Part 3 of an ongoing series outlining design principles for sustainable lighting design: here are a few ideas regarding electric lighting to help navigate the greenwash.
Strike a balance between efficiency and functionality
The efficiency of a light fixture or system is not a replacement for functionality and aesthetics. On the other hand, the beautiful appearance of a chandelier does not mean it should be an energy hog either. Know where to pick your battles and try as hard as you can to design lighting that’s as efficient and beautiful as possible – together.
Having said that, do look for fixtures with 75% efficiency or better – certainly no lower than 50%. Not everything will conform, but if the bulk of your lighting exceeds this benchmark, you’re doing pretty well in getting the biggest bang for your electrical buck. As always, weigh efficiency against function – if it’s glary, those extra percentage points aren’t helping.
LEDs, coming soon…
LEDs have the awesome potential to the be next big thing in the lighting world. At the rate the technology is improving, they may be set to take over the fluorescent market in the next five years. But beware of false claims: make sure you’ve personally tinkered with any fixture you’re going to use on a project, and don’t forget to find out what it really costs – you may be shocked. Just as there was hesitation to adopt the early compact fluorescent bulbs because of their poor performance and color, we’re seeing the same with LEDs. Give them time and they will wow us, for real this time.
Do your homework. You don’t want a call from an owner in two years saying that they can’t replace a light source because it failed prematurely and they’re not available anymore; that whole fixture would have to be scrapped and replaced. Try to future-proof your designs.
Mind the costs.
Greener buildings are touted as being more expensive than traditional spec buildings, and that may well be true. But, good, efficient lighting doesn’t have to be part of that added cost. Mind your dollar-signs when selecting fixtures, and make your clients see that it’s the padding of the bill that jacks up the price, not the hardware. Of course, if you do pick a really expensive fixture, you’re on your own.
Reduce, reuse, recycle
First, don’t over-design – the more over-designed a space is, the more raw materials and energy it will consume. Building designs can’t accommodate every possible use. Designers need to pick the function of a space and stick with it, with exceptions for truly multi-purpose rooms.
Second, if designing for a large institution, especially renovating a space, ask if they have attic stock that you can use on your design. They’ll love you for not spending money, and you save manufacturing and shipping energy. That doesn’t mean you can use A-lamps instead of fluorescents, but if it fits the design, use it. That goes for controls, too. How can you augment an existing system to perform its new task even better?
Third, recycle: recycle old fixtures, recycle lamps, recycle control systems, recycle everything you throw out during a renovation, new construction, or simple maintenance task. Fluorescent and metal halide lamps, especially, need to be recycled as toxic waste. They both contain mercury, a neurotoxin, and we don’t need that in our water supply. Find your closest lamp recycler.