Energy-Efficient Lighting

Classroom lighting has advanced far beyond a couple of rows of fluorescents and an on/off switch. Now, when you’re planning classroom lighting, the first consideration is the ability to create the proper learning environment for the students and their teachers. The second consideration is energy savings.

It’s when you successfully marry those two goals that you’re looking at what has become the future of green lighting for schools. Such is the case of Indiana’s Maple Glen Elementary School.

According to Joe Montalone, Maple Glen’s principal, the Westfield Washington Schools are among the three fastest growing school districts in that state. As a matter of fact, all three districts are in the rapidly emerging suburban communities surrounding Indianapolis.

Westfield Washington’s oldest school is a mere 12 years old, while Maple Glen itself is only in its second year. So, when the elementary school was in the design and engineering stages, they took a good, hard look at the lighting systems that had been used previously.

Greg Stephens, director of engineering for Indianapolis-based Mussett, Nicholas & Associates, Inc., which served as the consulting engineers on the Maple Glen project, said earlier buildings had premium light fixture packages. While those fixtures provided great light distribution and quality with no glare, they were “extremely energy intensive.”

In addition to energy efficiency, the school district wanted a system that would stand up for the long term, said Rick Phillips, Westfield Washington’s executive director of human resources, who worked on the Maple Glen project. The system had to be durable, easy to maintain, operate quietly, and create a good learning environment.

Sensors, Switches, and Energy Savings

Industry trends for the development of high-performance lighting in schools have been driven by research on the effects of lighting in the classroom. The research showed that poor lighting caused headaches, eye strain, and fatigue, at a cost of reducing student and teacher productivity.

The other cost is monetary. Lighting alone accounts for about 40 percent of a school’s utility bills, said Marc McMillan, director of marketing for education for Finelite, Inc.

Research by the California Energy Commission resulted in the development of best practices for classroom illumination, McMillan explained. Organizations, such as the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), have integrated these best practices into their school classroom standards.

Proper lighting should provide teachers with the flexibility to create the appropriate environment for each classroom activity and incorporate overhead lighting, which provides uplighting that’s reflected by the ceiling, as well as downward lighting. With only the downward lighting on, energy usage is reduced by half. Separate fixtures could light just the whiteboards in the classroom.

Since every classroom is situated on an outside wall, teachers can manually manipulate the amount of daylight entering their classroom with switches that control the lighting system and the blinds on the classroom windows. Montalone commented that this allowed the teachers to leave the lights in audio-visual mode most of the time.

The switch panels control all of the lighting functions, and there are two sets of switches in each room — one set by the door to the classroom and the other by the teacher’s desk for easy access.

A major energy saver is the occupancy detector mounted in the ceiling. If it detects no movement in the classroom for a period of 15 minutes, it automatically shuts off the lights. However, the “quiet time” switch on the control panel will keep the lights on for a period of one hour, bypassing the occupancy detector.

How much money does the new lighting system save the school? According to Stephens, energy savings are projected to be about $6,000 per year.