Lighting a commercial building isn’t a simple task. The needs of a business are often complex, and meeting those needs requires a solid understanding of how light works in a commercial space. Much like a business plan has several objectives, a commercial lighting plan typically has several objectives or goals.
Common Goals for Commercial Lighting
- Increased productivity, performance, and morale of workers
- Safety of employees and customers
- Comfort and ambiance
- Smooth transitions from space to space
- Cost savings on utility bills
- Branding and cohesiveness
To achieve all of your goals simultaneously, your best bet is to consult with a lighting expert with a thorough understanding of the best practices for commercial lighting in your area. But before you do, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the basics of commercial lighting.
Know How Much Light You Need
First, consider usage. Factory work zones will have very different lighting requirements from restaurant dining areas. Areas where detailed or dangerous work will be done need brighter light for accuracy and safety. Always remember to refer to your industry’s regulations regarding commercial lighting as a part of your planning.
Light recommendations for commercial spaces are given in foot-candles, which is a measure of the intensity of light. If you were to hang a single bulb in a room and measure foot-candles throughout the space, you’d find that the foot-candles are the highest directly under the bulb. You can even out light coverage and increase the overall intensity of the lighting by spreading several lights out across a space.
Light output for bulbs and fixtures is measured in lumens, with higher lumens correlating to more light. To determine how many lumens you need in a space, multiply the square footage by the foot-candle recommendation. For example, a 100sqft office, which needs 30-50 foot-candles, will require 3000-5000 lumens. Lumens are cumulative, meaning you can add the lumens for each fixture together to determine the overall lumens in a space.
Commercial Foot-Candle* Recommendations
While these may vary a little depending on usage and safety requirements, these recommendations will get you to a good starting point that you can tweak if you want more or less light.
*Foot-Candles is an Imperial measurement. Lux is the Metric equivalent. To convert from Foot-Candles to Lux, multiply the foot-candles by 10.764. 1 foot-candle = 10.764 lux.
Pay Attention to Durability
The fixtures you choose need to be appropriate for the conditions in which they’ll be installed. Weather and humidity should be considered for outdoor spaces like patio dining, and indoor spaces like showers and laundry. In areas where a fixture could come into unwanted contact, such as gyms and classrooms, choosing fixtures with strong coverings that protect the bulbs is a must. Also, consider the amount of time the lights will be used each day – not all fixtures are designed to be on 24/7/365.
Use Consistent Light Temperature
The temperature, or color, of light (measured in Kelvins) significantly affects how a room, and the people in it, will feel. At lower Kelvins, light appears warm and yellow. Light at high Kelvins appears cool and blue. The temperature of the light you use needs to be consistent to avoid awkward and clashing transitions. A warm yellow bulb in a sea of bright white will look out of place.
Natural light changes color throughout the day, from warm dawn to cool midday and warm dusk. Because of this our brains are wired to respond to light temperature, which is important to consider in a commercial setting. Cool light makes people feel more alert, awake, and focused – great for labs and workspaces. Warm light makes people feel relaxed and at ease – the perfect choice for creating a mood in a restaurant dining room. Warm light is also much easier on the eyes at night, which is something to consider for outdoor lighting (if you’ve ever driven past an electronic billboard at night and been blinded by the whites and blues, you’ll know what we mean!)
Determine the Type of Light
Light Layering is an important lighting design concept that references the need for light to come from several sources to make a space more comfortable and functional. Layering light is a universal trick, but it’s especially important for commercial spaces.
- General / Ambient Lighting – the overall light in a space, usually provided by overhead lighting.
- Task Lighting – additional lighting for areas where work is done, such as a desk lamp or a pendant hung over a countertop.
- Accent Lighting – decorative lighting focused on a particular area or object, often used to highlight architectural features, artwork, exhibits, etc.
- Direct Lighting – Light that shines directly from a fixture to an object or space. This type of lighting is perfect for illuminating important areas, but can cause headaches for employees that must work underneath them
- Indirect Lighting – Light that is diffused or reflected into a space. Indirect lighting generally lights larger areas with a softer (but not necessarily dimmer) light that is easy on the eyes.
An effective lighting plan should include a combination of the above types of light, coordinated to get the right light to the right places. This will “layer” light across the space.
Other Things to Consider
- Natural Light – natural light is a mood and energy booster, so it’s important to include it whenever possible. It can also be counted as a light source, which means you can sometimes get away with using fewer lights during daylight hours.
- CRI – Short for the Color Rendering Index, CRI is a measure of a light’s ability to reveal the colors of objects. CRI is measured from 0 to 100 – lights with a CRI of 100 will show colors in their truest form, and lights with a CRI of 0 will make all colors look the same. In retail especially, it’s very important to have lighting with a high CRI to attract customers to displays and make products look their best. High-quality LEDs are typically the best option if CRI is important to your business. Aim for a CRI of 90-100.
- Bulb Type – The most popular bulbs for commercial use are LED – they’re energy-efficient, can be dimmable, and come in a wide range of color options. Fluorescent or CFL bulbs are also popular, but they’re not usually dimmable, and they often have a noticeable flicker that can give some people migraines. Halogen is another option commonly used in commercial lighting. An important thing to note is that halogen bulbs produce a lot of heat, and can be a fire hazard if the fixtures are installed near flammable materials.
- Glare and Reflection: Light will bounce off reflective surfaces. You can use this to your advantage, and use mirrors or gloss finishes to help reflect light around a space. It can also be an issue if the light bounces in unintended directions, like into employees’ eyes as they work or through a window into traffic.
Energy Efficiency and Savings
Keeping the lights on costs money, but there are plenty of ways to save. Lights with dusk/dawn sensors keep lights off during the day and turn them on when it gets dark without you having to flip a switch. Lights with motion sensors are a great option for places with regular (but not constant) use, like exam rooms and restrooms, because they’ll only use power when the room is occupied. Smart lights can be programmed to turn off and on at a certain time of day. Many can be controlled remotely with an app, which makes them an attractive option for those long days when you can’t remember if you flipped the switch on the way out of the office.
As you shop for lighting, you may notice that some options have a blue Energy Star logo on the packaging. Energy Star is a U.S. government-backed organization that certifies fixtures and appliances that use less energy. The Energy Star certification makes it easy to identify options that will use less power, which will translate to a lower utility bill.
Always Consider Safety
The safety of customers and employees in a commercial environment is always one of the most important things to consider. Always check your industry’s laws and guidelines regarding safety requirements to be sure you’re in compliance. Some of the things you’ll want to use lighting to protect against include: accidents and falls, fire hazards, discomfort, crime, employee productivity, and emergencies.
Indoors, you’ll need to be sure that your exit signs and directional signage are in highly visible locations. Choose lighting that is both adequate for the work to be performed and comfortable for those that work in it. Poor lighting won’t just decrease productivity and make accidents more likely; it can also hurt morale and lower employee satisfaction. It’s also important to keep stairwells well-lit to prevent falls and deter crime in less visible areas. Replace old wiring and faulty fixtures to avoid fire hazards.
Outdoors, be sure to light all areas regularly used from dusk to dawn, including walkways, paths, and parking areas. Ensure any trip hazards, such as stairs or a raised sidewalk, are well-lit to avoid accidents. Install adequate lighting around exterior entrances to keep employees safe while dealing with door locks. Motion sensor lights can also be a helpful crime deterrent near doors, windows, or important outdoor features. Always be sure that all outdoor fixtures and bulbs are rated for outdoor use.
After slogging through all of the requirements, recommendations, and acronyms, it can be easy to forget that aesthetics matter too – and they have a huge impact on your business! Lighting that looks good makes your business comfortable and memorable. Once you’ve met the safety requirements, it’s time to bring some life and character to your space.
Make Your Building Shine
When choosing lighting, pay attention to the style of the building. Match the finishes and styles of your fixtures to the building’s architecture as much as possible so they don’t feel out of place with the rest of the building. Use accent lighting to highlight beautiful features, like an original brick wall or a water fountain.
Lighting and Branding
You can also use lighting to emphasize your branding! Don’t be afraid to go bold or playful with a statement lighting piece in your brand’s colors in the foyer. High CRI lighting around signage and branded decor like furniture or murals will keep your brand colors in sharp focus. Use accent lighting to spotlight things that matter to your brand, like a memorabilia collection, company history display, community outreach projects, employee recognition, etc. To really kick it up a notch, consider installing color-changing lights around the exterior of your building that can be lit up for holidays or with your brand colors for special occasions.
You Don’t Have to Do It Alone
The most important thing to remember with your commercial lighting needs is that you don’t have to do it alone. As a business owner, you understand the need to rely on subject matter experts for specialized tasks. You wouldn’t want your accountant to design your logo, and you shouldn’t rely on just anyone to get your lighting right. At Lumenarea, we specialize in making homes and businesses shine – and we’re passionate about getting it right. For your next commercial lighting project, let us handle the heavy lifting. Check out our website, or give us a call and schedule a consultation.