How to simplify code compliance for lighting projects

Asking key questions will ease the process of complying with required energy codes.

By Craig Casey, Lutron Electronics Co. December 27, 2017

Learning objectives:

  • Understand that consistent, scheduled revisions to national model codes are designed to serve the public’s best interests, but changes to code can also be complicated, and it can be difficult to stay informed and current.
  • Identify common points of code-compliance confusion, and become familiar with strategies for meeting code on every project.
  • Know how to locate and take advantage of resources available to help clarify code requirements in a given area, and by product type.

Energy codes are updated on a regular basis to keep pace with changing construction practices, incorporate new technologies, and improve building efficiency. Consistent, scheduled revisions to codes and standards are essential to serving the public’s best interests, but changes to code can also be complicated for contractors, specifiers, and building inspectors. Because energy codes are so complex, it can be difficult to stay informed and current, especially with projects that reach across broad geographic areas or include a variety of building types.

Various standard-writing organizations publish energy standards on a multiyear cycle; states and municipalities subsequently adopt these standards into law at different times. Beyond that, requirements are typically different for renovations versus new construction and can also change by building and space type, resulting in a variety of strategies being used within each project.

Lighting and lighting control solutions have a direct impact on energy use, occupant comfort, and effective space use. Specifiers and contractors are tasked with ensuring lighting control systems are code-compliant and still meet demanding occupant-performance requirements.

The following are seven questions to ask to ease the process of implementing code-compliant lighting and lighting control solutions that meet a customers’ needs and budget without sacrificing lighting performance.  

1. Which energy code applies to my project?

Prior to occupancy, all buildings must meet the energy code that has been adopted by the local authority having jurisdiction (AHJ).  Energy standards, such as ASHRAE 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings and the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), are developed nationally on a 3-year cycle.  Most state codes are based on the IECC or ASHRAE standards. California is the exception to this rule, as it uses the California Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency standard in a concerted effort to ensure buildings achieve a very high level of energy efficiency and preserve outdoor and indoor environmental quality. California is pushing toward zero net energy by 2020.

States must adopt a minimum code standard, but they also have the option of adopting and making amendments to a newer version of one of these standards at any point. Subsequently, within each state, local jurisdictions must adopt the state’s new code while having the option of amending that code prior to adoption provided it is at least as energy-efficient as the state code. Given the multiple editions of IECC in existence today, coupled with the opportunity for states and AHJs to amend their codes, keeping track of specific requirements can be difficult.

Code information is generally available online at the IECC and ASHRAE websites, but more targeted energy code look-up tools can also be available through manufacturers’ websites to find state or local energy codes. 

2.  How do I know if a certain product complies with energy code requirements?

Individual products are not certified to meet building energy codes. Energy codes require specific functionality depending on space type, daylight availability, and whether or not the space is illuminated and intended for use as a means of egress during an emergency. The correct product application in buildings, rather than the products themselves, deliver the necessary functionality to comply with energy codes. 

Typical required lighting control functions include: scheduled or automatic shutoff, multilevel lighting control, and daylight-responsive control. One product or group of products can be installed and programmed in accordance with a defined sequence of operations to meet the functional code requirements for each space.

Quick-reference guides and application guides, targeted to individual space types, can make it easy to specify and install the right combination of control, sensors, and receptacles in stand-alone applications and integrated-control solutions. Reference guides can also be helpful when contractors are familiar with the code and are looking for suggested product solutions based on total installed cost, simplicity of system design, and basic functional needs of the space.

More comprehensive application guides are a better option for contractors who are dealing with a new type of project, or who are less familiar with a specific energy code in the project area. Once the correct energy code for a project has been determined, a complementary application guide outlines suggested strategies to meet code and performance requirements.

3.  How do retrofits differ from new construction in terms of code compliance?

Project scope changes code requirements. New construction will always have the most stringent energy code requirements. Retrofits often have fewer requirements, but the threshold for including energy-savings strategies is different within each code.

Energy code requirements for lighting alterations or “retrofits” vary depending on the adopted code and the scope of the retrofit. Projects in which only a small number of light fixtures are replaced typically do not need to meet any additional control requirements. The exact percentage varies in each energy code, but replacing a higher percentage of fixtures makes it more likely the project will have to meet updated code control requirements.

New construction codes may have to be met in projects that either include replacement of all light fixtures or involve the relocation of walls or partitions. It is best to check local energy codes for the precise limits on lighting alterations and the associated lighting control requirements. 

It’s important to become familiar with retrofit projects. Using digital ballasts or drivers along with wireless sensors and controls can make future lighting retrofits, and rezoning of lighting in a space, easier and faster. Lighting control manufacturers offer scalable, expandable solutions that make it easy to start small and add controls over time, ensuring continued code-compliance as project demands change or budgets are increased. Consider approaching each retrofit with future updates in mind, and select a wireless, smart lighting control solution that makes installation, setup, and code compliance easier.

4.  Is there an advantage to occupancy control versus time clock control?

Timeclock control automatically turns off the lights in a space when that space is normally unoccupied, such as during nighttime hours. This is most useful in areas that conform to a prescribed schedule. An occupancy sensor is a device that automatically reduces or turns off the lights in a space after all occupants have left that space. As long as the space is occupied, the lights remain on.

In most energy codes, the baseline requirement is scheduled shutoff (timeclock), but occupancy sensors can also meet this requirement in most applications, and some of the newer codes require occupancy sensors in certain space types. If the code allows an option, consider the strategy that best meets the immediate and long-term needs of the space. Some energy codes also require automatic shutoff of select receptacles in certain building types. Occupancy sensors with wireless receptacle control make it easier to meet any automatic receptacle shut-off requirements.

This may be another place to consider how the space may change, and how the lighting control solution will have to conform to changing energy codes. Installing wireless occupancy control solutions is likely to make it easier to ensure continued compliance over time. To minimize risk and reduce retrofit costs, it is good practice to choose lighting controls and other building system solutions that are designed with flexibility, adaptability, and responsiveness in mind.

5. What fixture/control strategies can be used to meet daylighting requirements?

Daylight code requirements are typically defined per daylight zones, and daylight zones generally fall into one of two categories: sidelight or toplight zones. Sidelight zones are adjacent to windows and are typically based on window height. Toplight zones are under skylights and are defined based on ceiling height. In each case, the location of obstructions, such as partitions, change the zoning requirements.

In both cases, wireless daylight sensors or fixtures with integral dimming controls and sensors can simplify daylighting compliance, and wireless strategies also ensure that it is easy to make adjustments to system setup as the space layout is changed, or as other factors—such as other buildings or maturing trees—affect daylight penetration in the space.

Exceptions to the daylighting requirements also exist based on room size, total lighting power in a space or daylight zone, and window surface area. While the daylight control requirements promote the use of natural daylight in a space, they don’t address glare and heat gain—factors that can inhibit productivity by reducing occupant comfort. Using automated shading systems and appropriate fabrics can help preserve the benefits of daylight and views while controlling the amount of glare and heat entering a space as a result of direct sun exposure.

6. Are manual controls required for occupant safety?

Manual or “local” controls are required in most spaces, but exceptions, such as the ability to mount the manual control in a remote location or to waive the requirement altogether, do exist depending on the code and the space. These exceptions most often occur in spaces that may be used as means of egress, or where constant illumination is required. Always check the local code for exceptions to the manual control requirements, as they vary widely.

As with other code requirements, wireless controls provide the greatest flexibility to easily change the location or accommodate the relocation of wall controls within a space in the event code inspections to identify compliance issues.

7. What if I still need help determining which requirements I need to meet?

Various manufacturers and industry organizations provide reference materials, and local training sessions are sometimes offered as well. It’s advantageous to work with manufacturers who are committed to making code compliance easier for all their customers. Some companies have a team dedicated to assisting specifiers throughout the course of a project, and they can even help work through questions about energy code compliance.

For general information about codes and standards, visit ASHRAE or IECC websites, the National Electrical Manufacturer’s Association (NEMA), or the Department of Energy for information. If a further interpretation or clarification needs to be made for a project, directly contacting the code developer is another option.

Solutions for code compliance and best practices

Designing a building or space that meets code is a basic requirement. Turn to more comprehensive application guides for lighting control options that not only meet code, but also include alternative solutions that go beyond minimum compliance to identify best practices and detail solutions that promote well-being and best serve the various needs of the people in the space.

Lighting control manufacturers, like other building system manufacturers, remain committed to helping specifiers and contractors deliver the best user experience to their customers. Successful installations start with resources and products that make it easier to identify code-compliant solutions, then expand opportunities for offering value-added solutions to improve the overall customer experience.

No one resource can guarantee a code-compliant solution—it’s essential to verify selected control strategies with a local AHJ for energy code amendments— but online guides and manufacturer support can provide a strong basis for lighting control solutions that are designed to meet code and provide the best functionality for each customer and project.

Craig Casey is the senior building science engineer at Lutron Electronics Inc.