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Shedding Light on Post-Pandemic Offices: 8 Items to Consider Updating for Lighting Controls

By Dominic Montoia, EIT and Demetrios Plessias, PE

Lighting fixtures and their associated controls play an integral part in commercial office interior design. An efficient lighting control design can help building owners save money, simplify operations, and improve the comfort and satisfaction of occupants.

As many facility managers have already realized the energy and cost savings associated with upgrading from incandescent bulbs to LED units, justifying further updates can be challenging.

That is until a world pandemic hit and forever changed the way office buildings are viewed. Now may be the perfect time to reassess the role lighting plays in attracting employees back to the traditional workplace or adapting to a new hybrid schedule environment. The days of flipping a switch and illuminating a room as the only function of a lighting system are over. Here are eight items to consider why now could be the best time to update lighting systems and controls.

  1. Vacancy sensors: These require the user to manually turn the lights on and automatically turn off the lights if no one is detected. This is beneficial because the lighting will only be turned on when required. This saves on utility bills and the lifetime of a fixture.
  2. Occupancy sensors: Where allowed per code, these sensors automatically turn on the lights when motion is detected and then automatically turn the lights off when no motion and/or infrared heat is detected. These provide a hands-free approach to lighting controls and limits the number of communal surfaces to touch.
  3. Dimmers: These allow the user to adjust the light levels to their liking, which can also save money and lengthen the life span of a lighting fixture.
  4. Ambient light sensors: These sensors adjust lighting levels automatically when set levels of daylight are reached within the space. This reduces the electrical load while still providing the same level of lighting as when the lights are on. These also control the lighting automatically and reduce the amount of communal touchpoints to be cleaned regularly.
  5. Interoperable systems: Properly designed digital systems provide real-time data for overall building operations. Interoperable systems can seamlessly relay information to other building systems to automatically adjust heating and cooling, create custom profiles for different worker needs (for example, setting bright overhead lighting after hours for the custodial crew), respond to demand pricing from electrical utilities, and more.
  6. Adjust the timeclock: With fewer people in the office or more people working from home, lighting may be on unnecessarily long. Consider adjusting the timeclock closer to the time people occupy the space to save on utility charges.
  7. LED fixtures: Most new fixtures are LED already, but some decorative fixtures or older fixtures may be fluorescent or incandescent. Consider replacing these with new LED fixtures to reduce the lighting load and decrease utility bills.
  8. Make the best better: If your system is already cutting edge, consider working with a qualified engineering consultant. Chances are they will be able to identify additional opportunities for improvement. Pursuing LEED or WELL certifications can optimize both energy efficiency and wellness for occupants.

Overall, lighting upgrades can be costly, but oftentimes the benefits outweigh the expense. Improvements can lead to greater employee comfort, security, and satisfaction while also creating a more energy-efficient and economical office environment. Sensors, dimmers, and updated fixtures are all part of the upgrade equation, but they are not the only elements. Understanding building operations on a macro level allows for the most appropriate individual lighting decisions to be made. As the use of office buildings continues to evolve to adapt to the “new normal,” now could be a great time to evaluate your current and future lighting system needs.

Electrical Engineer Dominic Montoia and Senior Project Electrical Engineer Demetrios Plessias are based in ESD’s New York office where they freely share their insights and industry expertise in furthering the company’s mission to improve society through the built environment.

For more information on lighting control upgrades, reach out to Dominic or Demetrios.

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