2011 Solar Decathlon Competition Changes Eliminate Lighting Sub-Competition The Solar Decathlon—the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) biennial student competition for the design and construction of energy-efficient homes—has made significant strides in reaching a wide audience and spreading the sustainability message the past five years. The program is modeled using the decathlon format of 10 individual competitions, and lighting has always been one of those—until now.

The 2011 draft rules have eliminated lighting as a separate contest and incorporated qualitative and quantitative lighting evaluations in four other contests: architecture, engineering, market appeal, and home entertainment. When asked about the change, competition manager Michael Wassmer explained that at the end of each Solar Decathlon the DOE evaluates the program in order to make improvements to the event. For the 2009 competition, for instance, given the economic conditions, the student teams were asked to consider issues of affordability.

The DOE is committed to continuing this theme in 2011. “In the past the houses have been more experimental,” Wassmer says. “Going forward, the DOE wants to incentivize teams to build more market-ready homes.” As a result, for 2011 the Decathlon has introduced an “affordability” competition. And because the decathlon structure is based on 10 competitions, not 11, lighting is out as one of the stand-alone evaluations. Wassmer acknowledges that it was a difficult decision and indicates that every effort has been made to integrate lighting evaluations into other areas of the competition criteria. The competition managers incorporated feedback from the 2009 lighting contest jury—lighting professionals Nancy Clanton, Ron Kurtz, and Naomi Miller—in making the assessment.

To ensure that lighting issues will not be overlooked in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, the architecture contest jury will now include a lighting designer. Lighting also will contribute to one-third of the points scored in the architecture contest. Additionally, architecture jury members will now visit the houses both during the day and at night. The lighting contest previously was the only competition in which the jury visited the houses at two different times of the day. Finally, quantitative lighting control items will be evaluated in the engineering contest.

The competition managers are committed to making sure that lighting discussions remain central to the Solar Decathlon evaluations. The draft of the 2011 rules are just that—a draft—and Wassmer indicated that the competition is open to suggestions to ensure that the competition literature appropriately acknowledges lighting in the contest criteria and that decathlon participants are versed in the 2011 updates. For more information about the Solar Decathlon go to solardecathlon.org. ELIZABETH DONOFF

A Taxing Situation: New York Lighting Designers Confront Sales Tax Issue To tax or not to tax? The question of whether a lighting designer must charge New York state sales tax has been the subject of much discussion recently among lighting designers in New York. This conundrum arose as a result of an audit experienced by a New York lighting designer in July 2008, and it has taken nearly two years for the firm to receive a ruling and favorably resolve the issue.

The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance interpreted lighting design services to be the same as interior design services, simplifying lighting as the selection of fixtures. Further compounding the predicament the lighting firm found itself in was the fact that the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance was auditing the office back through 2002 because it had not filed for a Certificate of Authority. This certificate gives a business the authority to collect the required sales and use taxes, to issue or accept sales tax exemption documents, and may protect firms from being audited further back than three years. After extensive discussions and consults with a tax adviser, rounds of tele-conferences with tax department representatives in Albany, N.Y., and assemblage of documents, the lighting design firm received a tax advisory opinion written specifically (and only for this particular lighting design firm) indicating that it would not be retroactively charged. However, as of Dec. 1, 2009, the firm had to begin to charge sales tax.

So what does this all mean for lighting designers practicing in New York? It means that all interior architectural lighting design services when performed under agreement with a New York–based architecture, engineering, interior design, and/or owner, for projects located in or outside the United States are subject to New York state sales tax. Exterior architectural lighting design services are not subject to sales tax. It also means that New York state considers lighting design services the same as interior design services and they can be audited as far back as seven years, unless a firm files for a Certificate of Authority. The state's interior design tax law went into effect in 1971, but further complicating this is the fact that New York City repealed the law on Dec. 1, 1995, so charging sales tax applies to work only done in New York state, not New York City.

While the audit situation that the New York City–based lighting design firm had to deal with certainly was an unpleasant and exhaustive process, the firm's experience has revealed critically important issues that impact all lighting designers in New York: the stipulations for charging sales tax and how lighting design services are understood by bureaucratic entities. The lighting design firm's efforts to seek a reasonable solution has paved the way for other lighting designers to protect their business. Additional links and resources are available on the Lighting 311 website at lighting311.org. ED

Student Projects Shine On March 3, the Illuminating Engineering Society New York City Section (IESNYC) announced the winners of its 10th annual student lighting competition during an award exhibit and reception in New York City. This year's competition, titled “Liminal Luminosity,” asked students to interpret how light “facilitates, defines, or bridges a point of transition, while exploring the spatial, psychological, physiological, and temporal realms of their chosen concepts.” The competition is open to students in New York area schools and is not limited to those enrolled only in lighting programs.