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12 Ultra-Efficient Lighting Strategies

Innovative solutions from real projects

By Janelle Penny
 

Originally published in Interiors & Sources

You don’t always need a flashy renovation or a deep retrofit that requires gutting your building to boost energy efficiency. Sometimes the best things come in small packages – like these strategies by practicing FMs and green experts.

Covering a dozen aspects of streamlining commercial lighting, these bite-size tips can provide the foundation for your next efficiency project. In the meantime, peruse lighting advice that helps slash energy costs and consumption.

1) Investigate Interior Fixes
Before tackling the lighting system itself, consider optimizing your indoor environment first. At the Mountain View, CA, headquarters of the social networking site LinkedIn, brightly colored walls complement ample daylight and efficient artificial lighting.

“In existing buildings, there are a number of things you can do with normal maintenance and upkeep or with a tenant improvement change to a floor plan,” explains Michael Hummel, senior sustainability consultant with Environmental Building Strategies, the high-performance building consultancy that worked with LinkedIn to create a two-story, 70,000-square-foot office building that later earned LEED-NC Gold. “One is just the color of finishes – lighter colors allow more light to bounce and there’s actually a significant amount of energy that can be saved just with lighter colors. Low cubicle walls allow both electric and natural light to reflect within the space in offices that can handle that kind of acoustic situation.”

2) Consider Daylighting Retrofits

Inside LinkedIn's Lighting Specs

 


Photo Credit: katie ferrick and LinkedIn

The social media giant relies on 32W T8 fluorescents paired with sophisticated controls. Brightness is gradually reduced to roughly 50% after installation, and a suite of sensors accounts for other light sources.

If a structural retrofit is in the cards, adding an atrium can lend your daylighting utilization a big boost, Hummel says.

“LinkedIn has a really full building and couldn’t afford to give up any floor plate. In cases where you can, minor structural retrofits like bringing an atrium down through the middle of the building are not terribly complicated in terms of the payback for the effort put in,” notes Hummel. “We also see a lot of tech and up-and-coming companies that are trying to attract high-quality employees, and part of how they’re doing that is through sustainable design. Daylighting is a great way to do that.”

3) Make Cautious Lamp Choices
LEDs are widely heralded as the most efficient lighting source where lumens per watt are concerned, but you may find that other light sources fit your needs better. The LinkedIn project, for example, uses 32W T8 linear flourescents, while the BUILDINGS offices utilize linear T5s overhead and linear T8s for task lighting (see “The Dark Side of Poor Lighting”).

Don’t rule out LEDs completely, however – they may be the most cost-efficient choice in some spaces. One current project, a renovation of a large Boston library, includes a retrofit in an auditorium where fixed seating makes lighting access difficult and time-consuming.

 “To get in over the seating, the client would have to bring in an adjustable lift like scaffolding or an asymmetric ladder to straddle these seats. Not only is there a cost to rent it, but that also means shutting down the space while they have scaffolding in there and getting someone up to the ceiling with a harness on. It’s a huge production,” explains Matt Latchford, senior associate for Lam Partners Inc., the architectural lighting design firm working on the renovation. “A lot of auditorium spaces still use halogen, and maintaining that is a huge endeavor.”

4) Lower Light Levels
Offices are notorious for overlighting, especially for computer-based work that adds light from the monitor to an already bright space. When the green building design and development firm Paladino and Company moved into its new home – a floor in a 10-story building – decision-makers set the default lighting level at 15 footcandles at the desktop and offered task lights on request. So far, not a single person has asked for supplemental lighting.

“That tells me that people are getting used to working in lower-lit environments than they typically have,” explains Brad Pease, director of building science practice at Paladino and a member of the in-house team that helped design the new lighting. “That means we’re overlighting spaces just by not challenging the conventions of how much light people need.”

LinkedIn used a similar strategy in 2011 when piloting a new wireless lighting control system in an office building more than 20 years old. Starting at 100% brightness for all fixtures, the team gradually dropped the light levels by 5-10% every few days until they reached the optimum balance. Combined with the extra light from computer screens – the majority of building occupants are engineers or IT professionals with at least two monitors – the low ambient light levels helped secure a two-year payback.

In fact, the pilot was so successful that LinkedIn expanded the retrofit-friendly control system to its entire Bay Area portfolio, as well as every new LinkedIn building worldwide where its installation is deemed feasible.

“We eventually got to 46 to 48% power at the pilot building before the first person called us up to say ‘Hey, it seems like it’s a little darker than it was yesterday,’” says Eric McReynolds, environmental health and safety and sustainability manager for LinkedIn. “We were able to cut power by half before anyone even noticed anything. Then we went through with light meters to make sure we met all of our design requirements. That’s what we do in every building now – tune the system down to the point where it’s noticed and then pump it back up just a notch.”

5) Enable Multitasking
Take your lighting control system a step further by adding extra functionality. LinkedIn uses individually controllable fixtures coupled with sensors that monitor occupancy, daylight levels, and temperature. It also allows real-time conference room booking.

“We’re looking at utilizing that data to match unoccupied spaces with selection criteria on what room you need,” adds McReynolds.

6) Customize Control
Offering as much individual control as possible cuts down on complaints and requests for adjustments, Pease notes. Making controls visible helped users at Paladino tailor their own spaces further on top of the task-specific customization in place.

“We realized that it would best serve our renovation if we used all of the different control strategies out there and selected the best one for each fixture. That means we have vacancy sensors, occupancy sensors, photocells, and time clock controls on a few fixtures because we know how our users would use the space, how we collaborate and hold team meetings, and how we hold office functions,” explains Pease. “That approach took a little more design time because we really had to think through the process of how someone uses a space, what happens in the morning and at night, what happens when someone walks by, and so on. In the end, the system is cheaper and more intuitive to use.”

If individual control isn’t feasible, consider borrowing LinkedIn’s strategy of simplifying lighting management on the FM side.

“Being a startup at the time with a relatively small support service organization, we were spending a lot of time going out every day when people would say their spaces were too bright or not bright enough,” says McReynolds about LinkedIn’s early days. “We’d have to go remove a bulb from a fixture or add supplemental lighting. Now if it’s not bright enough, we can go into the system and increase the power settings on the light above their desk without having to go out and do anything in person.”

7) Optimize Other Building Systems
Don’t forget to account for your lighting system’s impact on HVAC and other systems. More wattage means more heat, extra cooling demand, and higher energy costs from the increased HVAC workload.

“In theaters with a lot of halogen stage lighting, for example, the lights get very hot very fast simply because there are so many watts of energy pouring out into the space,” explains Latchford. “However, in very efficient spaces, people have found that some of the air-conditioned areas are far too cool now, especially spaces that were significantly overlit or used to have more incandescent lighting.”

Paladino moved into a building with no air conditioning, bringing the heat issue front and center. The team needed to get as close to zero heat produced in the space as possible.

“We looked at all of our lights as heat sources – the more heat sources we can remove from each space, the more comfortable we’ll be,” says Pease. “We were very judicious about having lights in spaces and installing smart controls at the fixture rather than at a central unit so that the lighting could be highly specialized in each space.”

8) Hit the Books
For a good foundation in efficiency – lighting and otherwise – look into green building certifications even if you don’t plan to have your building certified, recommends Scott Kelly, principal of Re:Vision Architecture. Re:Vision worked with Latchford’s firm Lam Partners on a 10,000-square-foot commercial interiors fit-out for Jones Lang LaSalle’s Philadelphia office, which occupies one floor of a 1950s-era office building.

That project earned LEED Platinum for Commercial Interiors, but the manuals for other certifications also detail useful strategies. FM professionals would likely benefit most from O&M-focused certifications, Kelly says.

“The best advice I can give a facilities person is to spend $200, buy the reference guide for LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, and use the strategies to make your building better,” adds Kelly. “After you’ve tried three or four strategies, you’ll realize how easy and smart it is. That applies to both lighting and general operation.”

Also solicit ideas from colleagues in other facilities, suggests Charlie Popeck, president of Green Ideas Sustainability Consultants, a green design consultancy whose clients include General Dynamics and Intel.

“Ask other FMs about their experience with similar buildings. That’s the whole purpose of organizations like IFMA and BOMA, interacting with your peers to see how they’re doing,” Popeck says.

9) Ramp Up Communication
In addition to discussing your plans with colleagues, it’s also smart to involve building occupants both at the start of the project and throughout, Popeck says.

“I frequently see misunderstandings by other team members who don’t understand what you’re trying to do. You overcome that through education and sharing information,” explains Popeck. “If you tell people up front what you’re trying to accomplish, what their role is, what they’ll be doing, and how it fits into the overall plan, that’s the key to overcoming those challenges.”

10) Examine Financials
No project can kick off without detailed analysis of both upfront and long-term costs. Efficient retrofits of energy-intensive systems like lighting can earn sizable incentives to help defray first costs, getting your project on the road to cost savings that much faster.

“At Green Ideas, we implement the Solutions for Business program from our utility, Arizona Public Service. They offer good incentives for lighting retrofits, but not everybody knows about that,” Popeck says. “It’s the same with new construction – many people don’t realize that you can get someone else to pay for your project.”

3 Places to Learn More

Looking to beef up your lighting knowledge in advance of an efficiency project? Check out these websites – all are jam-packed with strategies, tools, and research to aid the planning process.

Illuminating Engineering Society
The IES Education Portal (available in a pull-down Education tab at the top of every page) offers nearly anything you need to know about best practices in lighting, from handy application guides to webcasts and e-learning opportunities.

Whole Building Design Guide
Created by the National Institute of Building Sciences, this guide showcases good design categorized by building and space types, design objectives, and more. A library of case studies can help inspire your next lighting project.

ENERGY STAR
Whether or not you use ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager for benchmarking, the agency hosts a wealth of resources, including financial calculators, tips for boosting tenant buy-in for upcoming projects, and more.

Many other utilities have similar offerings; you can also find federal and state incentives for your projects at dsireusa.org.

11) Accelerate Maintenance
Take your preventive maintenance to the next level by implementing alerts, Pease and McReynolds suggest. Paladino is currently investigating power meters that would email team members when wattage exceeds a preset limit, while LinkedIn’s system puts alert functionality into each ceiling fixture.

“Sensors on each fixture will alert anyone in the system if a bulb is out,” says McReynolds. “In terms of a larger strategy, we’re also trying to do batch replacements so that we don’t have to send someone to change individual bulbs. We want to make everything as efficient as possible from the resources standpoint, and being able to see where bulbs are out or fixtures have lost power is very helpful.”

12) Measure and Benchmark
No matter your budget or staffing level, there’s always room for ongoing tracking of energy consumption. Manual analysis of utility bills can be a good place to start, says McReynolds, though LinkedIn plans to upgrade to a sophisticated management system that can aggregate the company’s energy data. Paladino has an in-house green team keeping a constant eye on the building’s performance, a natural transition from the team’s original task of aiding in the design process. Jones Lang LaSalle’s Philadelphia home tracks not only energy, but also materials, food, and other potential green opportunities.

“The only way they’re going to see a bump in energy use is if someone overrides the lighting system and leaves it on,” Kelly says of the Jones Lang LaSalle project. “There’s nothing left to squeeze energy out of in that office.”

 

Janelle Penny is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

 


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