Take Advantage of Lighting Controls for the Post-COVID “New Normal”

By Joshua Baker

The COVID pandemic has resulted in a large percentage of traditional office staff working from home.  As we are (hopefully) getting the pandemic under control, building managers and owners are planning for the post-pandemic “New Normal.” What exactly this will be is not entirely clear. However, it seems likely that the future of office work will involve flexible schedules, more remote work, and fewer days physically in the office, for many workers.

Pre-pandemic, most office employees physically came into the office on a relatively fixed Monday through Friday schedule. This made it relatively easy to set up the HVAC system on a consistent schedule, and the first person to arrive often turned on the lights for the whole office. At the end of the day, the lights were generally turned off by the last person to leave, or by the after-hours cleaning crew.  While not optimal from an energy efficiency standpoint, this system was “good enough” for many office buildings.

Looking to the future, if only a portion of employees come into the office on any given day, and potentially on varying schedules, traditional control schemes won’t do a good job of meeting employee needs and could waste half, or more, of the energy used for HVAC and lighting. Fortunately, this challenge is also an opportunity for reducing energy consumption, and improving employee satisfaction, with new controls.

Luminaire Level Lighting Controls (LLLC)

RCA Troffer Retrofit with Sensor

Over the last few years, most major lighting manufacturers have started offering Luminaire Level Lighting Controls (LLLC) and Networked Lighting Controls (NLC). LLLC refers to having sensors and control functionality on every light fixture. (Luminaire is the industry term for a light fixture.)  LLLC-equipped fixtures can turn on and off, or dim to various levels, based on occupancy, natural lighting coming in through windows and skylights, or occupant preferences. Some of the newest fixtures can even change the color temperature of the light. Sensor and controls prices have come way down in recent years, and having them built-in at the factory is much more cost-effective than installing in the field. Networking fixtures together allows for the fixtures to be grouped (for larger offices, hallways, etc.), scheduled, and to provide occupancy and energy usage information to a Building Management System (BMS). In more sophisticated control systems, the BMS can then have the HVAC system change set-points and open or close dampers to serve different areas of the building based on occupancy in each area detected by the light fixtures.

While older lighting controls were literally “hard-wired” with control cables, most newer networked control systems are wireless and field-programmable. Wireless networking greatly reduces installation costs, particularly for retrofit applications. Perhaps more importantly, in a time of changing requirements, wireless fixtures can easily be reprogrammed as office layouts and occupancy change.

LLLC LED lighting fixtures and wireless controls are eligible for additional incentives from most utility programs, and can significantly reduce energy consumption compared to LED fixtures alone.  The result can be reduced operating cost, attractive ROI, and office space that is flexible and ready for the new normal, whatever that may be.

Contact Us to Get Started

Want help selecting exterior fixtures that save you energy and money and lighting that doesn’t “Bug” your customers, tenants, and neighbors?  Contact Joshua@ecolloyd.org, we can help with our LED Advantage Member Program (LAMP).