Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:56 am
For years, the choices in office lighting were pretty limited. Four-foot or 2-foot fluorescent lights in square or rectangular fixtures are a common sight. So, too, are long, suspended, continuous runs of the same lights.
“Those are basically practical lighting solutions that were designed around existing sources,” said Rick Meyer, vice president of sales and marketing at Mequon-based manufacturer SPI Lighting Inc.
Meyer pointed out the technology behind lighting had not changed much from the time Thomas Edison invented the light bulb until the introduction of fluorescent lights. Even after that, things did not rapidly evolve.
“It’s an industry that’s not used to a lot of change,” he said.
The introduction of LED lights has changed that. Starting in the late 2000s, Meyer said new construction projects began incorporating LEDs, and nearly a decade later almost any new professional or commercial space will use them.
“LEDs have allowed a lot of design flexibility,” Meyer said.
At the most basic level, the small size of light emitting diodes opens up a whole new world of potential light fixtures. Sure, square and rectangular fixtures are still an option, but so are rings and curved designs.
“Those are all in vogue now,” Meyer said of rings.
Some of SPI’s rings range in sizes from 2 feet to 20 feet in diameter. In the past, rings were almost impossible to make and the ones that did get made were often limited to high-end projects. Today, a wide range of projects can incorporate what Meyer described as a “more architecturally desirable” look.
“Now you can have a sculpture that’s a lighting fixture,” he said.
It’s not just the form of lighting that’s changing; the function has evolved with LEDs, as well. For starters, Meyer pointed out that LEDs allow users to see a more complete spectrum of light. That means with the same light output, an LED light will appear to be brighter.
A brighter light may take some time to adjust to, but Meyer said LEDs are also enabling individual addressability, meaning users can change the lighting in their area to meet their own needs and preferences. In a large office with 50 to 100 people in a given space, that can provide a big benefit.
“Traditionally those light levels are all pre-set,” Meyer said. “If you were out in the main area, you didn’t have any say over the lighting.”
With fluorescent lights, it was difficult to dim the lights in general, let alone a specific area, but Meyer said the ability to dim now is “pretty much a design standard.”
High-end projects are beginning to explore tunable lighting, Meyer said, allowing for the adjustment of output, color rendering and color temperature. There’s some science to suggest warmer or cooler temperatures affect biological rhythms, potentially making it easier to get work done.
Other lighting options created by LEDs and the emergence of sensors include daylight integration, which can help account for the amount of natural light coming into a space. On a bright summer day, the amount of incoming light might be enough to reduce the energy needed to illuminate a room, but an overcast day in winter might require more power.
LEDs also allow for the incorporation of colors, particularly in entry areas or on the exterior of buildings.
On many projects, the lighting is the responsibility of the architect or a lighting consultant, Meyer said, but there are still many factors for businesses to consider. Those include what tasks need to be performed in a given area, what is needed to complete the work and which settings will make for a comfortable and enjoyable workplace.
“People don’t notice it unless it’s not doing the right thing,” Meyer said of lighting.
He compared poor lighting to arriving for a tropical vacation on a dreary, cloudy day. It has a tendency to put a damper on the entire trip. When the next day arrives with warm temperatures and a bright blue sky, spirits are lifted and the vacation seems like a worthwhile endeavor.
“I’ve never had anyone regret doing their lighting properly,” Meyer said.