Smart Lighting From 9 to 5: Office Lighting

By Jeff Gavin | Dec 15, 2011
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Doing more for less is a workplace mantra these days. It applies to the work force and the energy usage of the building that houses it. Smart lighting strategies are playing a central and growing role in this confluence of productivity.

“Green and lean” is how David Pfund describes tomorrow’s office space. Pfund is the president of tambient, a division of The Lighting Quotient, an architectural lighting manufacturer in West Haven, Conn. He cites office buildings as one of the largest energy consumers.

“More square footage is lit in these types of buildings, and so much of it [light] is wasted,” he said. “Building owners are starting to recognize this loss. It’s the start of the evolution of office space, and it will mean more work for everybody. An electrical contractor, lighting designer and/or lighting manufacturer can guide the owner in how to save money, increase worker productivity and substantially lower their energy costs through smart lighting design in the office.”

For Pfund, the answer lies not with longer life “bulbs” but a more “evolved” and discriminating lighting approach.

“There is a real next step that is taking hold, and electrical contractors can be one of those advocates,” he said.

Change coming into focus
Pfund said lighting integration strategies, such as controls, wireless technology and daylight harvesting, are shaping office lighting, but their success is dependent on their effect.

“There is a lot you can measure in high-performance buildings, but what isn’t measured is the human equation,” he said. “To me, that’s the bigger metric. Are the occupants satisfied with the heating, cooling, lighting and exterior views? Satisfaction drives employee performance.

“From a lighting standpoint, we really have so few watts to work with and must decide how they are used. To raise the brightness of the space, tactics might include taking advantage of daylight through more windows and daylight harvesting systems. Maybe you incorporate open architecture, indirect lighting and lighter paint colors. That said, the elimination of glare and other discomforts need to be taken into account. Lumens output should be set so they don’t fatigue the eye. Aim for designing productively lit work spaces, and general luminosity outside that space,” he said.

John Bachner is the executive director of the National Lighting Bureau (NLB) based in Silver Spring, Md. A not-for-profit lighting-information organization, NLB promotes what it calls “high benefit lighting,” which echoes Pfund’s sentiments and suggested strategy.

“It’s great if a new lighting system is more efficient and can truly drive down your utility bill by a measurable percentage,” Bachner said. “But you should dig deeper and make sure your lighting is designed for the function for which it is intended. The best work environment is one lit for the work being done by the employees.”

Like Pfund, Bachner firmly believes better worker performance is a benefit of thoughtful lighting design, at least from the building owner’s perspective, which contractors could address.

“You’ve invested in a wonderful new lighting system that should save money, but it isn’t serving your employees’ needs,” he said. “So you see a drop in worker productivity. Say you have an employee earning a $30,000 salary. Even if the productivity drop is 1 percent, the loss with that employee equates to $300. Now, factor in a lighting design well matched to the employee’s task, and you’ve created ‘high benefit lighting’ that might increase productivity by 1, 2 or more percent.”

For Bachner, a burgeoning market awaits, but simply offering higher efficiency lighting fixtures is akin to leaving “all the money on the table.” He recommends a comprehensive review of the office to elevate the lighting design so it benefits employees and their productivity.

“Ask what happens in a said space; what its purpose is,” he said. “Is new lighting needed or a new workstation design or both? Would a flexible lighting system accommodate this office?”
To help find the right questions so you are producing a progressive and effective lighting plan, try learning lighting design ideas.

The lure of controls
Advanced technologies and approaches embraced in projects seeking “green” certification may point to tomorrow’s everyday strategies. Personal lighting controls are one example.

“There’s been a lot of research showing that, when people have control over their work environment, they are happier,” Pfund said. “Putting lighting closer to people and giving them dimming control adds to personal satisfaction and productivity. Motion direction is another great strategy to offer the light only when people are present and only at the foot-candles needed.”

Pfund said that lighting controls are a significant area where the electrical contractor can be involved through commissioning, trouble shooting and ensuring an overall workable lighting design is implemented.

“We need a good rapport with electrical contractors to release the promise of these systems,” he said.

Both men feel clients must be led to new lighting strategies.

“Once you are up to speed, then educate your clients on high-benefit lighting,” Bachner said. “Offer a seminar. Invite a group of like-minded speakers, such as a lighting designer, a lighting supplier and/or manufacturer.”

“More than anything, the lighting designers, developers and manufacturers are going to need electrical contractors who are conversant in smart lighting strategies,” Pfund said. “Keep up on what’s out there from daylight harvesting to other integrative solutions. You are showing you ‘get it’ whether on a project or bidding on one.”

High-performance strategy
Glumac is a West Coast mechanical/electrical/plumbing design and commissioning firm specializing in sustainable design. The company wanted its new office in Irvine, Calif., to showcase its work and be a showroom for the latest in office lighting design. While Glumac lighting designers and engineers conceptualized the new office space, Sasco Electric, headquartered in Fullerton, Calif., installed Glumac’s vision. For both, it was an education in the art of the possible.

Glumac became the primary ground floor tenant of a commercial high rise in Irvine. It rehabbed the 22-foot ceiling space, making lighting and open landscape the key features.

“We accomplished something pretty remarkable,” said Jennifer Berg, P.E., associate electrical project engineer for Glumac and chief engineer for the project. “Our open office space is lit wirelessly and without the use of overhead lighting.”

Berg explained that while exploring ideas for the new office, she liked the idea of mounting lighting fixtures to the office millwork. She wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. One of the company’s lighting designers recommended a solution using The Lighting Quotient’s furniture-mounted tambient luminaires that deliver task and ambient illumination from the same T5 florescent lamp.
Mounted and conformed to the top of a worker cubical wall, typically 46 inches high, the system uses controllable, glare-removing louvers directing ambient lighting up to the ceiling and task lighting, which workers can control, down at the occupant’s workspace. Glumac’s 4,537-square-foot studio features 30 open-plan workstations.

“You do get the feel of an office flooded with light but it isn’t,” Berg said.

Under each desk is a port hub controller. It wirelessly communicates to hardwired, daylight harvesting sensors placed in windows. Workstation lights then dim as needed in response to available daylight.

“We do have a few closed-door offices,” Berg said. “Each has a dedicated, nonwireless WattStopper DLM system featuring an occupancy and photo sensor and an A/B wall switch. When you walk in, the lighting over the desk is activated. The occupant then has the choice to turn on a second lighting fixture if needed. The photo sensor dims the lighting to 30 foot-candles based on the daylight. We use occupancy sensors throughout our office connected to an EnOcean relay control. Each occupancy sensor has a single gang box.”

Doug Durand was the Sasco foreman for the Glumac project. It was a new experience for him and his office.

“Wiring is wiring, but I never dealt with a design incorporating so much motion detection and radio frequency delivery. We ran conduit under the floor, which required longer wire runs. Typically, we would pull our wire from the breakers to the switch. Here you had motion sensors in the walls all tied into wireless switching, so we pulled the wire to the switch backs (sensors) and out to the lights. Once we went through that first workstation installation, we were able to approach each subsequent install with confidence.”

Having the lighting engineer as client and on-site adviser was an advantage for Durand.

“We did a walkthough to assess surface light levels in the work stations, ceiling light levels, daylighting system programming and the operation of the motion sensors. It was very collaborative,” Durand said.

Other features in the office include a Lutron motion detection system for a conference room and open collaboration islands (group work stations) configured with the tambient lighting system. That lighting doubles as emergency illumination for egress areas. An open kitchen is equipped with LED lighting. Some minimal CFL and LED recessed lights grace a reception area. Glumac also added a metered energy monitoring system.

“Meters measure our lighting, general power and server loads,” Berg said. “Not only do we want to monitor what we are doing, but we want to see if we meeting our efficiency goals.”

According to Berg, her office has exceeded its goals, bettering the California Title 24 lighting standards by 25 percent.

“During the day, our lighting system operates at between 0.25 to 0.30 watts per square foot. I’m not kidding,” Berg said.

The Glumac office is recognized as a “First Office of the Future” by the New Buildings Institute and is registered for LEED Platinum certification.

GAVIN is the owner of Gavo Communications, a marketing services firm serving the construction, landscaping and related design industries. He can be reached at [email protected].

About The Author

GAVIN, Gavo Communications, is a LEED Green Associate providing marketing services for the energy, construction and urban planning industries. He can be reached at [email protected]

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