Lighting and Controls in High Performance Buildings

The Energy Policy Act of 2005, defines a high performance building as one that “integrates and optimizes all major high-performance building attributes, including energy efficiency, durability, life-cycle performance, and occupant productivity.” (EPACT 2005, Section 914)

One of the simplest ways to incorporate these attributes into any building is through the use of high-efficiency lighting and intelligent lighting controls. In 2014, the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimated that 19% of commercial sector electricity consumption was attributable to lighting. This can represent a substantial cost to a business, but it is a system that can be readily optimized for less expense than one might expect.

For the past several years, LED manufacturers have made significant improvements in light output, availability, and cost effectiveness. LED lighting is quickly becoming the industry standard, with some manufacturers offering  LED replacements for incandescent, linear and compact fluorescent, and high-intensity discharge (HID) sources like metal halide and high pressure sodium. Moreover, the small form factor of the diodes allows for light fixtures with unique shapes and configurations.

Coupling high-efficiency light sources with intelligent controls is a way to further improve the performance of a building.  Intelligent digital lighting control (DLC) systems can provide a simple means for dimming, daylight harvesting, window shading, occupancy sensing, setback of HVAC systems, and time clock control. These systems are becoming more robust, less expensive, and easier to install, and can be easily configured to be monitored and controlled from a remote PC, tablet, or even a smart phone.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue any building improvements should factor in the initial cost and the return on investment (ROI). As LED lighting and digital controls become more and more widespread , the cost of fixtures, devices, and other components continues to decrease.  Some manufacturers are even touting ROI’s of three years or less.  Favorable ROI’s such as this make upgrading the lighting and controls in a building not only a viable option, but a very sensible one as well.

If you would like more information regarding the design of high performance lighting and digital lighting control systems, or if you would like assistance with an upcoming project, please contact Richard Koval, PE at or (814) 237-2180.

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