Your dream office may have relaxation pods for naps and spa rooms for massages like the ones in Google’s Zurich office. A “play pit” like the one in the Lego Group Lobby may be a place to sort out your deep thoughts. Or you may prefer to hang your hat in an office at the shore of the six acre campus of water and walking paths exactly like the one that Nike employees share. You may think that more amenities would make you and your co-workers happy, but you might be missing something major.
Employees care deeply about the lighting.
Fifteen years of research from the Light Right Consortium (lightright.org), which has been managed by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), have conclusively and empirically shown that proper office lighting leads to higher productivity while actually reducing absenteeism and turnover. Overwhelmingly, good lighting means more comfort and higher employee satisfaction. Dare to dream.
Sadly, you probably don’t have great lighting in your office. Most of the current US office infrastructure has evenly spaced, parabolic “troffers”; oblong or square grid based luminaires, with T-8 fluorescent lamps, and specular or semi-specular baffles. They dot the ceiling with large bright spots. Monitor screens and windows are two other, very disparate, sources of brightness. Further, whether in the open plan cubicle or private office, overhead storage or shelving may block the best available light, causing deep shadows on parts of your workspace. If you have a task light to compensate, add that illumination to the variety of conditions in your space. You very likely suffer from over-illumination, glare, and discomfort.
Perhaps even worse is the electrical energy waste. Traditional troffer systems eat up as much as 4 watts per square foot in the average workspace in the United States. If you’re lucky enough to have a perimeter or corner office, you probably have two such fixtures all to yourself, at twice the wattage for the area. Best practices today call for light levels at one watt per square foot or less in the open plan office.
So what is good office lighting? Good lighting balances the ratio of light between your work spaces, intermediate, and long views. Balanced brightness keeps the muscles in your eyes from working too hard; eye strain is caused by constantly adjusting to the amount of light from your screen, paper tasks, and views to the surrounding spaces and entire environment. Good office lighting incorporates some visual views or natural light from the outside, from window-scapes to the natural world. Incredibly, these improvements in your office could save the world a dramatic amount of electricity, and new practices can save the corporation big dollars as well.
Lighting Designers to the Rescue. The Light Right research confirmed people are most comfortable (91 percent of comfort) with a combination of direct and indirect lighting, wall washing, and occupant dimming control. From the results, the U.S. DOE put forth specific recommendations in its’ Commercial Lighting Solutions Program. The program, also developed at the PNNL, offers various suggested layouts. The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (iesna.org) has written DG-18-08, “A Guide to Designing Quality Lighting for People and Buildings.” This is a manual on best practices “related to visual performance, energy and economics, and aesthetics.”
Your fantasy come true is called task ambient lighting. Practitioners agree that “workstation specific” task ambient solutions are the best available lighting plans to addresses your personal tasks and your surroundings; lighting that is for you and your space, over which you have some control with personal dimming and spatial arrangement.
Energy savings can be captured with control systems that bring the wattage per square foot down as low as one quarter of a watt per square foot. Various methodologies are available to deploy control systems into the lighting scheme, all of which are attuned to the environment and your overall well being. Exciting new wireless devices including self powered photo sensors and battery-less switches use designated, protected radio frequencies to transmit information on electric usage to the overall Building Management System (BMS). Software for existing wireless devices can run on simple tablets and allows remote control by facilities managers.
Not coincidently, peak electrical usage and available light typically occur around the same time. Demand response controllers and daylight sensors, respectively, allow the local utility to minimize your use of electricity at peak hours and maximize the use of natural light from exterior windows. Occupancy/vacancy systems take away the risk that someone forgot to turn out the lights, and personal dimming controllers allow you the flexibility to control the amount of light you need, which can vary dramatically with age, task, and condition of each occupant.
The Regulators are doing the right thing. Really. Commercial Lighting can account for as much as forty percent of electrical usage in the industrial world, according to the US Secretary of Energy. Good lighting is good for the world, and President Obama put into law the Energy Act of 2007, which encourages upgrades to lighting systems and offers tax deductions for owners who comply to the standards. As part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA), accelerated depreciation benefits may be taken for energy efficient systems in new and existing spaces. You never knew you could have it this good.
California Title 24 has put best practices into law in a state energy code that requires the one watt per square foot adoption in office lighting.
According to The Greater Greener Building Plan put forth by NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg as part of NYCPlan for 2030, the city’s largest 16,000 commercial buildings will all be submetered (starting this past August) for electrical usage by tenant, and lighting retrofits must be completed by as early as 2017 for some city buildings.
The state of Connecticut has just released a NEW Energy Code, effective October 7, 2011 for commercial spaces, based on the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and ASHRAE 90.1 2007. Every commercial project must conform to code. It is “Mandatory, Prescriptive, and Performance based”.
The most often applied standards are published by ASHRAE, a 115+ year old organization devoted to advancing the state of the art in High Performance Building. They publish energy usage guidelines not only on lighting, but also on the building envelope, HVAC systems and refrigeration systems. They are The Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers, and they publish national standards by industry consensus. The AHRAE Code 90.1 has become the backbone for regulation.
From all corners of the building and construction industries there is vigorous discussion of, and new updates continually forthcoming on, how to design the typical office floorplate with appropriate light levels.
The right light is the lighting just right for you, and the reduced energy profile is the most advantageous for the planet. So while you gaze wistfully at your current surroundings, large or small, cube or corner office, be sure that change is on the way to help you enjoy your workday a little bit more. Better Living through Better Lighting may be your office dream come true.
Written by Allison Shemitz Walker, CEO of The Lighting Quotient.