Designing and Installing Lighting in the 21st Century

Few things become less complicated over time. Lighting is no exception. More and more “other people” have something to say about the lighting you put in, and it is not enough to know the National Electrical Code (NEC) by chapter and verse. The wise design/build firm finds out beforehand who those “other people” are before the lighting equipment is ordered. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Energy (DOE), and Department of Commerce (DOC) all are “involved” in lighting as well. Over a decade ago, the EPA started its “Greenlights” program, which encouraged energy audits; today it focuses more on how you dispose of the old lights you take out of the ceiling. The DOE has its “Energy Star” program and the DOC annually records all the lighting sold in the United States. However, governments at the state and local levels have begun enacting restrictions on lighting that could very well affect your next project. American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is finalizing Power Density Levels, which are set for adoption in a number of states. This translates to “watts per square foot” for every area of the site, including outdoor areas. Wisconsin has already adopted similar restrictions, making a simple parking lot layout an exercise in applied economics. Washington State led the way on “sealed downlight cans,” which restrict air in the room from escaping up into attic space. Electric utilities are changing under deregulation and are beginning to formulate new programs that can influence the electrical contractor’s business. If you haven’t yet experienced your utility as a competitor, just wait. They are all seeking ways to increase revenue. Some have started acting like distributors and bankers; others have begun to look like ESCOs. Local signage and mounting height restrictions are quite common in metropolitan areas, but state and local ordinances are enacting more laws and ordinances on such things as “light trespass” and “light pollution.” The former is light that spills over the property lines, on to other’s backyards. The latter is light emitted above horizontal and causes what we call “sky-glow.” While a great deal of research is being conducted on how to measure these phenomena, some municipalities are already trying to regulate them. Most of the early regulation work is unenforceable, unattainable, or ineffective, but it is on the books, so you may need to deal with it. Sports lighting equipment and parking lot lighting manufacturers are introducing a variety of “light-cutoff options,” which work to some greater or lesser degree. The results of all this is: * More liability on the provider of light (in some part, that’s you). * More redos of lighting layouts (to get them right). * More expensive lighting equipment (all those shields cost something). * And even some sites that just can’t be lighted. Certain applications, such as asynchronous transfer modes (ATMs), have state-regulated lighting recommendations. These started in California and use undefined terms such as “foot-candle-power.” The problem proliferated as many other states simply copied the California code verbatim. This one is particularly troublesome, and you should note it every time you are involved in an ATM. Wildlife protection requirements also arise, such as using only low-pressure sodium when lighting near beaches where sea turtles nest. An organization that was founded by Astronomers, the Inter-national Darksky Association, now has 4,200 members, a Web site, and a growing number of publications, including a “handbook” for writing lighting codes. This group is active at all levels of government, even showing up at city planning commission meetings. Last, but not least, is our litigious society. The neighbor who seemed friendly until the outdoor lighting was energized is now calling his lawyer. Thus, even the most conscientious design may come under fire after all of the “usual parties” have been consulted. The community you just worked in could have a whole new set of “rules” by the time you get your next contract there. This complicated world is not getting any simpler, so arm yourself with new information by joining trade and professional organizations. The best way to find out what “the dark sky people” are doing is to join. The same can be said for NECA, Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), and other groups with informative newsletters and magazines. PAULIN is product manager at RUUD Lighting, IESNA vice president of design, and past chair of the IESNA Security Lighting Committee. He can be reached at (262) 884-3171.

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