Mikey Burton

If you want to find a project type that embodies all of the potentially tricky issues involved with using LED lighting, college and university campuses are it. Higher education facilities contain nearly every building type — from dormitories to classrooms, from athletic and performing arts venues to daycare facilities. Furthermore, many of these facilities have been in use for more than 50 years, and will continue to be in use for at least another 50. Because of this, university facilities departments take the long view on costs, maintenance, and energy bills.

But the bottom line is not the only goal when a college or university is trying to attract top faculty members and administrators, students and their parents, and potential benefactors. Buildings and grounds need to look attractive and communicate the institution's image and ideals.

In May 2010, the U.S. Department of Energy hosted a special three-day workshop in Portland Ore., focused on higher education facilities and supported with funds allocated from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, with the purpose of jump-starting a candid conversation among solid-state lighting (SSL) luminaire manufacturers and the people who specify, purchase, install, and maintain SSL luminaires. The workshop was intentionally kept small to give participants an opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues. Presenters included lighting designers, engineers, and university facilities managers, and the audience consisted principally of SSL fixture and component manufacturers, as well as individuals from affiliated industries.

THE HIGHER EDUCATION MARKET According to presenter Jean Stark, a partner at JMZ Architects and Planners in Glens Falls, N.Y., a firm that specializes in education projects, higher-education construction is a major market. There are more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States, with approximately 13 million students enrolled in public institutions and another 4 million enrolled in private ones. The schools encompass 5 billion square feet of space, spending more than $18 billion annually on energy, and emitting more than 19 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Greater social and environmental awareness, in conjunction with a push for energy efficiency, has prompted 686 college and university presidents to sign the Presidents' Climate Commitment. The Commitment requires schools to complete a greenhouse gas inventory, establish short- and long-term actions for becoming climate neutral, and to set a date toward achieving that goal. Consequently, facility engineers and architects are feeling the pressure to reduce the carbon footprint of their buildings and grounds. New lighting technologies such as LEDs are one way to curb energy use, but they don't come without a few hiccups.

FACILITY ENGINEERS' AND MANAGERS' PERSPECTIVES Two facility engineers—Christie Day from the Yale School of Medicine and William Evans from Princeton University—shared some of their experience. They noted that space comes at a premium, especially in laboratory or medical facilities. Shallow-profile LED products are desirable because there is little space above ceilings for lighting and electrical equipment, but these types of shallow surface-mounted fixtures seem to be missing from the marketplace.

Furthermore, time pressures often preclude creating mock-ups, so decisions are based on cut-sheets. Both speakers implored manufacturers to publish literature that illustrates all operable conditions of the luminaire (including product dimensions) so that facility engineers can anticipate how to access and maintain potential products. It is problematic to maintain ballasts or drivers mounted on top of recessed luminaire housings, because the whole fixture must be removed from the ceiling for maintenance.

Facilities also need longer-life lamps and improved daylight and occupancy sensor controls, and all controls need to have a user-friendly interface. Campuses want to be progressive and use new technology, but they still need predictable performance and reasonable payback on their investment.

LIGHTING DESIGNERS' PERSPECTIVES One of the many challenges facing lighting designers is the amount of time that they find themselves spending to educate their clients about LEDs for use in architectural lighting applications. It's an uphill climb, given that LEDs are everywhere in consumer electronics and clients think that they understand how LEDs work.

All of the lighting-designer presenters—Randy Burkett, Patty Glasow, Chad Groshart, Jeff Miller, and Sandra Stashik—stressed that they focus first on meeting criteria (visibility, visual comfort, economics, energy, controls needs, luminaire features, etc.), not on the type of light source. LEDs are but one tool in a very comprehensive lighting toolbox. They also noted that when designing with LEDs, specifications have to be much more detailed; designers have to dig for appropriate components in a way that is not necessary with other technologies.