LEDucate Yourself

By Michael Walch, AIA

When I attend a conference, I have three objectives: see a lot of new products, learn from experts, and enter raffles. This year’s LEDucation exhibition did not disappoint.

Things I Saw

Dim to Warm Capability. At last year’s LEDucation the hot thing seemed to be “tunable white” LEDs—one fixture with very warm (2700K) and very cool (3500K) LEDs side-by side so you could select how cool or warm you want the fixture. It’s a great thought until you realize you’ve pretty much doubled your controls, so this year the phrase “tunable white” was regularly accompanied by sighs and grumbles. It’s not exactly the same, but a lot of manufacturers are offering “dim to warm” LEDs which are a more practical, don’t-have-to-think-about-it solution. As the LEDs dim down, they auto-magically get very amber, more like a traditional incandescent bulb. It’s a nice upgrade.

Dim to Warm

Oxygen LightingThis manufacturer makes very simple, solidly built fixtures. They work well for our projects because they blend well between commercial and residential spaces. The form factors have just enough decorative interest, and they are offering bronze and brass finishes on more fixtures. We used Oxygen recently for the bathrooms at Chait Residence in Staten Island (see photo below).

Bruck by Ledra. This line includes decorative, pendant, and track fixtures. They are very budget-friendly so it’s nice when you find something like this sconce. It’s an open metal loop with a gold finish inside—a really nice accent.

Nuvo by Satco. These fixtures are well-made and budget friendly. We’ve used their fixtures on a few projects, because they’re a good source for simple forms.

Justice Design Group. Bring that alabaster realness! Yes, Justice Design Group is on the ornate residential side of the spectrum, but I was happy to see their line because almost all their shades are made of resin or acrylic, so if you’re looking for a glass alternative with some visual interest, they have good options. They’re also relatively affordable.

Things I Learned

This is my third year in a row attending Marty’s lecture (see slides below, click to expand). Can’t stop, won’t stop. Let’s be clear: it’s not the most fun topic, but the choice in energy code compliance paths (IECC or ASHRAE 90.1) is critical not just for lighting but on your whole project. Marty is a code expert and lighting designer so each year she can both update attendees on the code language differences, as well as consider real-world examples.

Exceptions make the rule, right? They also each have a story. Imagine you’re developing the new energy code and one of your esteemed colleagues arrives to a review meeting with a new outfit, which they’re obviously excited about, but it just looks terrible on them. I presume this was the initial spark that led to exempting mirror lighting in dressing rooms from the limits on total interior connected power under both model codes. Regarding those “nonhuman life forms” (we all see those cats in the upper right of the slide): I love my cat, and she needs light.

Parts of the energy code (ASHRAE 8.4.2 “Automatic Receptacle Controls” in this case) seem designed purely to annoy us. Perhaps the annoyance is a happy side effect but it turns out that while the energy use of lighting, proportionately, has drastically reduced in the past decade, other uses have stayed the same or even increased, and those uses tend to be plug-in devices. So, under ASHRAE 90.1, in some spaces plugs are required to be on a timer to reduce that.

Moving on: what’s flicker (see slide below)? It’s a blinking light source that’s perceptible and annoying. What’s an acceptable level of flicker? That definitely depends on the application, and probably on the individual observer. Now you might be saying to yourself, “These expensive LEDs flicker?” Yes, inherently! Unlike incandescent sources, LEDs have no partial-on state, so dimming is achieved by rapidly cycling them on and off so that you perceive them as dim. This is handled by the driver; it is often a challenge at lower light levels, and different drivers (even from the same manufacturer!) will perform differently. It’s an ongoing challenge and all the more reason to round up sample fixtures for everything on your project.

Let’s say you have a fabulous all-LED installation of about 100 fixtures. But one dies. Unfortunately, we are back to the classic “re-lamping” issue where you may need to replace all the lamps if you want them to match color or dimming performance. LED lighting is evolving at the pace of the semiconductor industry, so LED chips you purchased a year ago are probably not made anymore. It’s important to select fixtures that use swappable LEDs or can be wholly replaced themselves.

Dimming: it’s universally a nice thing to have. The good news is that since all LED fixtures require a “driver” that steps the AC power to DC, almost all fixtures offer some form of dimming option. From there, things get a little crazy. In a nutshell, every component of the system from the diodes all the way back to the controls has to be compatible and even then, like the diagram below shows, different fixtures will behave differently as you move those sliders or spin those dials. All to say: check compatibility all the way across the system and get a sample or mock-up of every fixture type, with a control on it, to understand how it will behave.

If you have a thing for vintage lighting controls, fear not—you can generally use them with LED light fixtures. However, especially where the energy code or program requires more complex zoning and controls, traditional components end up with very complex wiring schemes that are rife for error and inflexible for future changes. Digital controls offer the trade-off of possibly more expensive components but a more simple and flexible physical installation.

Things I Won

Nothing from the raffles unfortunately. But at least I got the takeaways above.

Michael Walch, AIA, has been with ESKW/A since 2011. In addition to being our resident LED-enthusiast, he is currently the project architect on the School Street Residences in Yonkers for St. Joseph’s Community Medical Centers and project manager for the Rockaways Retail and Community Development. His past projects for ESKW/A include Sister Jane Manor (also for St. Joseph’s), DF Mavens Store, and Ocean Wonders: Sharks! (for which he was our shimmer wall expert, among other duties).