Two Steps Towards Better Lighting

  March 27, 2015

Achieving good lighting in commercial spaces requires a conversation that goes far beyond which lamp is the most energy efficient. And good lighting does a lot, from helping occupants to feel better, assisting in wayfinding, and even bringing out the richness and detail in the expensive finishes you selected for your new lobby.

To help you begin that conversation — and this is just the tip of the iceberg — here are two concepts to consider to achieve quality lighting at your facility. These tips come from Nancy Clanton, president, Clanton & Associates, a lighting design and engineering firm.

OVERHEAD LIGHTING. Step away from the recessed can. Yeah, you love them. They're easy. You put up a grid, you put in your cans, you flip the switch, and let there be light. But it's just awful, both from the energy waste and occupant experience viewpoints.

"People use downlighting way too much," says Clanton. "They'll put up cans or really bright recessed lights inappropriately. When you have a downlight, you're lighting the floor and that's the least important area to light."

In addition, a field of overhead lights means there's nowhere to escape from the glare when looking at a device such as a tablet. "If you're ever in a conference room, you can't see your computer screen, you can't get away from the glare," says Clanton. Instead of putting all the lighting in the ceiling and pointing straight down, Clanton suggests putting in adjustable lights so that they can be aimed to the wall. Going down a hallway, put in wallwashers, light up the artwork, do anything but put in downlights, she says.

TASK LIGHTING. Improving task lighting has a couple of positive effects. First, people want control over their environment and something as seemingly simple as being able to flip on a lamp at their desk when they need a little extra light to read a document can go a long way. "When you look at satisfaction in lighting, if you have control over your own micro-environment, the satisfaction just skyrockets," Clanton says.

The other benefit is that by separating task lighting from overhead lighting, meaning you're not having the overhead lighting do everything in a space, there is a potential for energy savings. Overhead lighting can be dimmer, and the task lighting is used only as needed. This is also a benefit to space planning. When a space is restacked, it doesn't matter where the overhead lights are. If you only have overhead lighting, "the overhead lighting then has to be in the same area as the cubicle," Clanton says, "So if you move cubicles around you may have to change the overhead lighting, but by separating them then you don't have that problem."

A word of caution: overhead lighting can be dimmed when using a layered approach to lighting, but only to a point. Basic foot-candle requirements for general illumination still apply, and if the ceiling and walls are too dark, the space risks ending up looking like a cave.

For more on achieving quality lighting in commercial spaces, click here.


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