Don’t cut the lighting budget

Simon Fisher highlights growing concerns within the lighting industry that high-quality specifications are increasingly being compromised when the dreaded budget axe falls

After years of the industry championing the issue, the importance of good-quality lighting is today getting the recognition that it finally deserves. Whether it is for a retail, leisure or office environment, lighting has a pivotal role to play in enhancing the interior design of a space and supporting the needs of the environment.

A quality lighting scheme has to deliver on many fronts, with a wide variety of lighting solutions available to support the needs of the environment. Good lighting will fit the type of work being done while, ideally, accommodating individual needs. It will reflect a building's architecture and reinforce a company's image and brand, and all the while - and now more so then ever - it will be as energy efficient as possible and offer reduced maintenance cycles.

As such, there is a great deal of work behind the development of a lighting specification that is well thought out and fit for purpose and can meet all these needs. That makes it all the more disappointing when the budgets start being chipped away in an effort to save money.

This invariably leads to alternative fittings and lamps being sourced. Of course it's a fact of life that there will always be someone that can offer something cheaper - but how often are we then being sold short? Too often comparisons are made on unit price alone, with no real understanding of whether fittings or lamps are being compared like for like. And when the cheaper route is taken are we genuinely surprised that it ends up far more costly in the long term?

Let's look at a case in point. The emergence of LED alternatives to traditional LFL is arguably one of the most exciting developments in office lighting in recent times, and already there are a number of options on the market competing for share. In this arena, the initial capital investment can be a major barrier and so it is understandable that clients seek the cheapest deals in order to make those payback calculations work. But the risks involved with choosing lower-cost alternatives shouldn't be underestimated.

Differences in CRI, colour consistency and lumens per watt each play their part in the overall effectiveness of a lighting solution. In some cases, the difference in the lm/W output of alternative LED panels can mean as much as twice as many of the cheaper fixtures are required to light the same space. This increases direct energy usage and indirect energy usage through a significant increase in heat load. With 1W of HVAC required to combat 3W of light energy, the consequences of opting for the cheaper alternative are certainly more far-reaching than many might initially think.

With a relatively new technology such as LED, it's perhaps easy to see why people take the competing alternatives at face value. However, for more established technologies misconceptions still abound, perhaps due to the belief that they have been around for so long they can rely on standardisation.

Rather than rely solely on claims from suppliers themselves, for increased confidence in a product it's always worthwhile checking if the supplier can validate their designs, components, products and processes - including high temperature, high humidity and accelerated life testing.

This really is an exciting time for lighting design. We have new technologies emerging and legislation is running to catch up. We have the long-sought- after recognition of lighting's importance in all sectors, but at the same time we're battling to find the balance between what clients have asked for the lighting to achieve and what they are willing to pay for.

And the harsh reality is that these two aspects are often at odds with one another. That's why architects and designers need to help fight our corner - so that together we can ensure lighting design isn't compromised and that the best lighting scheme is the one that meets the needs of the project for the long term.

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

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