Green Lights in Government

By Debbie McClung | Aug 15, 2005
generic image




You’re reading an outdated article. Please go to the recent issues to find up-to-date content.

One of the most dynamic parts of the midnight Miami skyline is the Port of Miami Bridge—a half-mile concrete roadbed with piers awash in a blue glow. Spanning the Intracoastal Waterway linking the city to Dodge Island, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) bridge is a well-known Miami landmark.

“Bridge lighting is not suited for every site, but we consider it in ‘high-profile’ situations,” said Tom Andres, FDOT structural engineer.

The 2,522-foot Port of Miami Bridge was constructed in 1993 and cost $39 million. A $1 million accent-lighting system consisting of high-pressure sodium and metal halide fixtures was added in 1997. Because of its prominent urban visibility, electrical conduit was incorporated into the bridge’s design, said engineer Francisco Norona of Beiswenger, Hoch and Associates.

“It’s very difficult and expensive to run conduit after all the columns and piers are constructed. We had to demonstrate upfront that when installing the conduits in all the concrete elements before they are cast, the cost of the lighting would be minor compared to the cost of the bridge,” said Norona.

Aesthetic lighting for state bridges is not a new concept, but it is a low-cost and decorative design feature that is growing in popularity. Also, it is one of several trends that are brightening the prospects for electrical contractors and shedding new light on the changing role of lighting quality and efficiency for government-built structures.

Complex and competitive

Government lighting projects have traditionally adhered to a set of strict regulations, layers of bid specifications, voluntary certifications and product constraints.

The mere mention of a government lighting project conjures up images of red tape and proprietary information for some companies, yet several contractors continue to succeed in this complex and specialized work environment. Baker Electric President Dave Hearn said most government projects are unique depending on the type of bid and delivery.

“Plan and specification projects require a large amount of paper processing and manager follow-through during the construction process,” said Hearn.

According to Hearn, items such as DBE/MBE participation, quality-control programs, various certifications and certified payrolls typically require more than the traditional processing effort. The design-build delivery method and using a government outline specification require similar processing, and design-level responsibilities are also a sizeable consideration.

Additional labor-force technicalities can make projects more involved than private projects for small firms.

“Certified payrolls are used to ensure that the rates established for the project by the Davis-Bacon Act are met,” said Hearn. “This process also requires all apprentices working on the project to be registered with the Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training. Larger or more established companies tend to have a payroll system in place to process the added paperwork, whereas smaller or newly established companies need to gear up for the process.”

According to Roy Sierleja, senior product specialist with the GE Lighting Institute, the decentralized structure of government can make it difficult for contractors to serve government clients and prospects with a consultative sale based on energy efficiency.

“Unless someone outside of purchasing is involved as a champion, contractors can face an uphill battle trying to persuade a government agency to buy based on total ownership cost, rather than the cheapest initial product cost,” said Sierleja.

Lean and green

Hearn says one of the biggest changes taking place in government lighting projects is the adoption of environmentally friendly building practices.

“A number of public agencies and some private companies have opted to ‘build green.’ This process can sometimes have an impact on budget, and product selection is narrowed somewhat. The result is a more environmentally friendly building. We all are in favor of that,” said Hearn.

Due to the fact that buildings consume one-third of the country’s total energy and two-thirds of the supplied electricity in the country, government officials are increasingly aligning projects with standards created by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program. LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based set of national guidelines developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) to improve energy and environmental performance and occupant well being.

“There’s a lot of support in the marketplace for building green,” said Sierleja who states that federal regulations such as the Department of Energy’s (DOE) ballast efficacy standards made effective in April are raising awareness of the company’s Energy Star-rated compact fluorescent lamps, T8 and T5 electronic ballasts as well as occupancy and daylight sensors.

To achieve LEED certification, projects teams use the rating system appropriate for their project. Lighting-related topics include energy efficiency, lighting controls, daylighting and the reduction of light pollution and toxic materials such as mercury in light bulbs.

The Youngstown, Ohio, Federal Building and Courthouse, and West Coast/Alaska Tsunami Warning Center are a few examples of recent buildings that achieved LEED certification. A complete project list of LEED registrations is available on the USGBC’s Web site.

Three LEED rating systems are currently offered, with more under development.

°New commercial construction and major renovation projects (LEED-NC) cover high-performance commercial and institutional projects primarily office buildings, but are also being applied to K–12 schools, multiunit residential buildings, manufacturing plants and laboratories.

°Commercial interiors projects (LEED-CI) address the specifics of tenant spaces in office, retail and institutional buildings.

°Existing buildings (LEED-EB) criteria involves building operations and systems upgrades in existing buildings.

LEED’s impact is growing. Tom Dietsche, LEED program manager, reported that through February more than 1,800 NC building projects have been registered with 191 projects awarded certification since the program’s inception in 1999. About one quarter of the approximately 100 registered EB and CI projects have earned certification during the pilot phases and after their launch in November 2004. More than 23,000 people have become LEED Accredited Professionals, and more than 24,000 people have attended workshops.

Dietsche said it is not difficult for contractors to comply with the USGBC’s guidelines.

“Relate lighting design and product choices to the LEED goals/criteria and communicate this strategy to your clients in bid and sales discussions,” said Dietsche. “Make sure to ask the project manager/client early about what additional submittals are necessary to help support their LEED certification submittal and backup documents.”

Dietsche also notes that federal projects are also mandated by executive orders provided by President Bush. Another developing resource for federal agencies is the Whole Building Design Group established by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). A total of 11 federal agencies—from GSA and NASA to the EPA and National Park Service—are applying this integrated-design approach to design techniques and technologies during planning and programming phases.

Quantity and quality

Long life span, changing occupancy needs and the use of a life-cycle cost approach are key characteristics that distinguish GSA buildings. The second-largest government property owner in the country behind the Department of Defense, GSA holdings include courthouses, border stations, federal office buildings and laboratories. GSA owns and operates its buildings longer than the private sector. Consequently, high durability and system retrofitting are critical program issues.

All GSA projects follow the Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service-P100, which contains policy and technical criteria for planning, design and construction methods for public-service buildings. GSA is concentrating its efforts on reducing glare for employees and decreasing energy use with more efficient light sources and natural light options.

“There’s much more focus now on the quality of lighting and the types of fixtures to reduce glare and make it a more comfortable environment because everyone’s working on computers now compared to 10 to 15 years ago,” said Don Horn, GSA’s director of sustainable design.

A recent DOE-sponsored study of approximately 20 climate- responsive new buildings showed that daylighting reduced lighting energy use by 55 percent.

As with LEED guidelines, GSA is placing more emphasis on the relationship between electrical lighting and daylighting, which could have a future impact on the type and quantity of lighting systems.

“The direction we’re headed is better quality lighting and lighting systems that work with daylight. For energy efficiency, when you’re not turning lights on, then you’re saving money,” said Horn. EC

MCCLUNG, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]. 


About The Author

Debbie McClung, owner of Woodland Communications, is a construction writer from Iowa.





featured Video


New from Lutron: Lumaris tape light

Want an easier way to do tunable white tape light?


Related Articles