said Frering. “They can take the class whenever they have time.” Visit to register.

°Discover Lighting, another beginning online overview course, is offered to anyone who signs in on the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) site,

°Osram Sylvania also offers online primers on various aspects of lighting, including information about light and color and types of lighting. Find it at

°Lightolier’s “Lessons in Lighting” ( is an online course on lighting fundamentals and is intended as an introduction to the topic and a refresher course. A lighting glossary on the site includes information on more than 100 terms, including equivalent sphere illumination (ESI), elliptical reflector (ER) and zonal cavity method lighting calculation.

Once you have the basics, some of the sites above also offer more advanced classes—for a fee. The LRC offers a course that covers different lamps, fixtures and control devices for $125.

“It’s an excellent starting point,” Frering said. “We don’t assume an advanced knowledge of any type of design and we go through design techniques a contractor could use. We give a lot of information on how to select a good lighting fixture and about light distribution. When an electrical contractor looks at a catalog, they can then read about the fixture’s light distribution, ballast, lamp and other characteristics and, based on that information, select a fixture that does what they want it to do.”

The class has 40 modules, each of which takes about 20 to 30 minutes to complete. LRC also offers an LED Lighting Institute, an intensive, three-day course at the RPI campus.

Those wanting the latest news can take part in “Live from the LRC”—an occasional 90-minute Internet teleconference on different topics such as outdoor lighting, indoor lighting and daylighting.

IESNA offers “Lighting Education Fundamentals” (ED-100). The course is a set of 10 instructional lessons on systems, equipment, calculation procedures and terminology for those with a basic awareness of lighting and professionals in need of an overview. While the class is offered at IESNA chapters around the country, the basic text—a binder containing the information taught in the class—is available for $95.

A follow-up intermediate class—the “Intermediate Level Lighting Course” (ED-150)—is instructor dependent. It covers more advanced topics, including establishing lighting goals (schematic design), luminaires and optical control, building electrical systems, and daylighting analysis.

Specialized courses on lighting for different applications are offered by many different lighting equipment companies at different locations around the United States.

What else is out there?

Cooper Lighting’s educational programs are offered online ( and at the Source training facility, in Peachtree City, Ga. ( While the company offers a three-day seminar entitled “Lighting Fundamentals,” it also has a wide array of classes on more specific topics including residential, legislation and industry trends, technology, and the latest studies. Many of the Source classes qualify for continuing education units.

“We have over 5,000 people a year come here for education,” said Mark Lien, manager of the Source, Cooper Lighting. “We can also set up an agenda specifically for a group. If a group of electrical contractors primarily focus on exterior lighting then that will shape the content of their course. We won’t waste their time talking about lighting information that doesn’t specifically address their needs.”

Philips Lighting Co. offers workshops at the Lighting Application Center, Somerset, N.J. Topics include lighting fundamentals, LEED application and healthcare lighting application. For some workshops, lighting or design experience is recommended. Visit or call 800.945.9071 for more information.

GE’s Lighting Institute, founded in 1933, is at historic Nela Park in Cleveland. Classes include lectures and demonstrations on commercial, industrial, retail and healthcare lighting. Call 800.255.1200 or to register.

Osram Sylvania ( offers information about home lighting and business lighting at classes at Lightpoint, the company’s Institute for Lighting Technology, Danvers, Mass. They also have facilities in Westfield, Ind., Davis, Calif., and Mississauga, Ontario.

Sea Gull Lighting ( offers a two-day seminar on low-voltage lighting systems at their facility in Riverside, N.J. It is designed to provide architects, lighting professionals and electrical contractors with in-depth tutorials on the specification, design and theory of these lighting systems.

The Kirlin Co. offers courses at its Reflection Point Lighting and Education Center, Detroit, including healthcare and medical lighting.

“Architectural Downlighting” is a one-day program that includes information about the principles of commercial lighting as well as recommended practices and application presentations of lighting design using actual projects. Call 313.259.6400, ext. 301, or e-mail [email protected] for information.

Lithonia ( offers a program that teaches the tools of lighting design and a program covering lighting for design-build contractors at its Jim H. McClung Lighting Center facility in Conyers, Ga.

While most of the aforementioned site-based programs are on the East Coast, programs are also offered in other areas.

¦BetterBricks ( is an initiative of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a nonprofit corporation supported by electric utilities, public benefits administrators, state governments, public interest groups and energy-efficiency industry representatives in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. It offers training and support in those four states through classroom training, consultation services (review of designs) and use of its integrated design lab facilities.

¦At the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. ( offers lighting classes. A lighting classroom is available for use by appointment.

¦Southern California Edison (SCE) offers energy-efficient lighting classes at its Customer Technology Application Center (CTAC), Irwindale, Calif. Visit for information.

“Electrical contractors can set themselves apart by being able to choose lighting and knowledgeably install it,” said RPI’s Frering.

One electrical contractor has had that experience.

“My training started with observation and then I received formal training,” said Michael Boso, Residential Department, Doan/Pyramid Electric Co., Bedford Heights, Ohio. “As I began to move past doing nuts and bolts electrical work to doing more high-end residential projects, I could work with customers who wanted to personalize their projects and make them less cookie cutter. Many consumers are unaware or uninformed of the importance of good lighting.

“I think that learning lighting starts with natural abilities. Then you develop the ability to see what could or will be. I have seen lighting designers with formal education that lack the practical understanding. Trial and error has been my personal teacher. Lighting can become an important part of the overall feelings created in the space, and the variations of lighting techniques can add interest to the overall look of a space.” EC

CASEY, author of "Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors" and "Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World," can be reached at [email protected] or


About The Author

CASEY, author of “Women Heroes of the American Revolution,” “Kids Inventing!” and “Women Invent!” can be reached at [email protected] and





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