Two Paths to New Lighting

Simply replacing lighting system components is less hassle, but a more in-depth approach can offer facility executives multiple benefits.

By Stefan Graf & James Benya  

In these days of rising energy costs and an uncertain energy future, some type of new lighting is often a solid investment. Strictly from an energy viewpoint, it is now possible to light office buildings responsibly at 0.9 watts per square foot. Compared to the 3 to 4 watts per square foot of older buildings, the savings can be substantial. The return on investment is easy to calculate; even using very conservative numbers, paybacks can be realized in as little as 1 to 3 years. Utility rebates can be obtained to make the financial deal even sweeter.

Corporate facility executives may also have an opportunity to create a more productive work environment. An upgraded lighting system may help produce productivity gains, as recent studies suggest an increase and constancy in worker output under better lighting. Because more than 90 percent of the cost of operating offices is the price of the salaries and benefits, a 1 percent increase in productivity can completely pay for even the most expensive lighting systems.

New lighting also offers the opportunity to update office aesthetics. The oldest lighting systems, generally lensed and egg-crate troffers, were developed in the 1950s and their appearance makes a building look outdated. The common parabolic troffer was designed long before computer screens first became part of the office landscape, and “cc” meant, literally, a low contrast task made by typing on several layers of paper separated by carbon sheets. Even some of the most recent (and expensive) lighting systems were designed to prevent glare on old fashioned, convex cathode ray tube computer screens.

The contemporary work environment does not require or benefit from these old lighting systems. New tasks, like working on flat screens, call for new standards of office design, including up-to-date office lighting systems that make spaces more leasable and thus increase the value of the building. A more modern, better looking, productivity-enhancing and energy-efficient building is more valuable than an inefficient building with old-appearing lighting.

Understanding choices

When new lighting of some sort is being considered, facility executives have basically two choices:

  1. Component method (retrofitting). When this method is used, electric lighting components are analyzed for efficiency and then replaced with components that improve the efficiency of the installation. Lamps, ballasts, reflectors, lenses or louvers — sometimes even the entire fixture — may be replaced and simple changes in the control system, such as adding motion sensors, may be made. Retrofitting was extremely popular in the 1990s.
  2. Process method (re-lighting). This method requires a more in-depth analysis not only of the electric lighting components but also of many other issues affecting the performance of the lighting systems such as appearance, interior design, visibility, psychological responses, user expectations, flexibility requirements, daylighting contribution and control systems. Old lighting systems are removed and recycled or trashed; new lighting systems are installed, often with new control systems and other improvements, such as new ceiling tiles. In some cases, a hybrid of retrofitting and relighting may be the perfect answer, but it must be approached using the process method.

Choosing between these two methods is critical because the results are so different. A component method project can be performed superficially and with minimum disruption. But other than a subtle “freshening” of the space, a lighting retrofit seldom changes the character of the space. The result is often seen as converting an inefficient and dated lighting system to an efficient and dated lighting system.

The process method often requires major work that is disruptive to business and building operations, but the result is an efficient and modern lighting system. In the highly competitive world of commercial real estate, a space that has up–to-date lighting and other attributes, like an ultra high-speed data system, is far more appealing to data-intensive businesses — such as finance, law, accounting and computer technology — than buildings with dated systems.

Replacing components

Many lighting contractors and retrofit companies offer their services to analyze and make recommendations for replacing existing lighting components. Most have educated staff that know their products well and can provide recommendations and specifications to change old lighting for new. Typically, an “audit” of the existing lighting systems is conducted and lighting measurements are then taken of the existing installation. Next, a proposed retrofit scheme is developed, and lighting calculations are performed to ensure proper light levels. Finally, a life-cycle cost analysis is performed to show the payback. If the customer approves, the installation begins.

Selecting a retrofit company is much like finding any other service. One usually starts by locating potential providers, calling them, conducting interviews and asking for references. Getting recommendations from other facility executives is a good way to begin. It is best to get two or three proposals and compare them. Each company will have different ideas on what to do with varying results. It will be valuable to review the proposals and make an informed decision based on the analysis.

The component method offers several benefits. It is easy to calculate cost and payback, and it is easy to manage. Also, retrofitting tends to cost less than relighting. But retrofitting is not seen as a capital improvement, and it is treated like a mechanical repair. For buildings that have a modest mission or don’t have to compete in the marketplace, like government buildings, a retrofit may be the better alternative.

Lighting re-design

The process method — a lighting redesign —requires more time and initial costs but may prove to be more cost-effective in the long run. It is a thorough approach that considers factors that affect the quality of light as well as initial and operating costs. More importantly, it also considers the human costs of dated lighting. Because of the high costs of salaries and benefits, facility improvements that increase productivity and reduce absenteeism and employee turnover are financially worthwhile.

For instance, in the 1980s, Lockheed discovered that project groups in state-of-the-art, well-lit facilities were more profitable than teams in older facilities. The increased profits in one facility paid for the facility’s lighting and other amenities several times over.

Relighting can help produce a contemporary-looking building with superior energy efficiency. But relighting can also add capital costs that might never be recovered due to the location or type of building. For example, in many older government-owned and -operated buildings, relighting might not be beneficial unless it is part of a comprehensive renovation. While a new lighting system can help brighten a dreary space, without improvements to the ceiling, walls and flooring, as well as furniture and other building elements, a new lighting system might simply be out of place.

This process method requires the following steps:

  • Survey existing conditions.
  • Analyze lighting needs.
  • Draft recommendations of proposed lighting improvements.

With this information, the lighting design process is similar to the process used for a new building. The first step is to establish design criteria, which typically include illuminance criteria for the visual tasks, applicable codes and ordinances to be met, a list of constraints and limitations, and overall goals for improving the appearance or quality of the lighting. First-cost limits or life cycle cost requirements may also be established. For some facility executives, the specialist will also compile information about new equipment and technologies, recent research on productivity or the availability of rebates.

It is very important for the facility executive to review the design criteria before the process goes any further, since the criteria are typically used to judge the success of the proposed design.

Next, the lighting specialist will apply a variety of lighting design concepts to the building. These may range from quality of light considerations, in which the facility executive may be asked to help assess worker-satisfaction impacts, to potential changes to the interior design or long term effects on energy use, maintenance and productivity.

Because relighting is not a clear-cut process of simple engineering, considerations and results may vary, but the final decision almost always hinges on an economic analysis. For facility executives with very limited resources, first cost may be the most important consideration, but for facility executives with typical funding capability, a life cycle cost calculation generally guides the final choice. Subjective choices may play an important role in choosing lighting for some building types, relying upon the judgment of experienced corporate leaders to assess quality factors that are often not part of objective analysis.

Finally, the lighting project is carried out. The process of implementing new lighting will vary from the relative ease of a quick retrofit to the complexity of a major remodeling. Depending on the extent of the work, the facility executive may need to retain the services of an architect and engineer to develop detailed drawings and schedules.

James Benya is principal of Benya Lighting Design in West Lynn Oregon. Stefan Graf is principal of Illuminart lighting design in Ypsilanti Michigan. Both are professional members of the IALD International Association of Lighting Designers.

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  posted on 10/1/2005   Article Use Policy

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