Lighting is one of the seven elements of interior design along with space, form, line, texture, colour and pattern. Most of us will always assume that a space will have lighting. It is normal to visit a new office or house without furniture, but not so much without lighting.
From the Edison incandescent bulb and the fluorescent tube that were commonly used in residential and commercial applications in the late 80s to the LED that has flooded the market over the last 10 years, light source technologies has gone through one of the fastest and biggest evolutions. With the arrival of LED, it has replaced many of the traditional sources (Halogen MR-16, AR111 Metal Halide, PAR20 and PAR30 or CFL) of lighting.
The market offerings have completely shifted towards promotion of LED solutions as the main solution for lighting, which triggered the fast decline of other technologies as manufacturers stopped producing them and focused on LED products.
The commercial sector has widely adopted LED technology in new construction and retrofit applications; however, there is still some reticence when it comes to residential and hospitality projects where lighting is not only a technical element, such as the HVAC or heating system, but a key element of interior design and ambience creator in a space, often viewed at the same level as furniture.
Hospitality projects and homeowners share the need of creating a warm and cozy ambience which is typically accomplished by using thematic finishes, comfortable furniture, and warm lighting. It is not surprising to see that those projects progressed from Halogen to LED and skipped the CFL technology due to its limitation in colour rendering, warmth, and dimming capabilities. People are used to the dimming curve and warmth of the traditional bulb and the most recent LED technology now offer similar effects with colour changing, white tuning or warm dimming to create moods and ambiences.
The secret of a successful project in lighting design is not only on the decorative lighting fixture selection but the complementarity of the three layers of light: ambient lighting, accent or task lighting and decorative lighting. Moreover, with luminaires leaning more towards LED products, which are low voltage electronic components, the compatibility between the light source, the low voltage converter (drivers or transformers), and the control system become more complex and can have a big impact on the overhaul project functionality and durability.
Lighting control is also challenged with new energy code issues, requiring the use of less lighting power (watt/sq.ft.) and more control systems which both hinder the key elements of lighting on a project: the human experience and well-being.
Limitation in lighting power installation is always decreasing and is forcing lighting specifiers and designers to use luminaires with the best efficacy (light output by watt consumed) in order to comply with local energy code while meeting recommended lighting levels. The trade-off on design aspects and integration are the only buffer when a project is crunched between energy code and budget cuts.
Complying with energy codes and budget constraints on a project often result in limited flexibility in systems and visual discomfort for users.
Other parts of the world, like Europe which faces more expensive energy cost and a bigger energy crisis, took a different approach on the energy consumption reduction in both residential and commercial buildings. The RT2012, the European energy code currently in effect, approaches each project from a consumption perspective than a connected power load.
This European energy code works alongside strict design constraints and precise energy model calculations, including building natural energy gain or strict energy consumption monitoring, allowing designers and owners more flexibility. It is based on the utilization of different spaces, applying building reference hours of operation, consumption and lighting usage habits, heating needs, shading, and more.
It all comes down to the responsibility of the lighting design community to educate users and to create awareness about the benefits of good lighting on our health and the economic aspects of a project and uncover the truth about it.
Sebastien Panouille, LC, is a lighting consultant and educator at ThinkL Studio in Vancouver.