Belling the code-and-standard cat

By Gersil N. Kay, IESNA, Conservation Lighting International Ltd. October 1, 2009

Why and when did regulations solidify to a point where unbending, homogenized codes and standards keep engineers from exercising their expertise and good judgment?

This situation is particularly true for lighting. Lighting has become the stepchild of construction. It is often the last to be considered in planning, the first to be jettisoned in the budget crunch, mostly assumed to be present but often created without adequate thought, and many times beset by unfathomable limitations.

Codes and standards represent only the barest minimum requirements; if they are followed slavishly without imagination and innovation, there will be just minimum results. Owners have been duped into believing that simply meeting codes and standards is good design.

However, despite prolific codes and standards, bad lighting is everywhere. It may be too hot, too dim, glaring, or unfocused; lack contrast; have the wrong color/style; or be thoughtlessly installed. Wiring and controls could be faulty. Unauthorized substitutions could drastically alter performance. Maintenance could be inaccessible and disruptive. For example, a light high above an indoor swimming pool—to relamp, the pool must be drained and scaffolding erected.

And now we have the added factor of energy conservation mandates through efficiency standards that are being adopted as codes. Being “green,” sustainable, and energy-efficient are not always mutually achievable in lighting because of the range of applications, conditions, and conflicts with other building systems.

Commenting on the subject, Larry Spielvogel, PE, consulting engineer, King of Prussia, Pa., and former chairman of the ASHRAE/IESNA/ANSI Standard 90.1 committee , said: “Building codes and standards should set only the minimum acceptable criteria to protect the public health and safety. Unfortunately, they have become the receptacle for requirements proposed by those seeking to feather their nests, further their competitive advantage, or advance their ideology.”

Carl Watson, PE, LC, principal, Applied Energy Solutions , Wynnewood, Pa., agrees that arbitrary, unworkable one-size-fits-all rules could “straitjacket” appropriate lighting design. Only if the most energy-efficient lighting technology, best suited for the particular application, is known and used, can sophisticated and affordable illumination be created within the increasing energy restrictions. This is because a careful combination of techniques, both architectural and theatrical, may be necessary to achieve the lighting wish list.

Belling the cat

Here are nine recommendations for belling the code-and-standard cat:

  1. Most building codes address only new work, ignoring existing structures constructed with earlier methods and materials. This omission creates many problems.

  2. It is not just a question of simply requiring or excluding certain actions. Practical education in why to do something, in addition to prohibitions, is necessary so the public understands the reason for logical parameters.

  3. Buildings are like humans. Location, climate, and use affect them differently. Therefore, extenuating circumstances in lighting codes and standards must be considered in order for illumination to perform safely and effectively.

  4. There should be reasonable universal coordination in regulations, especially when simply crossing the street into another jurisdiction could result in a 180-degree interpretation. As a federal exercise, why not establish a nationwide rejection feature for lamps and bulbs, similar to that for fuses, to eliminate incorrect replacements?

  5. All codes and standards should be written in plain English, readily understandable by everyone, including homeowners, tradesmen, and bankers. Many still call a lighting unit a “fixture,” instead of the artificial term “luminaire,” indicating necessity for a dictionary of lighting terms.

  6. How does one judge what is safe, comfortable, and energy-conserving, unless all the factors are comparable? This is not always possible with lighting because there are so many variables to consider. Demanding sameness of lighting performance is questionable, too. Quoting Spielvogel again, “As one example of codes and standards that do not make common sense, why do they require the same minimum boiler efficiency in Miami as in Minneapolis?” Another example is the uninformed banning of incandescent lamps by politicians who know little about lighting.

  7. Codes and standards should include scheduled maintenance requirements to keep correctly installed lighting from later being dangerously jerry-rigged by careless maintenance. In too many cases, maintenance workers tamper with once-correct lighting, rendering fixtures unsafe or no longer operable.

  8. Require complete truth in advertising. The fanciful claims for some widely publicized lighting products do not disclose all the properties necessary to make the proper selections. In lighting, one size does not fit all, especially concerning sustainability.

  9. Carrots and sticks still are the ultimate solution. Reward excellence with meaningful financial incentives, balanced with stiff penalties for ignoring or avoiding reasonable codes and standards.


Author Information
Kay is the president and founder of Conservation Lighting International and Building Conservation International in Philadelphia. She is on the board of managers of the Philadelphia Chapter of IESNA, and served four years as an appointed lighting designer on the national ASHRAE/IESNA/ANSI committee on Standard 90.1.