Understanding and navigating lighting standards and codes in building design, part 1

Michael Chow and Tony Staub discuss lighting and energy codes, standards and guidelines, focusing particularly on ASHRAE Standard 90.1 and the International Energy Conservation Code

By Consulting-Specifying Engineer May 16, 2023
Courtesy: CFE Media

Lighting standards Insights

  • Michael Chow and Tony Staub highlight the importance of various lighting standards, particularly ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, as well as compliance with federal, state and local energy requirements.
  • The speakers discuss the use of the COMcheck from the U.S. Department of Energy, which verifies compliance with energy codes and they emphasize checking both state and local codes to meet the most stringent requirements.
  • They underline the significance of the owner’s project requirements (OPR) in the design process, emphasizing the need to align these with energy codes and to work with owners to ensure their requirements are met in an energy-efficient manner.

Michael Chow, PE, CEM, CxA, LEED AP BD+C, principal at Metro CD Engineering LLC and Tony Staub, PE, LC, lighting design lead/electrical project engineer at Specialized Engineering Solutions discuss various lighting and energy codes in the Consulting-Specifying Engineer webcast “Lighting and Lighting Controls”, standards and guidelines, focusing particularly on ASHRAE Standard 90.1 and the International Energy Conservation Code. They also discuss the importance of understanding and adhering to the requirements of these codes in different jurisdictions, considering that some local codes may be more stringent than the state level.

The following has been edited for clarity.

Michael Chow: When we’re taking a look at lighting and lighting control systems, the first place to start is to take a look at the codes, guidelines and standards for lighting. We are going to be focused mostly on ASHRAE Standard 90.1, It encompasses HVAC mechanical, power, lighting is also included in there and we’ll talk about that particular standard in a little bit more detail later.

So here are some more codes, standards and guidelines. We’ll be talking more about the International Energy Conservation Code and we’ll also be talking about the IES. The IES is Illuminating Engineering Society and they have online documentation where they provide recommended foot candle levels for specific tasks and in spaces and also dependent upon the occupant age. The U.S. Department of Energy will talk about that a little bit more as well to the administer the comp check, which most of you should be familiar with that. That is a web-based or application-based system that allows you to show compliance with the energy codes. LEED has certain requirements related to lighting and commissioning. And the well building standard is also one that has a lot of lighting. Lighting as far as the design is concerned and goes into a lot of the quality of the lighting.

There are federal, state and local requirements as well too. ASHRAE 90.1 is updated every three years. And the 2022 update is forthcoming. It’s like the IECC. It covers the most aspects of energy efficiency buildings, as we talked about earlier. Lighting is part of that, one of those systems. Some jurisdictions adopt this code and they also published or supplements in amendments.

For example, I’m in Ohio and there is a supplement where certain requirement of ASHRAE 90.1, it is not necessary and that’s the 50% receptacle control. Next, we’ll talk about the International Energy Conservation Code. And this is published by the International Code Council. It’s also updated every three years and the most recent update is 2021 and just like the ASHRAE 90.1, it covers the building systems and lighting. Now it’s not a carbon copy of ASHRAE 90.1 when it comes to lighting. Lighting items are very similar as you go across the two documents, but they’re not the same. There is a section in the IECC that notice that ASHRAE 90.1 is an acceptable alternate compliance path. So that allows you to use either one.

Because they’re published every three years, typically the IECC allows you to adopt the 90.1 version issue two years before the IECC version. Now, keep in mind that there might be specific requirements. For example, in Ohio the 2012 IECC is in effect, but the ASHRAE 90.1 2007 is also in effect. So that’s slightly different from what’s stated here.

Next is Title 24 for California. This is one of the energy codes that is not directly based upon either the ASHRAE 90.1 or the IECC. It is also updated every three years. Title 24 is something that some of the items that are in there actually get incorporated in ASHRAE 90.1 or the IECC, an example is vacancy centers. Those are first introducing in Title 24 and they eventually made their way into lead and ASHRAE 90.1 as well. So next, Tony is going to continue the discussions on codes.

Tony Staub: These codes are something that I’m glad to see that we’ve got quite a few electrical engineers here and these are codes that you should be familiar with regardless then. But going to touch on a few of the lighting specific things that are held within these codes. So

NFPA 101: Life Safety Code is where you find the requirements that layout what is necessary or what is required for emergency operation especially, but for egress as well. There are a couple things in these codes that I see get missed or misunderstood from a lot of people, just because the lighting pieces of these can be a little bit hidden in-depth, from all the other things. At NFPA 101 of the biggest ones there is required illumination levels on stairs. Go take a look, 10-foot candles on every stair tread. That’s one that in my experience has commonly been misunderstood or missed.

NFPA 70: National Electrical Code is used every day. Where we’re really using that as it applies to lighting, is in how we are setting up the electrical systems to serve specific lighting functions. Depending on what type of building you’re in, I personally do a lot of health care engineering and that health care, we are looking at Article 517 a lot, where there are very specific requirements about what lighting can and should be placed on the life safety branch, on the critical branch, on the equipment branch and on the normal branch. It’s really telling you how to organize the circuitry for your lighting. It’s really a lot of the same language that’s used in NFPA 101. It’s telling you a lot of the same things. This is where the 90 minutes for emergency egress lighting and things like that are showing up, are between NFPA 101 and IBC. They double cover a little bit. Michael’s going to help us determine which codes are applicable for your project.

Chow: As we mentioned earlier that the comp check is available for the Department of Energy and if you go to energycodes.gov, that’s a great resource. If you click on that link, it will take you to a website where you can enter the state that your project is in and it will tell you the current year for ASHRAE 90.1 that applies and as well as the IECC. Now, some cities and counties adopt their own energy codes that may be more stringent than the state level. And Tony has an example that he would like to share.

Staub: I’ll take just a little short story here with what we deal with, especially in Nebraska. We had a situation where the state code was recently updated to a 2018 IECC and this exemption in Nebraska where if a renovation product or project is under 50% of the insured cost of the building, you’re not required to meet the state energy code. We had situations where state energy code was a 2018 IECC and many local jurisdictions had the 2009 IECC. And you really needed to understand both of those things at the same time, because you might have been in a position where I’m in Omaha and a renovation project might not have needed to apply with the state code. In many cases they didn’t, but there was still a locally enforced code. So really, that’s a cautionary tale to make sure that you are looking at both the state and local codes to see which ones are going to apply because the state code might not matter at all, but you might still have a code requirement. Just make sure that you’re checking all of those layers of different code requirements and make sure that you’re meeting the most stringent code that you’re required to meet.

Chow: The owner’s project requirements (OPR) contains elements for design and should contain requirements for elimination and related items. This document should be done at the beginning of a project and this is sometimes the owner will give you a list of items that they require and sometimes there are some gaps. It’s important to have this dialogue with the owner to make sure that you don’t end up all the way at the end of a project and find out that you didn’t meet the owner’s requirements. And sometimes the owner’s requirements, they don’t line up with the energy code.

For example, we had a project where the owner wanted all halogen lighting and that did not meet the energy code. We explained this to the owner at the beginning of the project and we were able to work in energy efficient lighting while still meeting the owner’s project requirements.