Building controls drive smart lighting, HVAC design

Driven by market demand to reduce operating costs, the combination of efficient lighting technology, versatile controls, and sophisticated modeling tools offers new opportunities to improve overall building performance.
By Sagar Rao, Affiliated Engineers Inc.; and Angi Xanders, Pivotal Lighting Design March 30, 2017

This article is peer-reviewed.Learning objectives

  • Know the codes and standards that define lighting design and HVAC design, plus their integration.
  • Understand the new technologies driving the lighting market.
  • Explain the various modeling tools to help calculate and design energy-efficient integrated systems.

The use of solid-state lighting (SSL) products—specifically light-emitting diodes (LEDs)—in commercial lighting design represents one of the fastest technology-adoption trends in recent history (see Figure 1). With luminous efficacy reducing overall energy costs, and projected life reducing maintenance costs, codes and standards, such as ASHRAE 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, ASHRAE Standard 189.1: Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, and California Title 24, now hold SSL products as the baseline efficiency for commercial lighting design in new construction and major renovation.

Figure 1: The market penetration of LED lighting represents one of the fastest technology-adoption trends in recent history. All graphics courtesy: Affiliated Engineers Inc.

These electronic boards that provide light have introduced a host of new opportunities for advanced lighting control and integration with building systems. While previous designs consisted of luminaires separated from the lighting control systems that operated them, new technology is bringing those worlds closer together, making them one and the same.

In the same way that lighting specifications have changed, lighting control technology has changed as well. Distributed controllers and gateways now allow lighting and HVAC technologies to communicate without the cost, complexity, incompatibility, and physical limitations of previous designs, and allow the same sensor to actuate both systems. Furthermore, smarter devices allow smaller control zones, resulting in greater energy and cost savings.

Today’s building management systems (BMS), the necessary technology backbone for the simultaneous modulation of lighting and HVAC systems, have further developed to support deeper integration of building systems. Well-informed design, supported by the degree of verification made possible by today’s suite of modeling tools, can leverage these advances to realize the functional performance, occupant comfort, and operational efficiency represented by the best of lighting and HVAC technologies.

LEDs, fixtures, sensors, and control technologies

LEDs differ from fluorescent lamps in how they operate: Electrical energy is directly converted into light without the intermediate step of excitation in a gas discharge. As a result, they are able to turn on instantly and last longer, even with frequent switching. Their inherently dimmable operation makes them a “no questions asked” alternative to fluorescent. Where fluorescent dimming was previously a significant additional cost, there is no additional fixture cost associated with the standard dimming of LEDs. These factors, along with their continuing drop in cost, make them prime candidates for use with advanced lighting control systems.

Sensors are getting smarter. Until recently, photocells had to be specified separately from occupancy sensors, and occupancy-sensor technologies—such as passive infrared, ultrasonic, and microphonic—had to be determined and specified depending on the obstructions in the space and use of adjacent spaces. In addition, auto-on/auto-off or manual-on/auto-off and vacancy time-out/delay settings had to be programmed during installation via dipswitch or push button. Because those adjustments often require a facilities person on a ladder and some disruption to occupants, sensor settings were rarely changed or fine-tuned once the space was in use. Smart sensors now incorporate a wide variety of sensing technologies, and in most network control systems have the capability to be addressed remotely via desktop or phone apps.

With the adoption of LEDs, many new lighting controls products have emerged in the market that use wired, wireless, or hybrid devices. Most systems work with standard, nonproprietary 0 to 10 V dimming drivers, so no customization of luminaires is required. While some companies offer control within the driver of the luminaire, others offer control devices that attach to each luminaire.

In addition, many luminaires are now available with built-in occupancy sensors and photocells. To address the need to provide emergency lighting, products meeting UL 924: Standard for Emergency Lighting and Power Equipment can be added to individual luminaires located in the path of egress or provided at the controller for zoned control. The relays force the luminaire to be turned on at full output during loss of power, but it is controlled based on preferred settings during normal use. This range of devices, all integrated at the luminaire level, allows the luminaires to operate independently or in easily reconfigured zones with more intricate control commands, resulting in greater energy savings.

When deciding on the sensor and controls approach, the design team must fully understand not only the energy goals of the building, but also the level of technology awareness of the people within it. By creating a list of detailed questions with which to engage the owner, building users, and building operators, the energy goals for the building can be better understood. If this information is obtained at the beginning of the design process, the building energy model can be fine-tuned to better reflect the proposed energy usage of the building.

Figure 2: Fewer centralized controllers with wireless sensors, relays, and switches significantly reduce capital and labor costs.

For instance, what are the building’s hours of operation? Should all operation be fully automated, or will there be occupant overrides available? How long should lights stay on after no occupancy is detected? What minimum light levels are required during daylight-harvesting hours? What is each size of a control zone? Will areas be reconfigured after initial occupancy? Are shading devices also to be controlled?

With the adoption of networked control systems, facility-driven layered control strategies can be used. Advanced control strategies include lumen maintenance and task tuning. Lumen maintenance reduces LED output at the beginning of rated life and increases output over time to maintain a specified illuminance level as the source output depreciates. This strategy can save 30% in initial installation, averaging 15% savings over the course of the luminaire’s rated life. Task tuning (also referred to as high-end trim or institutional tuning) reduces output and consequent energy use by tailoring the illuminance levels to the specific needs of the space.

However, while energy savings is a primary motive, there needs to be a balance between saving as much energy as possible and not creating annoyances that will affect occupant comfort and productivity—or create the desire to override the systems in place. For instance, the application of small lighting control zones with more intricate control commands in applications, such as open-plan offices, can invite nuisance issues if range and cutoff angles of various sensors are ignored. Daylight harvesting has long been a way to save energy, but systems must be calibrated so that footcandle levels and time delays for shades and automated dimming are appropriate for the use of the space. A short time delay may save energy, but possibly at that expense of adversely affecting building occupants.

Whether a wired, wireless, or hybrid system is selected, the BMS architecture is now able to directly tie zone sensors, switches, relays, and actuators straight to multipurpose digital controllers, completely eliminating the need for individual system gateways for individual HVAC, lighting, and other building systems. Digital control systems are now able to interface directly with the BMS for simple on, off, airflow-modulation, and light-dimming commands. The rapid change and development of these separate, but codependent systems, has not only been fueled by the need to make our buildings increasingly more efficient to meet new code requirements, but by building owners wanting to streamline building operations.

Previously, lighting control systems were often kept simple and separate to operate on their own, because most building operators only knew how to operate the BMS set before them. Now that lighting control can be simply integrated into the BMS and controlled via a variety of different apps or from remote locations, the advantages to the overall building operation are significant—and owners are taking notice (see Figure 2). As always, their successful implementation is dependent on a thoroughly considered, well-documented design.

Modeling integrated lighting and HVAC controls

Energy modeling provides design teams with a powerful tool for predicting how system design characteristics will affect energy use and cost, assisting in the creation of integrated building systems that can meet or exceed building-performance targets associated with project program and budget goals. Particularly in an emerging opportunity, such as integration of light and HVAC controls, energy modeling provides knowledge essential to making informed decisions.

Trane TRACE and Carrier HAP systems are two popular programs specifically developed for load calculations. Although both of these tools can be used for energy analysis as well, dedicated energy modeling tools, such as EnergyPlus, eQUEST, and Integrated Environmental Solutions Virtual Environment (IES-VE), provide building analysts with wider modeling options to run advanced building energy simulations.

Figure 3: A screenshot from the energy-modeling tool EnergyPlus shows the class “lights” used to specify lighting inputs.

Electric lighting and building energy models

Modeling integrated HVAC and lighting controls involves successfully representing three key components: electric power consumed by lighting luminaires when fully on; year-round use of these light sources including their dimmed states and hours of operation; and the heat gain from these sources at each time-step in the analysis.

Codes and standards concerning lighting-energy use now prescribe solid-state lighting as the base efficiency for lighting design. Consequently, both space-by-space and whole-building lighting power allowances are lower than they were in versions of design standards from the past decade. Energy analysts must ensure that the modeled lighting power density (LPD) inputs accurately reflect these more stringent standards.

Annual-use schedules represent the predicted use for all the installed light fixtures. These include predicted hourly use based on space type and activity and schedule modifications that may be necessary to model individual or integrated controls, such as time-of-day shutoff, the use of vacancy/occupancy sensors, and daylight-based dimming. A resulting use schedule that captures these energy-conservation measures must be carefully developed to reflect anticipated real-occupant/system interactions as much as possible.

With regard to heating/cooling loads, because there is no latent heat gain from luminaires, a fraction of the input electric power is assumed to result in instantaneous sensible heat gain only. Most energy-modeling tools include the sensible heat-gain ratio (SHGR) or comparable input to model this (see Figure 3). Typically, a luminaire-placement input also is available, allowing analysts to specify how much of instantaneous sensible heat gain is absorbed by the room air, and what portion of it is carried away by room return/exhaust. Each of these inputs must be carefully selected to accurately model the radiative and convective heat gain in the space. It must be noted that although this heat gain results in increased cooling load, it has the opposite effect when designing and modeling heating-energy consumption.

Figure 4: A comparison of the spectral power distribution curves for typical light sources. Reconsidering heat gain from lighting for LEDs

Heat gain from electric lighting fixtures is a crucial part of load calculations and building-performance modeling. Most engineers and building analysts assume that all power supplied to luminaires is immediately converted to sensible heat gain in the space. Therefore, depending on the building type, heat gain from installed luminaires has traditionally accounted for as much as 30% of the peak cooling load and annual space-cooling energy consumption. However, this assumption was based on the physics of heat transfer associated with incandescent lamps—with LEDs, this must be carefully reconsidered.

In the case of incandescent lamps, approximately 4% of all input power gets converted to light energy in the visible light spectrum. The rest is lost to the space as instantaneous heat gain through convection to the room air (about 20% of total) and radiation emitted in the infrared (IR) region. Therefore, although approximately 4% of visible light results in a delayed heat gain in the space, it is reasonable to assume that nearly 100% of the input electric power is instantaneous sensible heat gain.

In the case of LEDs, however, about 50% of the input electric power is converted to radiation in the visible light spectrum (with a minimal IR component), and only the remaining input electric power is lost to the space in the form of instantaneous heat gain. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider the SHGR input available in most load-calculation and energy-modeling tools to avoid over-estimating the heat gain from LEDs as well as fluorescent lamps (see Figure 4).

Lighting and daylighting controls further reduce instantaneous cooling load from these luminaires and are seldom accounted for in cooling-load calculations. More broadly inclusive model inputs—combined with updated lighting heat-transfer assumptions—become all the more important as passive design and net zero energy design concepts gain more momentum, most crucially in climate zones that allow a building to ride annual weather extremes with little, if any, support from active systems.

Challenges with modeling combined controls

Integrated occupancy-based lighting and HVAC controls pose a modeling challenge because end-use schedules assume a greater significance. This is because lighting-use schedules approximate the effectiveness of vacancy/occupancy sensors, but the operation of HVAC schedules also is governed by similar use based on similar controls. Adjustments made to lighting use that account for variation in room occupancy must, therefore, also apply to occupancy-based HVAC airflow schedules. A modified lighting schedule also impacts the projected savings from daylighting controls because the lights are switched on for fewer hours.

Figure 5: The combined control of lighting and HVAC systems uses a single local sensor that is integrated with the central building management system.

Driven by code and owner commitment to sustainability, most buildings today are required to implement complex, combined control strategies involving daylight-integrated lighting controls; occupancy-based lighting and HVAC controls; advanced fenestration systems with automated shades or electrochromic glazing; and various Internet of Things applications, such as intelligent and weather-adaptive lighting control, smart glazing, mobile-based occupant control of shading devices, acoustics-based dynamic workplace zoning, and smartphone-based occupancy tracking. Some of these strategies have been modeled individually for many years, but integrated controls sometimes require separate dedicated building models that seamlessly interface with one another to successfully capture system dependencies and synergistic impacts.

Figures 6 and 7: Coordinated HVAC (top) and lighting zoning enable the combined control of both these systems using a local sensor that connects to a central building management system.

For example, even advanced whole-building modeling tools are incapable of accurately modeling advanced dynamic controls for modern shading and/or glazing systems. To accurately model advanced facades, the analyst’s workflow must include dedicated daylighting tools that use ray-tracing techniques, include contemporary sky models, allow flexible geometry inputs, and model dynamic shading/glazing controls. These tools must also effectively pass illuminance and loads information to fairly complex building energy models capable of accurately simulating building loads and heat-transfer phenomena—while also providing sufficient flexibility to capture the effect of advanced HVAC systems controls.

Other modeling challenges include accurately representing real-world system interactions. Consider situations where vacancy sensors used in offices are left off by the occupant. Although the lights are turned off, the thermal zone must call for outside air because it is occupied. Therefore, integrated lighting and HVAC schedules must be developed cognizant of these differences.

Figures 6 and 7: Coordinated HVAC (top) and lighting zoning enable the combined control of both these systems using a local sensor that connects to a central building management system.

Another potential issue involves the mismatch in lighting-zone boundaries and HVAC-zone boundaries. Four private offices may have individual vacancy sensors to control space lighting, but four such spaces are commonly designed to be served by a single variable air volume box modulating airflow to them as a single thermal zone. Detected occupancy in any one of the lighting zones will result in supply airflow to all four thermal zones. Staggered occupancy across all these zones at different times of the day could potentially result in diminished HVAC energy savings. Incorporating such nuanced details in an energy model and considering the capacities and limitations of distinct systems and their controls—as well as potential impacts of user variance—is increasingly possible for modeling practitioners using contemporary tools.

Installation and operations

Certain caveats bear consideration for the design team to assure that the controls for an integrated lighting and HVAC system are implemented and operated as designed. While collaborating with the contractor early in the design process and stipulating that the installer is National Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program-certified, the specifications must clearly describe the intended operation of the system and include training of facilities personnel. To ensure that commissioning will be revisited after the opening of the building, specifications now also require a retraining session after 3 to 6 functional months of “learning the ropes” and observing practical implications of settings, with this training conducted by the manufacturer’s employee or representative who executed initial programming.

Just as analysis software has continued to evolve, so has the software that integrates and implements the lighting controls and BMS functions. A tile-based or floorplan-based graphical user interface (GUI) allows for more streamlined setup and commissioning than was previously possible, and new apps allow for user interface while seated in the building or at remote control from any distance away. These user-friendly tools will provide an outcome that will benefit both building occupants and facilities groups equally as a result of shared attention to setpoints that may need adjustment over time.

Previously, building occupants may have tried to override programmed controls and then compromised intended system performance. With operators now being able to easily reprogram locations where light levels are too low (daylighting calibration), too high (too much light), or where there is a frustrating occupancy-sensor actuation (bad positioning), keeping the building tuned to the optimum performance at which it was intended to operate is much easier.


Sagar Rao is a building performance consultant with Affiliated Engineers IncAngi Xanders is a senior lighting designer at Pivotal Lighting Design.