SSOE Group

Lighting: Watts’s It all About?

Light BulbMore than ever, the lighting industry is exploding with lamp options, new configurations and improved technologies. With all these choices, lighting is expected to deliver better results—the right amount of light for the purpose, the right effect and improved energy efficiency. Finding the optimal lighting solution for the environment, requires some homework … and the advice of an expert.

Be enlightened: Here is a brief overview of the different options and the advantages they offer.

Traditional incandescent light bulbs will ultimately go the way of Beta videotapes and music cassettes. Energy-efficiency mandates will render them obsolete. The alternative, fluorescent lamps, are widely available for use in fixtures originally designed for incandescents. Their longer life and equivalent light output with lower wattage makes them a bargain despite the higher up-front cost. Manufacturers responded to objections to the quality of the light they emit by developing versions with different color temperatures.

LED (Light Emitting Diodes) are found in many popular electronic devices. Basically, LEDs are tiny solid state devices that fit easily into an electrical circuit. LEDs are long-lasting, extremely rugged and promise to be ten times more energy efficient than current incandescent lamps. In addition, they remain at room temperature, which can cut down energy use even further by reducing air-conditioning needed to offset heat from lights. One drawback of LEDs is they don’t generate enough lumens to be useful for many tasks.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting technology replaces the filament of the light bulb with a capsule of gas. The light is emitted from an arc discharge between two closely spaced electrodes sealed inside a small glass tubular envelope. To operate, they require ballasts, which supply proper voltage and control current. HIDs produce a greater amount of light than a standard halogen bulb, while consuming less power.

Several lighting companies now combine these lamps with smart electronic ballasts to offer more control and energy savings, particularly in larger applications. MetroLight is one such company. Its smart ballasts contain microprocessors so that light levels can be programmed to change automatically. This is a significant advantage in locations that use a combination of natural daylight and HID light. When the level of daylight diminishes, the HID lamps illuminate, or they can be set to automatically respond to time of day and provide more or less light after sun down.

Three factors help make HID’s more economical to maintain. First, they perform longer hours of illumination; second, a computer can detect outages or damage making it possible to schedule maintenance efficiently; and third, fewer lamps and ballasts are typically needed to light an area. Popular applications of HIDs include outdoor lighting: roadways, parking garages and parking lots; and indoor spaces such as manufacturing plants, distribution centers, auditoriums, lobbies and corridors.

The power to persuade: Beyond saving money and energy, the proper lighting strategy can also increase sales or improve the way you do business. In higher-end grocery or department stores, the goal of some of the lighting is to influence your shopping experience. Compare the feeling you get in large stores with ultra-bright overhead lighting to those with a combination of subtle accent lighting and easy-on-the eyes illumination from attractive luminaires. Retailers are well aware of the impact of appropriate lighting on shoppers’ perceptions. If grocers want to flatter their produce or their meats, they consider the color temperature of the light as well as placement and intensity. So don’t be surprised if the steak that looked perfectly pink in the case is not quite as attractive in your own kitchen.

Hospitals – the meaning of light: Hospitals are quintessential examples of all that lighting needs to be and do. They include almost every type of space: waiting rooms, operating rooms, cafeterias, gift shops, offices and chapels. In addition, some spaces, patient rooms for example, often require different types of functional lighting.

Many research studies have shown that bright light—both natural and artificial—can improve outcomes and reduce the length of hospital stays. This is particularly true for people suffering from depression, dementia, seasonal affective disorders and other psychological disorders. Exposure to light can also reduce the amount of pain medication people need. (Read more in this issue’s article, “Do Healing Gardens Really Heal?”)

The data makes an excellent case for brightly lit patient rooms—sometimes. That light needs to be dimmable (ideally, with patient-operated controls) so the patient can rest. It is also essential that each patient room has ample light for medical exams and treatments. Add the complexity of glare controlled lighting for viewing computer monitors and x-rays. The answer is to have multiple luminaires and multiple controls.

Where to get help: SSOE’s electrical engineers and architects work with clients to develop lighting plans for specific building types and applications. They take responsibility for lighting the way by balancing functional needs and energy-savings with project budgets.

Potential Savings

Since lighting consumes a hefty 26% of the electricity generated in the US, it offers huge potential savings on a company’s electric bill. In addition, the heat that some types of lighting generate accounts for as much as 15 – 20% of a building’s cooling load. So cooler forms of lighting will win out in terms of energy and cost-efficiency.

The focus on life-cycle costing over first costs and the trend toward LEED™ certification has elevated the importance of energy-saving lighting solutions. Tax rebates and grants are available to encourage the use of energy efficient lighting. You can find more information at

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