Facilities (Learning Spaces)

Illuminating Applications

LEDs and Lighting Controls


A tremendous influx of LED lighting products that make all sorts of claims and promises has entered the market. We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift from a lighting point-of-view, and it will have a significant impact on educational facilities going forward. Solid-state lighting (“SSL”), essentially LEDs, continues to get better and more affordable. Lighting controls are getting more sophisticated yet easier to use.

Additionally, significant research studies measuring lighting’s impact on a human’s well-being are underway. In fact, a recent American Institute of Architects (AIA) study shows that architects and building owners are beginning to place greater emphasis on the impact of design decisions as they relate to human health. Nearly 75 percent of architects and 67 percent of owners say health considerations now play a role in how their buildings are designed, indicating that healthy environments have become important in creating a positive experience for students, faculty and staff. This is one area where SSL and controls technology can have a significant impact.

With no shortage of options, school administrators have the opportunity to enhance their lighting systems through new energy-efficient LED fixtures and lighting controls systems that have potential benefits for students, faculty, and staff.

With these new options it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Here’s a quick guide to help you get started.

Where to Start

All lighting upgrades begin with this question: Is it a retrofit, relight or redesign? Retrofit is the process of converting an existing fixture to a more current lighting technology or using a more efficient generation of the same technology. A relight is a “one-forone” fixture replacement without relocating installation points, generally using a more efficient technology and adding controls. A redesign is the replacement of the existing system with new energy efficient fixtures and changing the fixture layout to best suit the lighting requirements of each space.

Mapping out the visual tasks performed in the space is an important consideration. After all, the reason for lighting can vary. Are specific tasks being performed in the space? Are the tasks vertical or horizontal? Is it a collaborative area designed for socializing and interaction? Is color recognition a critical element? Some of the most important factors that determine the amount of light you need include the time needed to focus on an object in the space, influence of daylight, the size of an object you are working with, the light reflecting properties of the spatial envelope, and the contrast between an object and its background.

Reducing Lighting Expenses

Reducing expenses related to lighting has become a much more simplified and effective process. State energy codes, rebate programs and available design resources from both manufacturers and the product procurement channel have relieved administrators of the burden of specifying their exact needs. Educators need only identify and share their lighting intent, plus financial and operational goals.

When considering a lighting and controls upgrade, make sure you are taking time to consider your lighting goals carefully and demand a lighting proposal that meets specific needs rather than a solution that is provided in general “rule-of-thumb” terms. In short, require the solution provider to examine the facility, and understand your specific concerns, prior to a proposal.

Target a solution that has the ideal blend of aesthetics and performance, and understand that this balance might be different in certain areas of the facility. Aesthetics are important to the overall experience of the space, so set an expectation that proposals offer luminaire choices that include architectural qualities rather than only institutional looking choices. The performance side of the equation, however, is non-negotiable. Ask questions about the luminaires being proposed. Do they provide the correct illumination level for the students, faculty and staff? Do they provide good uniformity of light, visual comfort and the ability to distinguish color?”

Many areas can benefit from an indirect light source. Indirect lighting, or lighting that is predominately indirect, is often viewed as higher quality due to the reduced brightness of the luminaire. A university review of lighting studies, which compared increased quantities of light from direct sources to increased quality of light from indirect sources, showed greater productivity gains with indirect light. The efficiency of LED sources has made lighting systems featuring the majority of light being indirect possible, while still compliant with the energy codes of today.

Step back and consider the big picture regarding finances. LED lighting options provide substantial benefits beyond the initial cost of the equipment, including lower power consumption, often dimming at no extra cost, lower heat load, reduced maintenance, and opportunities for different luminaire designs. With the lifetime operational costs exponentially more impactful than the initial one-time capital cost, LED solutions are the best choice.

The Opportunity for Lighting Controls

Identify what is functionality needed in the space. Administrators are frequently pushed toward complex lighting systems and controls when a simpler retrofit would be sufficient. Additionally, controls may not be advantageous in every region due to lower energy rates, lack of legislation requiring them or non-existent rebates. Planning for future controls on the front end of your project, however, ensures that your fixtures will be compatible when the timing is right, helping avoid costs associated with renovations and technology limitations.

The macro view should also take your Building Automation System (“BAS”) into account. Potentially connecting the lighting system to BAS is a viable strategy and at Hubbell we’re seeing an increasing trend toward integrating buildings and even entire campuses. Lighting control solutions now offer the opportunity for localized control, particularly in spaces such as classrooms or labs, where more dynamic control is required. Discuss the options for distributed localized control and centralized with your facilities manager to see where the biggest benefits could be.

Color Temperature Tuning

With the advancement of LED technology and the ability to control light output and color temperature, administrators are growing increasingly curious about how this new technology can be effectively utilized in a scholastic environment.

For those unaware, lighting manufacturers now offer the option of changing the color temperature (warm or cool visual appearance) within a luminaire to create various environments within a space. In the past, this was not possible in practical terms and can now be accomplished within a single luminaire and can be achieved without sacrificing light output.

Studies suggest the discerning control of lighting spectrum and intensity over time can potentially enhance human health, behavior and our general sense of well-being. While still more research is yet to be done, there’s no denying the personal connection humans have with lighting. The Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute issued a study, which proved that robust morning light improves sleep and mood as well as lowers stress in office workers.

Now that the technology is commercially available, administrators are asking, “What are the practical applications?” In the educational space, teachers and administrators now have the option to customize the area to produce a more cohesive learning environment. There is no question that natural light has a positive effect on the human body, which is the reason why windows are in the majority of classroom environments. Exposure to sunlight allows the body to gain what it needs to maintain focus and stay alert.

The body’s natural circadian rhythm (24-hour biological clock) is greatly stimulated by natural and artificial light. Utilizing the ability to tune artificial light in conjunction with natural light can create a much more cohesive learning environment.

In addition, giving the educators the ability to “warm” the color temperature of the lighting in the space has the potential to aid calming or settling actions for students just as tuning the light to a “cooler” color temperature containing more blue light could potentially help with focus.

Bottom line: As a result of advances in lighting technology, administrators should begin to ask more targeted questions in regard to fixture design and ability to be maintained or modified over time. Focus on maintenance, replacement of components and the ability to tailor light levels and integrate controls. Ask about the manufacturers’ ability to support proposed products over time as LED systems now have a greater life cycle than legacy technologies. Through this analysis, they will be able to tailor lighting systems that meet their specific needs.

This article originally appeared in the School Planning & Management March 2018 issue of Spaces4Learning.