High Performance Lighting is a value differentiator
Builders interested in upgrading their homes’ performance may already be familiar with some of the building science principles behind improvements in systems such as the envelope (insulation, air tightness, windows) and the HVAC system (right-sizing, choosing higher efficiency models, moving ductwork to conditioned space).
However, building science is always advancing, and one system area where it has made very quick progress is in lighting. Compact fluorescent (CFL) technology is producing bulbs with much warmer, more natural light and more fixtures and controls are becoming available as these bulbs become more common. Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology has advanced so quickly that applications for these versatile, highly efficient lights are just beginning to catch up. Control options, many using personal computers and data devices such as the Android™ phone and Apple iPhone® continue to advance and expand beyond lighting.
Lighting is sometimes an afterthought in new home building, left until the trim-out phase. But emerging technology is forcing builders to look at lighting as a system, just like the HVAC system. In turn, these developments are opening up opportunities for builders to differentiate the homes they offer through high-efficiency lighting systems.
According to ENERGY STAR®, lighting currently accounts for approximately 12 percent of the electric bill for the average family in the U.S. As other systems improve their efficiency, they become a smaller part of the overall home energy use pie, and the lighting proportion of that pie rises, making it one of the next frontiers for reducing home energy use. High Performance Lighting (HPL) principles—and I’ll talk more about those below—can increase a lighting system’s energy efficiency by up to 75 percent over incandescent lights.
Just as important, High Performance Lighting doesn’t just save homebuyers energy and money in the long-term, it also has immediate appeal that homebuyers can see as soon as they switch on the lights.
What is High Performance Lighting?
High Performance Lighting is an approach to home lighting systems that incorporates changes in bulbs, fixtures, fixture placement (e.g. to make use of the reflective quality of walls and ceilings) and controls to maximize energy efficiency, as well as being firmly grounded in the science that lies behind homeowners' perceptions that “good lighting” is that which offers safety, comfort, performance and aesthetics.
Find out more about High Performance Lighting by accessing the IBACOS High Performance Lighting Guide.
Systematically applied throughout a home, High Performance Lighting can save homeowners 66 to 75 percent in energy consumption over incandescent lighting systems, both through its use of more efficient bulbs, fixtures, and controls, and because good lighting design can actually reduce the number of light sources needed in a room.
However, High Performance Lighting is about more than lower electric bills. Homebuyers want light at various levels, in combinations, and in color and brightness ranges that seem functional, attractive and convenient to them. They want task lighting where it’s needed and lighting options that can create moods for different situations.
Furthermore, appealing lighting schemes are a major factor in new home sales. Model homes typically have additional lighting installed, in order to show off the home.
For an example of how High Performance Lighting works, check out an HPL design for a typical kitchen in the IBACOS Energy Efficiency Lab Home.
Smart and Appealing
High Performance Lighting is a smart and appealing alternative to traditional incandescent lighting.
HPL design will provide for:
• Under-cabinet lighting for meal prep using LED lighting, which is especially effective when direct, bright light is required
• Above-cabinet lighting for general room illumination using linear fluorescents, which are good for places that require diffuse area lighting
• Downlights over the counter for entertaining using CFLs, which perform well in fixtures
• A chandelier over the table for mealtimes using dimmable CFLs, now available
• A combination of all these for different entertainment scenarios
HPL design also takes into account that homeowners want low levels of light in some areas for safety reasons, like stairwells and hallways at night.
The last part of High Performance Lighting is controls, and the advances in this area are pretty dramatic. But before we get to that, I want to cover some of the facts—and the fictions—surrounding new lighting technology.
Resistance to New Lighting Technology
High Performance Lighting works, both for homeowner aesthetics and energy efficiency. But builders and homebuyers are sometimes resistant to using new bulbs, fixtures and designs, whether because they’ve had negative experiences in or because they’re unsure of how to use them to the best advantage. Yet, lighting technology is advancing quickly, and so some of the problems people associate with new lighting technology have been overcome.
Consider the differences between different kinds of light, because it’s true that fluorescent and LED bulbs don’t generate light by the same process that incandescent bulbs do. In an incandescent bulb, electricity running through a tungsten filament makes it white hot. Incandescent lights are not very energy efficient. Most of the energy an incandescent bulb uses goes toward making heat, not light, and the filament generally burns out quickly, requiring the bulb to be replaced. And although incandescent bulbs are inexpensive, they don’t last long. A typical 60-watt incandescent bulb has an average lifespan of 1,000 hours.
The second bulb from the left is incandescent. The others are compact fluorescents, also known as CFLs. Today's energy-efficient CFLs can produce warm light similar to that of incandescent bulbs.
Fluorescent bulbs, including compact fluorescents (CFLs), generate light by electricity interacting with the gases inside the bulb. This process produces ultraviolet light that becomes visible light when it hits the phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb. Fluorescent bulbs cost more than incandescents, but are up to 80% more energy efficient than incandescents and last 6 to 10 times longer.
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) do not have a filament or create an arc, so they do not get hot or burn out. LED light comes from the movement of electricity through a semiconductor patch. They are the most expensive bulb of the three types, but use even less energy than CFLs and last longer. Some estimates project a high-quality LED could shine 8 hours a day for 20 years. Also, LED’s emit light in one direction, making them good choices for fixtures.
Even though the date for compliance has now been postponed to April 2012, changes in the 2009 IECC code and ENERGY STAR® requirements will require that 50% or more of a new home's light bulbs in permanently installed fixtures be energy efficient. Along with a greater interest in energy efficiency, these changes have made acceptance of fluorescents more widespread and have spurred improvements in the technology.
For example, some of the resistance to fluorescent bulbs originates in the perception that the quality of the light they cast is unstable, unflattering or unnatural. This may have been true, but today most manufacturers have fine-tuned their products so that the light from a good quality “soft white” CFL bulb can appear the same as that from an incandescent. ENERGY STAR® standards, and test methods have greatly increased the quality of lighting available.
Todd Roy, Director of Builder Sales and Marketing for Progress Lighting, understands the barriers to adopting new lighting technology from a homebuilder’s perspective. His experience in working closely with builders has shown that the process can be improved for both the builder and the homebuyer.
“It’s important to look at all aspects of a lighting system, and if a builder is going for energy efficient bulbs, they’re going to get much better results if they also use energy efficiency-compatible fixtures and controls,” Roy says.
For more information about tax incentives and rebates available for use of energy-efficient light bulbs, visit the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE™) www.dsireusa.org.
He uses a dining room chandelier as an example. A fixture intended for use with CFLs would include a glass or linen shade over the bottom to soften the intensity of the light, and might also be compatible with dimmable CFLs.
In the past, builders and homeowners sometimes felt that energy efficient fixtures did not come in a wide enough range of styles. But Todd says that Progress now offers over 400 ENERGY STAR®-rated fixtures, and that other companies are expanding their energy-efficient product offerings as well.
“Consumers want traditional looks that are compatible with the new technology, and that’s driving innovation in the fixtures.”
Builders have also had concerns in the past about availability of energy efficient fixtures. Todd says that availability—whether through wholesale markets, electric supply houses or retail lighting showrooms—has improved.
Cost is also a concern for builders, and energy efficient lighting and fixtures do cost more initially.
“For high performance lighting, a builder is going to see their typical lighting package increase in cost by 20-30%. That’s $300-500 of added investment,” Todd points out.
But consider the return on that investment.
“CFLs use 75% less energy, and they last much longer. The homeowner will be saving $30 or more per bulb over its lifetime. For LED lights, that’s more like $45.”
Builders may still balk at the higher cost of energy efficient lighting systems, but the payoff comes when homebuyers see an attractive, convenient and functional lighting design that also saves them significant money on their electric bills. Plus, there are tax incentives and rebates available to offset some of those costs.
Controls: Rapid Advances
Being able to control lighting is the final piece of High Performance Lighting, but it is the piece that has the potential to change the way homeowners control not only lighting, but soon many other systems in their home.
Lutron's advanced wireless RadioRA®2 system can be controlled using wall-mounted controls, handheld remotes, and through computers and personal devices.
“The technological advances in this area in the last 5 to 10 years have been very significant,” says Erik Anderson, National Sales Manager of Residential Construction for Lutron.
The simplest kind of lighting control is a dimmer, and dimmers and CFL bulbs that work together are now available. Another kind of control is an occupancy/vacancy sensor, which can turn lights on when necessary and off when no one is using them. Guest bathrooms, laundry rooms and closets are places where these controls can save homeowners both time and money.
More advanced lighting controls include whole-home lighting systems that can control lights in various ways throughout the home. With these systems, homeowners can dim the fixtures in their dining room, turn on a pre-set lighted pathway into the house after dark, and choose lighting scenarios, such as welcome lighting, entertaining, meal prep, nighttime, or movie watching. They can also check to see if lights have been left on in unused rooms.
For more information about the advantages of High Performance Lighting, as well as more from Erik Anderson of Lutron and Todd Roy of Progress Lighting, click here to view slides from the Alliance webinar, Differentiating High Performance Homes with Lighting and Controls. You can also access the webinar here. (Requires login).
There are a number of whole-home lighting systems available. Some systems, such as Lutron’s wireless Lutron RadioRA2, can be controlled through wall-mounted controls, as well as hand-held remotes, or even through computers and personal devices like the Android™ phone, iPhone® and iPad®. Homeowners can turn lights on before entering a home (even before arriving home in the evening), adjust lighting scenarios, or while on vacation check to see if any lights were left on.
“There are a lot of safety, convenience and energy efficiency issues that these kinds of systems can address,” Erik says.
Lutron's RadioRA®2 System even offers options that control the thermostat, shades and standby power for small appliances, providing the homeowner more possibilities for home energy savings.
“Now the system has the power to control 60% or more of a home’s energy use,” Erik adds. “This is where lighting design is going—more control over how, and how much, your family uses energy.”
As home envelopes become more efficient and energy use by HVAC systems decreases, electricity use by lighting and plug-in devices will become a larger proportion of a homeowner’s energy bill. However, with advances in controls, someday soon it may become possible for homeowners to control nearly every aspect of their energy to find a balance between comfort and efficiency.
Seeing the Light
Builders can no longer afford to treat lighting as an afterthought to the homebuilding process. With advances in lighting technology, lighting has become a system in its own right, and lighting design is emerging as a valuable addition to a high-performance home.
But the energy savings offered by High Performance Lighting is only part of the attraction for homebuyers. Comfort, safety and convenience are all enhanced by this type of lighting design, and homebuyers can see some of these advantages just by walking into a prospective home and turning on the lights. “Seeing the light” on lighting can offer builders another way to differentiate their products while making their houses seem more like home.
Brad Oberg is the Chief Technology Officer for IBACOS. IBACOS provides technical and business management expertise to production builders and manufacturers for quality assurance, risk management and performance coaching. Brad oversees all of the technical aspects of work IBACOS does with homebuilders, building product manufacturers, and state and federal governments. With more than 30 years of experience in the industry, he is one of the foremost building scientists in the U.S.