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A Crash Course in Lighting Science

With lighting evolving as quickly as other forms of technology, it’s important to keep a few key pieces of information in mind to create the best spaces possible.

06/02/2017 By Kadie Yale

Include the Color Rendering Index: Although the light emitted from a fixture can set the tone or aid circadian rhythm with its color, that doesn’t necessarily mean that things will look right in a space. For example, if restaurant patrons have to constantly squint to see a menu, or end users find their skin tone a little green, the Color Rendering Index (CRI) could be off. “It’s not just the color temperature; it’s also how well the light source renders the color of an object,” Roberts said. “You can have a warm color temperature, but it will render colors in the room just awfully. Incandescent is a warm color temperature that has a nearly perfect CRU capability, which is good for those two things, but it uses 100 watts, which is why we don’t use incandescent anymore. You have to balance color temperature with CRI and wattage.”

Be Aware of Limitations: “The lighting industry is undergoing disruption with the advent of LED technology, but the shift as it relates to energy efficiency and new design possibilities is a big positive,” Madjarian explained. “But like all change, it brings challenges as the industry learns to cope with the new realities.”

One of the mistakes designers make, particularly in custom lighting design, is believing that LEDs are limitless. It’s easy to get excited about new forms LEDs allow for, but heat dissipation and low-voltage power management create boundaries to what LEDs can accomplish. Bernard pointed to the use of heat pipes to allow proper cooling of LED chips. Designers should remember that although we’re used to LEDs not giving off the same type of heat as other lights, there are hidden mechanisms that need to be built into the fixture to allow for heat dissipation.

Another set of limitations: the life of the LED. While LEDs are required to achieve at least 50,000 hours without lumen depreciation, and companies such as Dyson boast 180,000 hours of consistent quality, Madjarian said to keep longevity in mind. “What happens to the fixture in 10 or 20 years when the LEDs begin to fail? This is a legitimate concern. I would first recommend that designers and specifiers consider matching the expected longevity of the integrated LED with that of the expected life of the project. Apart from LED retrofit bulbs, LED modules in light fixtures are not meant to be replaced.”

A positive: As technology is consistently changing, the lifespan of LEDs is getting longer and longer.

Feel Free to Ask Your Reps for Help: While the easiest way to ensure a project’s lighting is up to snuff is to work with a lighting engineer, those with smaller budgets should feel free to reach out to lighting reps with their project concerns. “I would recommend talking to your rep more,” Roberts said. “A lot of reps do know what they’re doing. Especially if you don’t have an engineer, go over your layout with the rep.”

Sonneman agreed. “The professional designers and architectural firms that seek our contribution to their designed spaces generally have selected luminaires from our line, then ask us to suggest which one we feel is most appropriate and effective for the intended installation,” he explained.

Where Lighting is Headed: Across the board, these experts agreed that the future of lighting is in emerging LED technology—such as OLEDs and bendable LEDs, which allow evolving forms—but integrated systems are of particular note. “‘Smart lighting’ is becoming the clear leader in driving the future of the industry,” Madjarian said. “To be clear, smart lighting is not exactly new. Digital centralized lighting controls have been around for a while, but it is the advent of wireless controls and applications coupled with [LEDs] that open up a world of possibilities.”

Sonneman noted that this evolution in lighting has only just begun. “We are only at the beginning of electronic illumination becoming an infinitely diverse medium for innovation and change. The future is integration of systems that manage all aspects of the built environment. Electronic illumination will manage our circadian rhythm; color tuning will adjust our mood and perception of people and places; and the heat energy—uselessly discharged—will now provide our ubiquitous Wi-Fi. LED illumination will grow our food and clean our air.”

While that last prediction seems a little far in the future, and “there’s an app for that” lighting controls are already advertised everywhere, suspended light fixtures are already being used as optimal wireless hubs, and the trend shows no signs of stopping.

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