This week on the Bright Ideas series presented by Acuity Brands®, Catherine is joined by Andrew Banovic – the Director of Indoor Ambient Lighting – to discuss the rise of high-performance lighting in the market.
WHAT IS HIGH-PERFORMANCE LIGHTING?
The term “high-performance lighting” has taken on a wide range of meaning over the last three decades. Most recently, since around 2010 when LEDs became more commonplace, the term has come to refer to both power and efficiency.
In other words, high-performance lighting is not about producing the maximum amount of light for the least amount of power – but about the quality of light: using the right amount where you need it, while employing less power.
The rise of LED lighting provided the world with an efficient way to pack a ton of light into a small space. Normally that’s a very good thing, because it makes illuminating spaces easier and less expensive.
However, some of the negative factors of LED lighting are also finally coming to bear. Putting such a powerful light into a small space can be good… until its glare gets overpowering. And high efficiency lighting is really helpful, but it can sometimes appear or feel unappealing.
Both harnessing lighting power and using it well is, in reality, very tricky. So now that high-efficiency LEDs and high-powered LEDs are a mainstream product amongst lighting manufacturers, the real breakthroughs in the industry are currently around quality of light; not necessarily brightness of light.
WHAT HAS HIGH-PERFORMANCE LIGHTING LOOKED LIKE IN THE PAST?
Historically, end-users experience a light fixture based on the foot-candles that those light fixtures spread throughout a space. Every room in every home or office may host a different activity, and each activity requires a certain amount of foot-candles. As a result, manufacturers have designed a wide range of light fixtures accordingly.
However, over time, the activities in these various spaces have evolved. The introduction of computer monitors, for example, clashed with the old T8 troffers in office areas because light lines would be made visible on the computer screens. Parabolics had to be invented to cut down on that glare and make computer use easier.
Then the invention of high-output T5 lamps came along, but they were too bright for some situations, so that led to the invention of the RT5 troffer to disperse that light evenly while also harnessing the power of the fixture technology.
Now, these same changes are taking place with LED as the light source. And manufacturers are finding new ways to harness that power differently.
HOW CAN BUYERS ENSURE THAT THEY’RE INVESTING IN HIGH-PERFORMANCE LIGHTING?
Looking for high-performance fixtures is, in many ways, similar to looking for a “high-performance” car. Everybody has a different list of desired features to consider when they go looking for a new vehicle for themselves.
For example, if someone went to a car dealer and cared solely about efficiency and eco-friendly sustainability – miles per gallon – they would probably end up with a bicycle or a horse. Both are extremely efficient, in that they require no gas and, with proper maintenance, can last nearly a lifetime for lower cost than many cars.
On the other hand, if a car buyer cared solely about power, they’d probably end up purchasing a tractor – which possesses tons of power.
Of course, there’s a problem with both of these purchases: they’re not actually very practical for somebody who wants a car.
Power and efficiency are clearly important. Nobody wants a car that only gets one mile per gallon; but neither do they want a vehicle that has no power; and there are lots of other factors to consider, too. How comfortable is the car? How nice does it look? What kinds of driving features does it include? Is it going to be used to transport a single commuter, a large family, or maybe furniture?
Picking out a light fixture is exactly the same. Buyers shouldn’t just go for the highest lumens or the highest efficiency on the spec sheet and assume they’re going to get a good-looking fixture that’s comfortable to be around.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GLARE AND VISUAL DISCOMFORT?
Glare has traditionally been defined by the obstruction of one’s vision because of light shining into their eyes. This is most commonly experienced, for example, by drivers on the road around sunset or sunrise who have the sun hitting their faces directly.
A UGR, or Unified Glare Rating, measures the amount of light directed towards an occupant’s eyes in a whole space. Generally, a lower glare rating means a more visually comfortable space. However, this rating is NOT based on the fixture alone, but also the space in which it is installed: reflective surfaces, ceiling height, the amount of space between the parabolics, and so forth. So a certain fixture doesn’t possess an exact glare rating.
That being said, historically, fixtures are developed to light up a large volume of space because that means less fixtures will need to be purchased to fill a room with light. So a buyer may have to choose between a higher number of low-UGR fixtures, versus a lower number of volumetric fixtures which may have higher glare and will hit the eyes of the room occupants.
Visual discomfort may sound similar to this idea, because glare does strain one’s eyes and therefore produces discomfort. However, lights with low glare can still lead to discomfort as well.
An end user may not have to squint when in rooms with lower UGR ratings, but the space may still be poorly lit. Fixtures might flicker (an especially bad factor that could cause seizures in some individuals). The room may have a high contrast ratio (that is, the amount of illumination around a fixture versus the amount of light that reaches the rest of the space).
Fixtures may also be the wrong color temperature (CCT) or have a poor Color Rendering Index (CRI). Color temperature has to do with the warmness or coolness coming from the luminaires (or lights). Natural sunlight’s color temperature changes throughout the day: cooler light in the morning wakes us up, and warmer temperatures in the evening wind us down. Many fixtures are chosen for their color temperature, based on the activity and use in the space. There are options, such as nLight® lighting controls platform, featuring nTune™ Technology, can change the color temperature over the course of the day to stay in sync with the occupants’ circadian rhythms.
Meanwhile, CRI has to do with a light’s quality and ability to aid an occupant’s color perception. Sunlight has a constant CRI of 100. Some high-end lighting fixtures may achieve an 80 or even 90 CRI. This helps colors to stand out in retail, grocery, or hospitality spaces for example.
In short: uneven or low-CRI can create visual discomfort even without glare. Finding high-performance lighting is no longer just about lots of lumens or high efficiency. It is a quality-over-quantity issue, so there are lots of factors to consider when seeking a comfortable, long-term lighting solution.
To learn more about which fixtures might be the right fit for your space, visit acuitybrands.com. And if you’re looking for those fixtures specifically for an industrial building renovation, then be sure to tune in next week. Our next guest will dive into why you should look at more than just ROI when choosing those lighting fixtures.
Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter to get every new episode, blog article, and content offer sent directly to your inbox.