Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I'll play the devil, you can be the light

Hi all,
Per our recent coffee/lunch and learn with new super-friend Dustin from LAViD Design, I wish to pontificate on lighting.
One realm of the professional building industry that seems ripe for improvement in the green building industry is lighting.  This is a subject on which most of us have both professional and personal opinions, verging on profound spiritual attachment.  Thus I will try to shed (contronym?) light onto your numinous lumininousness (you know I've been setting that up for a couple of sentences now ;)
  Meanwhile, I have some voluminous ruminations to proffer in your directions-- why? cud I love chew!  (<--OMG-- that is so bad I have to leave it in here).

Which leads me to Non-sequitur #1:  Have you ever noticed that when Astro-the-Dog in the Jetsons says "rubric," he's actually saying "Blue Brick."  You know that dog sure knows his schist.  So it's not just a fluke that he died of schist-osomiasis.

Vaguely syllogism-like-dialectic to summarize the point of this email.
1.  Energy consumption in lighting in the residential sector is growing rapidly, and will become increasingly problematic as a result.  (something like 50% of building electricity consumption in the summertime is spent on air-conditioning needed to dump all the heat coming from lighting to the outside.)
2.  This trend comes, paradoxically in spite of an increasing array of much more energy efficient lighting technology choices in the marketplace which have virtually identical visual performance with substantially greater efficiencies.
3.  (my hypothetical-- unproven)  The fundamentals of lighting design and performance are not intuitive to most building occupants such that poor and/or ineffective technologies and designs are often repeated.

ERGO:  We as building and design professionals should figure out how to prevent lighting performance and energy consumption from being a problem, in whatever context. 

One anecdote to illustrate lighting as a "problem":
I went out to perform an energy audit on a house a couple of months ago because the house was consistently too hot.  I went and inspected the windows (fine), the air conditioner (fine, doing its job), the pipe insulation, the wall insulation (definitely above code) and several other things.
The reason for their discomfort and high air conditioning loads in both summer and winter (!) was due to their lighting system.  It was not an abnormal one in the kinds of houses we work on-- very energy efficient envelope with a very inefficient lighting system.
In this particular case, I told the homeowner how the lighting and thermal comfort of her house were interacting and some of the ways it could be resolved, both in efficient and inefficient ways.  In the end, she chose the most inefficient way to deal with the problem (leaving the lights on and cranking the AC when things get too hot), but it was at least a more informed decision.

With that anecdote I also intend to imply that the clients may indeed insist on an inefficient design, but one that they are most comfortable with.  So be it.  We can at least provide them good alternatives.

Rhetorical Question
I've seen plenty of really elegant and beautiful designs  (our primary concern).  I've never seen an energy efficient one.  I have also never seen a design that explicitly looks at the quantitative performance of space and task lighting.  Why is what is standard in the commercial industry (quantitative lighting effectiveness analysis, and need based application)?

Don't worry, I think I know the answer, and it's none of your, or my faults.  I'm just asking it on behalf of us all.

 I generally distrust the latest meme of mythbusting since it's generally used in a simplistically rhetorical way and not to promote deeper understanding.  Thus I connote, and will aim for the latter.

1.  Halogens are not significantly more efficient than incandescents.  Maybe a little, just because they can operate at higher temperatures.  If incandescents use 100 units of energy, halogens would use about 75-80, but fluorescents would use 10-15.  If light bulbs were cars, switching from incandescents would be like switching from a Hum-Vee to a Cadillac Escalade.  Fluorescents would be a Ford Expedition with the mileage of a plug-in Hybrid.

2.  Dimming is not a meaningful energy savings measure.  Dimming incandescents by 20% might save you 15%, but those energy savings are not linear.  Dimming 40% might save you 25%.  If you just installed a fluorescent (or an expensive LED) then you've already saved 85% out the gate.  And you can dim a fluorescent down with more quasi-linear luminous efficacy (lumens per watt).

3.  Lumens are not nearly as important as evenness in distribution.  The human eye can effectively see from 0.1 lumens per square foot to 10,000 lumens per square foot.  That's 6 orders of magnitude (How's THAT for robust!).  In almost every problematic lighting design I've seen in the past 8 years, the problem has been uneven distribution, and not amount. Of course, the usual answer was more lumens and more waste.

To wit: Puns relating to the spectroscopic.
--When the man with X-Ray vision lost it, he had Ex-X-ray Vision.  When he got it back again, it came with an unhealthy prurience, and now he has XXX-ray visions.  
--Lighting design, like high-energy particle physics, is not for lightweights.  That's because light has no mass, and therefore no weight, unless you believe in the particle side of wave-particle duality, in which case you weigh a photon, which is strangely homophonic with "faux"-ton.  And we all know that all our foes are fakes, (and not real, therefore nonexistent) .   If you are light then you are in fact pure energy, and according to general relativity, time is relatively non-existent for you, so again, you have no wait. 
Even being a lightweight in the quantum boxing world can by itself be a frighteningly existential experience-- especially if you're a cat.

Beginning a list of green-competent lighting designers:  I am Pro-Professional!  (warning-- link has some expletives)

Lighting is a very personal and sensitive part of the home environment.  Many of our clients pay particular attention to lighting quality and design.  They also learn from and trust our lighting consultants.  I have been looking for some lighting designers that I can trust provide by default a functional, practical, and quantitatively modeled design that meets the needs of our clients and is energy efficient.  Here are three that I've found.

The one person on this list that I've met.  He gives lots of classes in lighting, and even some for AIA credit (I remembered Erica!).

Loisos+Ubbelohde in Alameda

Integrated Design Associates in San Jose

Okay, That's quite enough for now.

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