How to Design a Lighting Control Scheme

The three main steps to creating a successful lighting control design and seeing it through are:
1.       Conceptual design
2.       Final design
3.       Construction observation 

Elegant lighting design addresses the whole building, the site, and the occupants as an integrated system. The lighting designer must take into account such factors as color, form, space, emotional connotations, patterns of use, and much more. It’s not a trivial cookbook process, but the rewards are well worth the effort.
Successful projects usually result from good communication between all parties, and clear objectives. The design team architect, lighting designer, engineers, etc. must work closely together and with the owners during the whole design process to be sure that the design goals are clearly understood by all. It may be helpful to develop a formal checklist of required, desired, and not allowed factors.
These are the steps in the conceptual design process for a successful, integrated lighting controls design: 
•     Encourage and envision the daylighting
•     Present the lighting controls as a part of a greater philosophy
•     Understand the building and its occupants
•     Identify lighting control opportunities 
•     Perform a conceptual economic analysis 
•     Get the support of other team members
•     Get the client excited about lighting controls 

Encourage and Envision the Daylighting
Sunlight is beneficial to both physical and emotional comfort. Although substantial savings can result from using daylight, the benefits to the occupants from exposure to healthy sunlight are much more significant. A daylighted building should need only minimal electric lighting during daylight hours, especially in sunny regions. Lighting controls can be used to dim or turn off electric lighting when bright sun makes the electric lighting unnecessary. This can result in substantial savings, due to the reductions in both power demand and energy use. They can also help “blend” the electric lighting in with the daylight, for a smooth transition from daylight to electric light as the daylight level decreases.
For the health and well-being of occupants, encourage the use of sunlight and understand the look and feel of available sunlight in the building based on the building’s orientation, and the locations of glazing, light shelves, etc. Look for opportunities to reduce the amount of electric lighting with daylight-driven dimming or on/off controls.

Present the Lighting Controls as a Part of a Greater Philosophy.
A systems approach and integrated design are better than a piecemeal approach. Encourage the integration of the lighting and lighting controls with the architecture, the available daylight, and the environmental controls systems. Integration can lead to money savings as well as a sophisticated and simplified end result. 

Understand the Building and its Occupants

Get to know the building. Is it a new building or a renovation project? What types of spaces and ceiling heights will be found in the building? What is the approximate square footage of each area?
It is also essential that the design team understands the interests, lighting needs, expectations, and behaviors of the occupants. The designer needs to know the tasks that the occupants will be called upon to perform (and the visual difficulty of performing those tasks); the occupants’ work schedules, and the likely pattern of use for each space and for the lighting in those spaces. Interviews or user surveys of the actual occupants can be very helpful. If this isn’t possible or practical, use survey data for similar groups in the same geographical area.
Good data on occupants can have an impact on the weighting given to design factors. (For example, a 20-year-old needs one-third less light than a 60-year-old for the same task.) The owners will be better able to make sure that the result is satisfying to actual users, not just aesthetically pleasing or under budget.
 Identify Lighting Control Opportunities

Identify general areas or percentages of the building for which certain kinds of lighting control may be suitable. It may be useful to color-code the various possible control schemes on a building floor plan (i.e., daylighting and occupancy controls in the open offices, manual dimming in the private offices and centralized controls for the entire building). Consider the relevant past experiences of the owners and team members and know the budget available when contemplating the right level of complexity for the conceptual control scheme.

Sometimes it’s appropriate to keep the overhead lights on even if daylight levels are very high in the area. Controls can dim the electric light so it appears to still be on, but the lights are not consuming wasted energy.

Employees may be annoyed if their overhead lighting is turned off, even if daylight levels are high. This is especially true if an indirect lighting scheme is used, because the ceiling will be considerably darker if this type of lighting is turned off.

Dimming is one of the best solutions to this sort of dilemma. An automatic daylight-driven dimming system can dim the lights down to 20 percent, 10 percent, or even down to 1 percent when daylight levels are high. Even when dimmed to such a low level, fixtures appear to be on, making the store feel “open for business,” and making the ceiling of the office space bright. 
Perform a Conceptual Economic Analysis

You’ll need to present the conceptual control design (i.e., color-coded diagram or list of control ideas) to the client and/or the owners, and they are bound to wonder about the bottom line. Perform a simple, rough economic analysis for the conceptual design. Note that 30 percent to 45 percent of a building’s electricity bill is typically for lighting. And 30 percent to 35 percent of the cost of a building is for the mechanical systems and envelope architecture. Lighting controls can contribute significantly to cost savings in these areas.
Get the Support of Other Team Members 
Lighting controls can have beneficial effects on other areas of the building design. Start early to convince fellow team members of the benefits of lighting controls. If everyone understands that the controls are an integral part of the design, it’s less likely that the controls will be cut from the project further on in the process. For example, if the use of lighting controls in the design allows first-cost savings in the HVAC  system, then the controls could pay for themselves instantly.

Get the Client Excited about Lighting Controls

Take the opportunity to discuss lighting controls with the owner, who stands to benefit the most from their use. Not only will there be economic benefits, but the quality of the building as a whole will be higher and the occupants could be happier and more productive due to the personal choice and added flexibility. Several benefits are expressed in Figure 2-1. 


This is the step in which specific lighting and lighting controls products are selected and located on the plans. These are the primary goals to accomplish during the final design phase:

•     Provide a reliable, correctly-operating system

•     Provide lighting flexibility where it is needed

•     Design a system that is convenient to use and to maintain

•     Satisfy the occupants

•     Reduce the needed capacity of the HVAC system

•     Minimize energy consumption

•     Satisfy security needs 
•     Bring the project in on time and within budget


During construction observation, the construction documents are reviewed with the contractor to make sure that the intent of the control system and the method in which it should be installed is understood. The controls manufacturer might provide a training seminar for team members or facilities managers who are not familiar with proper installation and operation of the selected devices.

It pays to make sure the contractor understands the way the control scheme works. In the Way Station project (see Chapter 23), the lightlevel sensors were supposed to be installed underneath the indirect light fixtures. Instead, they were initially installed on top of them. When the sensors determined that more light was needed, they turned the lights on. But, when the lights came on, they shone on the sensors—so off they went again…

When the installation is complete, the controls are commissioned:

•     Light-level or delay-time set points are set

•     Dip switches are set

•     Sensors are aimed for maximum accuracy

•     Preset dimming scenes are set 
•     The system is tested to make sure it functions as intended




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  1. It seems that HVAC and LIGHTING are the two largest consumers of energy for a small business. So taking the professional approach is must.

    Energy Management Systems


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