Office Lighting The old cliché insists that you can’t please all the people all the time, but Rob Banas, vice president of Leach Wallace Associates, Inc., a highly regarded architectural engineering firm in Baltimore, has proven that you can’t always take stock in clichés.
On any given day, the employees at Leach Wallace’s offices perform many different tasks. From drawings done by hand, to computer aided design (CAD), to data entry and standard administrative functions, the company’s two floors of open office work areas bustle with activity.
Historically, Leach Wallace’s engineers and CAD operators were located in separate areas. But as business increased, the CAD operators were integrated into engineering project teams. Now both CAD operators and engineers were working in the brightly lit open office area. Working almost exclusively on computers, the CAD operators wanted darker work areas because of the glare and reflection created on their screens by overhead fluorescent lights.
Banas could see that CAD operators and engineers had different lighting needs for different tasks in the same area. “We needed more options that just ‘on’ or ‘off’,” he said.
The onsite office Options
To control glare and make the lighting more amenable for everyone, Banas considered new parabolic fixed output fluorescent fixtures. Those fixtures, however, wouldn’t have solved all of the problems of glare on computer screens or address individual needs since lights would still be at a fixed level.
After some investigation from lighting designer Banas, he learned about a unique dimming system that would allow each employee to customize the lighting level at his or her work area with a wireless, hand-held remote control.
Banas had never considered fluorescent dimming. In his experience, it was something reserved for wide areas and controlled by one, centralized, wall-mounted dimmer, but personal fluorescent dimming for each work area seemed like the answer to his lighting dilemma.
The system Banas chose was the Personna Dimming System from Lutron Electronics Co., Inc. Featuring three-lamp, deep-cell parabolic fixtures with built-in dimming ballasts and controls, the Personna System gave Banas more control over his work environment and increased his overall comfort.
office Putting It To The Test
Installation was completed within a matter of days, which was something Banas especially appreciated. “One of the biggest advantages (of the system) is that you can upgrade at a relatively low cost,” Banas noted. “Fixtures took about 15 minutes each to install. I was worried that cost would get out of hand because of labour, but that wasn’t the case at all.” Ninety-five per cent of Leach Wallace’s existing two-by-four foot three-lamp parabolic fixtures were replaced with new Personna three-lamp parabolic dimmable fixtures.
Employee reaction was extremely positive, even in those office areas where fixtures weren’t perfectly aligned with workstations and employees shared a light fixture. There, users simply found a mutually agreeable light level for that specific fixture.
“In addition, we have many workstations around the perimeter of the building with lots of windows,” Banas added. “Here, we’ve found that engineers adjust their lighting levels based on the time of day and the amount of natural light coming through the windows.”
Another advantage Banas noted was the system’s adaptability. “The dimming system has proven to be a real benefit when someone moves to a new workstation. They can instantly adapt the lighting to their primary task and personal needs no matter where they move in the office.”
“Our old, fixed level fluorescent lights caused a lot of glare on my CAD screen,” said mechanical designer Lisa Farrow. “It was very distracting. My eyes were worn out by midday, and sometimes I’d get a headache by the end of the day. With the dimming system, I can reduce the lighting to a comfortable level when I’m on the computer. The glare disappears and the images are much clearer. It’s beautiful! And when I work at my drafting table to review drawings, I turn the lights up to a level I need. The parabolic fixtures allow me to set the light level to my preference without affecting the people around me. We all love it!”
office3 The system also eliminated the overhead sea of unbalanced lighting created by the random removal of lamps. With the new fixtures, differences in light output aren’t readily noticeable across the ceiling.
Over time, another benefit of the dimming system became evident: energy savings. For example, when a light is dimmed by 50 per cent, it consumes 50 per cent less energy. Considering that almost all of Leach Wallace’s lighting fixtures have now been upgraded with the dimming system, energy savings will reduce operating costs and improve the company’s bottom line.
“I think the fact that the dimming is of such high quality is what has made the system a success for us,” Banas pointed out. “It dims very precisely from 100 per cent to two per cent with no noise or flicker.
“I’ve been very impressed with the fixtures as well,” Banas added. “I’ve replaced nearly all of our existing fluorescent fixtures with them. In fact the only ones we didn’t replace were in areas where dimming wasn’t necessary. For the rest we specified two fixtures per workstation-a master with a built-in dimming control, and a satellite that connects to the master for simultaneous dimming.”
“We do a lot of healthcare work,” Banas explained, “and we’re finding that more and more patient care areas are becoming sensitive to light levels. We’re able to offer high-intensity light levels when necessary, such as in exam areas or emergency rooms, and then softer levels in more intimate patient care areas.”
Banas noted that the dimming system has also helped Leach Wallace’s efforts to attract and retain top-level engineers in today’s competitive market. “We love being able to demonstrate this technology to prospective employees, and to our clients, when they visit our offices,” he said. “It really sets us apart from other firms.”
“The dimming system certainly has been an effective, affordable way to enhance employee comfort,” he said. “The dimming system has helped make our office a great place to work.”
What’s a CVS? Studies have concluded that spending as little as three hours per day in front of a computer screen can result in symptoms of eye strain and lead to computer vision syndrome (CVS), a growing-and costly-side effect of computer use in the workplace. The number of CVS sufferers seeking treatment between 1992 and 1995 jumped from 10 million to 15 million, and, according to the American Optometric Association, U.S. companies and their workers combined spend $2 billion per year to diagnose and treat the condition. Experts recommend regular on site office massage visits for work staff but make sure the office lights are dimmed down.