Constructing a Large Scale Lighting Project: The Dos and Don’ts

When constructing large-scale lighting projects, you need to consider several factors to ensure quality installation and proper aesthetic design. Whether you’re installing interior or exterior lighting, knowing what to avoid can help save designers from costly mistakes.

This guide to the dos and don’ts of large-scale lighting projects covers the top interior and exterior lighting tips and crucial lighting code requirements designers need to know.

Lighting Commercial Interiors: What to Avoid

In large-scale spaces, it’s important to know the fundamental principles of lighting design that will help create a well-lit and functional space that’s also conducive to health and productivity. In addition to knowing how to properly choose and position lighting in a commercial indoor space, it’s equally as important to know which mistakes to avoid.

Below are some of the common lighting design errors to avoid when working with commercial indoor spaces.

1. Insufficient Lighting Levels

Indoor commercial spaces, especially office buildings, need sufficient lighting levels to maximize productivity, focus and health. To provide sufficient lighting levels in commercial spaces, it’s necessary to layer various light sources together to improve the brightness and functionality of a space.

Light layering is a key lighting design principle, so it’s important to avoid relying solely on general or ambient lighting. General lighting alone doesn’t provide enough lighting depth to a space since it’s intended to provide a base level of uniform light. Adding a combination of additional lighting sources for task lighting, accent lighting and decorative lighting makes a space automatically feel more inviting and interesting.

2. Outdated Lighting Technology

When following commercial office lighting guidelines, it’s important to avoid using outdated lighting technology. Lighting technology has made tremendous advancements in recent years. Today, lighting designers rely heavily on LED bulbs as part of modern commercial and residential lighting guidelines for interiors. Large, open commercial interiors can benefit from LED lighting because it’s less harsh, more energy efficient and lasts longer.

Outdated lighting technology like halogens or incandescents is inefficient. An incandescent bulb only uses a fraction of its energy draw for emitting light, and both types of bulbs are known to emit infrared and ultraviolet radiation, which can damage paint, fabrics and artwork over time.

3. Constant Brightness Levels

In office buildings and commercial interiors where occupants work all day, it’s essential to think about how to vary brightness levels. Avoid having all lights emit the same level of brightness constantly.

A key principle of lighting design is to design for human well-being. Lighting, particularly brightness, is known to affect mood. During the morning hours, brighter light can help boost energy and stimulate alertness, helping workers perform at peak productivity and creative output. During the afternoon, dimmer light helps employees maintain a constant focus without being overstimulating.

Having LED lights that can be adjusted to change brightness levels throughout the day can help create a more responsive environment to worker needs.

4. Single Spectrum Lighting

It’s important to choose lighting with the correct spectrum that’s conducive to office work in commercial spaces. Lighting on the warm end of the spectrum is known to stimulate relaxation. This includes warm yellow and orange spectrum lighting. On the other end of the spectrum, cool blue and white light are ideal for stimulating alertness, helping workers to concentrate and maintain a longer attention span.

When installing commercial interior lighting, choose lights with the right spectrum for the space. Traditional lights only emit a single spectrum. Modern LED lighting technology provides the ability to adjust the light spectrum to either cool or warm, allowing occupants to choose the right lighting temperature for their current needs.

5. Inefficient Usage

In large-scale commercial buildings, lighting can draw immense energy. This means that the type of lighting that gets installed needs to be highly energy efficient to reduce power consumption and lower energy costs.

Fluorescent and LED bulbs are more cost-effective long-term than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. With modern smart technology, commercial buildings can further cut energy bills by installing motion sensors and timers that provide more control over power costs. Lighting dimmers can also be helpful in saving energy costs when paired with the right types of bulbs.

Staying Compliant With Indoor Lighting Codes

In commercial construction, there are numerous codes to adhere to, including lighting codes. These codes regulate how lighting is designed and installed to promote improved energy efficiency.

According to current standards, there are several different lighting code applications, but the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) are the main ones to follow for compliance. Certain states, like California, set their own energy efficiency codes, too.

Below are some of the critical factors to know when staying compliant with commercial lighting standards.

1. Energy Efficiency Codes

In 2018, the Department of Energy declared that the ASHRAE 90.1 energy standard from 2016 would be the minimum national standard for commercial buildings — except low-rise residential buildings — and must be adhered to by February 2020. Alternatively, the IECC publishes commercial and residential lighting guidelines that are updated every three years. Since the IECC is based on ASHRAE 90.1, designers can choose either code to follow.

When it comes to commercial office lighting guidelines, both codes set requirements for lighting controls and automation and how to functionally test lighting and document the controls systems.

2. Lighting Controls and Automation

Both codes are concerned with making lighting controls and automation mandatory in commercial buildings to reduce energy waste. Some of the lighting controls and automation requirements include:

  • Automatic shutoff: Having lights automatically shut off when not in use is an essential component of commercial lighting compliance. There are two options for automatic shutoff — timed or occupancy shutoffs. Timed shutoffs occur at a set time, while occupancy shutoffs occur when no movement is detected in the space. The ASHRAE code prescribes when either type of shutoff is acceptable.
  • Space controls: In a commercial building, distinct spaces should have unique lighting controls, rather than a central switch panel. Occupancy shutoffs accomplish space controls, though there are manual ways to control lighting in any given space, such as with dimmers.
  • Light level controls: According to the ASHRAE code, occupants should have the ability to reduce the light level to meet comfort needs. Dimmer switches allow occupants to reduce or increase lighting levels. Further, automatic dimmers adjust lighting levels based on natural light levels.
  • Display and accent lighting controls: In addition to the controls for separate spaces, ASHRAE requires that buildings have independent controls for the types of lighting. Controls for accent and display lighting should be independent of controls for general lighting. This allows public spaces to keep their display lighting on when customers are present, but turn it off after hours without having to shut off general lighting.

Lighting Commercial Exteriors: What to Avoid

In addition to adhering to energy efficiency codes, outdoor lighting has other important guidelines to follow for aesthetics, safety and security. Knowing the dos and don’ts of commercial outdoor lighting can help you design a beautiful and functional space that occupants can enjoy with peace of mind.

Below are some of the top issues to avoid when designing outdoor lighting for large-scale projects.

1. Excessive Lighting

Light pollution is a growing concern in urban areas, affecting human health and wildlife habitats. Excessive artificial light at night has disruptive effects on the natural circadian rhythm and is a waste of energy. By thoughtfully planning outdoor lighting design in commercial spaces, we can reduce the harmful effects of light pollution and conserve energy.

Outdoor lighting is meant to add visibility to a space so that visitors or occupants can safely enjoy the landscape. Harsh, excessive lighting can actually cause the opposite outcome, making it more difficult for people to see at night, which impacts the enjoyability of an outdoor space.

When installing outdoor lighting, it’s essential to account for the right type and amount of lighting the location needs. Additionally, designers should avoid positioning outdoor lights in a way that directs them toward a neighboring property or into the visual field of oncoming traffic. Selecting the right fixtures that are designed with glare guards can help reduce light pollution.

2. Not Using LED Lighting

Powering outdoor lighting in commercial or large-scale residential projects can be expensive without the proper approach. Traditional outdoor light bulbs typically draw more energy than interior ones, meaning they cost more to operate. Avoid over-consuming energy with inefficient incandescent bulbs and use LEDs instead.

Switching to LED lighting has numerous benefits. LED bulbs last longer, meaning replacement costs are reduced significantly. They’re also more efficient, meaning they emit more light while using less power. Additionally, LED bulbs are a practical option for exterior lighting because they can withstand the elements, including storms and excessive rainfall.

In landscape lighting, LEDs prevent excessive brightness and are more cost-effective when installing multiple fixtures, such as along a path or large retaining wall. LED technology means compact lighting is now possible, which is ideal for illuminating hardscapes without drawing attention to the light itself. Landscape designers can now achieve the subtle glow their visions require.

3. Uniform Fixtures

Avoid installing the same type of fixture throughout an outdoor space. Outdoor lighting design requires a mix of different types of light fixtures, each serving a particular function.

Spotlights and floodlights are intended to focus attention on a particular feature, such as signage, a statue or an architectural detail. Inground lighting illuminates pathways or driveways and is a sophisticated way to increase visibility. Post lighting and bollard lights create more robust pathway illumination without the excess brightness of spotlights. Walkway lights act as markers, creating aesthetic appeal along with visibility.

These types of lighting should work cohesively together. Choose fixtures that adhere to the same shape or color story. Mixing fixtures while keeping a similar style helps add intrigue and depth to an outdoor space and improves functionality.

4. Ignoring Small or Dark Spaces

While it’s key to avoid excessive lighting, it’s equally as essential to ensure there’s not too little lighting. If the installed fixtures don’t provide adequate light, then the lighting project is a waste. Striking the perfect balance between too much and too little light is key.

Incorporating a variety of different lighting types can ensure the ideal lighting level. This includes ensuring that narrow spaces, corners or smaller areas receive adequate lighting. When designing light installations, be sure to identify which areas will be out of the direct line of light and may require dedicated fixtures. Addressing these areas is particularly important if safety and security are a concern. Choose the right type of light for each small or out-of-sight space to help add more layers of light to the overall landscape.

5. Improper Fixture Mounting and Positioning

Properly mounting light fixtures is critical. Improper installation can be hazardous, causing numerous potential issues with fire safety and limited functionality. Poor installation can cause light fixtures to fall or break, and installing them in the wrong location can make maintenance and cleaning access difficult.

Additionally, improperly installing light fixtures can detract from the design value of your outdoor lighting. Poor positioning of fixtures can cause an uneven distribution of light, alerting the eye to certain areas and not others. Overcrowding light fixtures can also increase brightness at particular focal points while reducing visibility in other areas.

Staying Compliant With Outdoor Lighting Codes

Just as commercial buildings are required to follow indoor lighting requirements, there are also separate outdoor lighting standards to be aware of. Like interior lighting regulations, outdoor lighting requirements heavily focus on the ability to control lighting to maximize energy efficiency.

According to ASHRAE, exterior operating light controls need to be connected to either an astronomical time switch or photosensor, or a combination of the two. An astronomical time switch is a type of control that shuts lights off or turns them on based on the time of day and season of the particular region, accounting for longer or shorter daylight hours. A photosensor light switch senses light activity, turning the lights on as the sun sets and shutting them off as the sun rises.

In addition to the building’s exterior operating lights, landscape and decorative outdoor lighting need to be controlled by a time switch or photosensor. ASHRAE requires that these light sources adhere to a curfew. They’re required to be shut off at business closing or before midnight and turned on by 6 a.m. or at business opening, whichever is earlier.

Additionally, outdoor light fixtures have certain design and installation codes. Outdoor light fixtures need to be designed to reject water ingress and are assessed by certification organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Intertek (ETL) and CSA International (CSA). Exterior light fixtures can either be rated for damp or wet conditions. Damp-rated fixtures must be installed in covered locations only, while wet-rated fixtures can be installed in exposed areas.

With installation codes, outdoor light fixtures need to be properly electrically wired according to Class 2 compliance. Class 2 compliance ensures proper power supply and requires that wiring be properly insulated to protect from fires.

Always consult local permitting authorities to determine which codes apply to your project.

Find Indoor and Outdoor Lighting Solutions at WAC Lighting

Choose WAC Lighting for high-quality and cutting-edge lighting technology that’s energy efficient and code-compliant. Our affordable, customizable and automated lighting technology will enhance your indoor or outdoor commercial or residential project. Contact us today to learn more about our products, including our wide selection of decorative and functional lighting for indoor and outdoor spaces.