Lighting: Return of the Engineer

Energy consumption, as defined by Title 24, California's building energy-consumption standard, and the adoption of the 1999 edition of ASHRAE 90.1 as the default energy code for most other states, was a subject almost universally noted in conversations with exhibitors at the most recent Lightfair International in New York.


Energy consumption, as defined by Title 24, California's building energy-consumption standard, and the adoption of the 1999 edition of ASHRAE 90.1 as the default energy code for most other states, was a subject almost universally noted in conversations with exhibitors at the most recent Lightfair International in New York.

Siva Haran, a senior electrical project engineer with A. Epstein and Sons, Int'l., Chicago, was not surprised to hear such news.

"The industry is changing a lot," said the engineer. "In the '80s, almost all lighting work was done by the electrical engineer."

But in the 1990s, Haran said, such work became the domain of architects and lighting specialists. "But we've really come full circle in that these folks don't understand energy consumption and the requirements of ASHRAE 90.1," he said.

But this doesn't mean electrical engineers are calling the shots. In the case of Haran's integrated A/E firm, interior designers still pick the fixtures and sconces, but he selects the lamps. "So there's a lot more coordination that's now required."

Haran attended the exhibition and conference mostly for the educational seminars, but a number of new products on the floor did catch his eye: Lithonia's new RT5 volumetric system, which is intended to replace most 2-ft. × 4-ft. parabolics; Martin Architectural's Inground 200 exterior, all-weather programmable luminaire, which garnered the show's Best New Product of the Year; and Architectural Energy Corporation's SPOT (Sensor Placement and Orientation Tool) software package.

Software, in fact, is what specifically brought Haran to New York. His top priority at the conference was to learn more about version 1.8 of the AGI32 lighting calculation and visualization program. The software, he said, allows designers to produce computer-generated renderings of how lighting will actually look in a space.

LED technology was another area Haran was exploring further. Epstein does a lot of civil and transportation work and is experimenting with LEDs for various exterior applications. As far as interior lighting applications, Haran believes LEDs still have a way to go. "LEDs still need to work on their pure white light," he said. "Usually, you have to employ a filter."

There were plenty of LEDs on exhibit, and GE, with its GelCore line, was promoting its belief that it has addressed these concerns. In fact, the company intentionally displayed its 4-watt LED white lamps in a number of practical applications ranging from cove and shelf lighting to the illumination of paintings and art. "A real advantage of the LED is that it produces no heat on the product, as opposed to, say, a halogen source," said James Reginelli with GE.

The company is set to launch 1- and 4-watt white LED lamps later this year, and Reginelli feels one day, LEDs will replace the incandescent bulb. "Just as soon as the efficiencies get higher, they'll be in desk lamps, etc.," he said.

Others, however, aren't quite so sure. "I don't know if LEDs are any more efficient than incandescents," said Keith Yancey, P.E., a senior associate with Lam Partners, Cambridge, Mass. Yancey, who was honored by Cooper Lighting for his work on the David Lawrence Convention Center (see A River Runs Through It ), felt LEDs are still mostly geared for exterior applications or for accent lighting in more entertainment-type environments.

One area where their usefulness is generally acknowledged is in containing the light source to avoid problems like light trespass.

"They're really an additional lighting tool," said Gersil Kay, president of Conservation Lighting International, Philadelphia. "It's part of a palette and not intended to be an end-all, be-all."

Kay, who specializes in fiber-optic lighting, was very interested in exploring LEDs in this fashion.

"LEDs are still a developing technology, and they haven't really been tested, so we really don't know how long they will last," she said. "Quality is also a big issue; they range from excellent to poor."

Regarding all the hoopla surrounding energy conservation, particularly ASHRAE 90.1, Kay remains skeptical. "My question to you is how will it be enforced and who will enforce it?" she posed. "90.1's been in place for 25 years, but we haven't moved an inch."

Unfortunately, lighting designers, in her opinion, still face an uphill battle in keeping good and energy-efficient products in projects. "The big challenge with lighting is that the client wants what's cheapest," she said. "Then they'll give you half that budget."

As a result, she said, lighting designers need to focus their energy not only on educating themselves about new technologies, but also on educating clients and contractors. "Lighting is usually the first thing cut or value-engineered on a project," said Kay. "I hate the word 'substitution.'"

As a result, she thinks those in the industry need to spend more time really talking to one another and figure out ways to truly work together, because as things stand now, there are still too many silos. "Architects see M/E as 'blue collar' and sluff it off," she said. "But that's because they don't understand it can really enhance their design."

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