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September 2013: Aging Eyes Love Light
By Charles Thompson, FAIA

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but visual deterioration starts around age 20. If your friends are truthful, they will tell you there is a noticeable drop in vision at 40 years old. It is never too early to consider lighting design for the aging eye. 

  • As we age, the lens in the eye yellows, reducing light transmittance. This yellowing/reduction in transmittance results in needing higher light levels to see. And, it just so happens, this yellowing often results in a preference for bluer light (high color temperature)!

  • As we age, the lens loses elasticity, making it hard to focus on an object in our field of view. This is especially noticeable when trying to change focus from a distant object to one near the viewer.

  • WHAT YOU CAN DO: Provide higher than normal light levels in areas of projects where you might find older users (or others with visual impairments). 

  • ALSO: Provide dimming controls (or other means to vary the lighting levels), so users can adjust the lighting level to suit their personal needs and specific tasks.

  • BONUS: Some jurisdictions will allow fixtures that are used to reach higher light levels to be exempt from energy code restrictions!  Negotiate with your local authority.


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July 2013: What Your Lighting Estimate is Probably Missing 
By Charles Thompson, FAIA

We all know the importance of serving as good stewards of our client’s budget. After nearly three decades as a lighting designer, I have seen that the likelihood of missing the probable cost of construction is very high – if not commonplace – when using the typical cost-per-square-foot estimate. 

A common (and often large) factor for the discrepancy between the estimate and actual cost is that lighting controls are commonly assumed to be included in the lighting estimate, when they are not. This assumption often results in an overrun to cover both the cost of lighting fixtures and controls on the project.

Knowing about this common omission allows you to communicate early and curb surprises for your client. 

Other tips for ensuring lighting costs are within budget include:

  • Evaluate the project using line item unit pricing for all lighting fixtures and control components. This forces you to work at a fine level of detail, and you are less likely to miss elements needed to complete the project.

  • Work with other design team members to understand costs associated with lighting and controls.  Ask a local electrical contractor to develop allowances for installation of lighting and controls. Recognize when you must defer to a contractor or electrical engineer for pricing.

  • When in doubt, don’t hesitate to include an allowance up front for unknown items. Your client will appreciate being prepared ahead of time to react to unforeseen costs, instead of watching their budget creep up during construction.  Also, any allowance amounts returned to the owner at the end of the construction phase.

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October 2013: Lighting Controls
By Charles Thompson, FAIA

​What’s that?  Cure “Wall Acne” with Efficient Interiors Lighting Controls?

Especially in areas with multiple entrances and walking paths, like a conference roomkitchen or bath, it is easy to let excessive light switches take over your design.  If you find your clean interior is cluttered by too many controls, your project could be suffering from “wall acne.” Some tried-and-true remedies:

  • Stack them up: Lay out light switches (or wall box controls) with no more than three devices in a single box. If you need four, stack two boxes double-gang, one above the other.  Also, some wall box products allow more than three-way control (one brand allows up to nine remote locations to control a dimmer).

  • Think outside the box: If the project budget allows, consider a room preset controller.  The keypad is typically the size of a single-gang switch box, resulting in a subtle presence, but the system is packed with user-defined control capabilities. 

  • Multiple lighting zones: With a preset controller, a user can select a lighting scene from the keypad.  The keypad controls a base unit, which can be located in a less visible location in the room, and the base unit controls multiple zones.  This gives one simple location to select and program desired lighting levels across many zones.


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November 2013: MORE Lighting Controls
By Charles Thompson, FAIA

Occupancy sensors come in two flavors. Often, the same device can be configured in the field to work as an occupancy (auto on) sensor or a vacancy (manual on) sensor. 

  • The automatic on function of occupancy sensors work in spaces without natural light and a need to always have light. Consider this control strategy in garages, pantries, storage spaces, some closets, copy rooms and toilets.

  • The manual on function of vacancy sensors work well in spaces with natural light and an unpredictable need for light in the space. Consider this strategy for work rooms, some bathrooms or powder rooms, kitchens, some closets.

  • Occupancy sensors are available with integrated dimming control and dual zone control for simple conference rooms. 

  • Other control devices include timers for turning loads off after a period of time. Consider this for exhaust fans.

Occupancy sensors are required by code in many applications. Sensors can be used for single room control or integrated into a building wide control strategy. Check with your local authority.  

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© 2010 Matthew Gordon