Real Estate

High-quality automated shading slashes lighting energy use, while at the same time enhancing occupant comfort. Modern LED lighting with advanced controls also greatly cuts lighting energy use, and offers superior results. These are among key findings of research undertaken by the Portland, Ore.-based New Buildings Institute (NBI). The insights should provide commercial real estate owners and operators with keys into implementing lighting and shading retrofits in today’s commercial buildings.

In 2017, NBI spearheaded a major research undertaking underwritten by the California Energy Commission. Titled “Leading in LA,” the project addressed the crucial need to deliver cost-effective, scalable means of dramatically reducing energy use in existing commercial buildings throughout the Golden State. Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and well-known energy-efficiency companies took part in the four-year endeavor, which incorporated lab testing and field demonstrations at two sites.

Critical takeaways

One of the key findings of the research was that automating window shading can drive a range of benefits. The problem with conventional treatments – ranging from traditional blinds with strings to fabric shades – is that they are manually operated. That means reaping their benefits — including counteracting direct sunlight, glare and overheating – is dependent on their being manually opened and closed by building occupants.

Too often, those occupants can’t be bothered or forget to take on the task. The result is computer screen glare, interior temperatures warmer than they should be, and failed opportunities to connect with nature through sight lines to the great outdoors.

However, the pre-programmable fabric shades available today can be automatically lifted and lowered based on sunlight patterns. Those pre-programmed functions free employees from taking on the job themselves, and ensure benefits are realized.

A second finding made clear today’s LED lighting systems, which feature advanced controls so precise they can automate individual fixtures, dramatically reduce lighting energy use and deliver outstanding outcomes.

Modern innovative office building lighting systems are dominated by LED lighting, which can be finetuned to automatically dim or shut off individual fixtures within the system, depending on the needs of users nearby. During COVID-19, those working remotely got used to being able to adjust their lighting at home. Upon their return to the workplace, they should be able to override the lighting system, adjusting their own assigned fixture to match their needs and desires.

One of the two Leading in LA demonstration sites was Welch Hall at California State University Dominguez Hills. There, central plant and energy manager Kenny Seeton found occupants very positively impacted.

“Almost everyone was super happy,” he says. “I wish there was a happiness meter so we could quantify it. We’ve made people more comfortable because we’ve given them ownership and control of their light levels that they never had before. Now they can set the lights to where they want.”

Post-COVID relevancy

Automated shading and lighting have taken on new emphasis during the pandemic, and will continue to be of great concern afterwards. The absence of automated systems would mean the energy in a building would stay completely on from early morning to early evening, whether one thousand or ten people were in the building.

The move to hybrid staffing operations, in which employees can work from home one or two days a week, makes integrated lighting and shading even more important, putting lighting exactly where it’s needed, when it’s needed. One trend being seen in the post-COVID world is the inclination of building owners to upgrade lighting and HVAC systems simultaneously, providing a healthier post-pandemic work environment.

“Integration is really the key to today’s technologies,” says Cathy Higgins, NBI research director. “The owners and facility managers should be looking at multiple systems at the same time, proactively, keeping the building as contemporary, efficient, comfortable and as attractive as possible.”

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