Martyn Frear of CP Electronics explains how efficient, effective and beneficial lighting control can be in the education sector, and how it impacts on design of school buildings
The design of school buildings is advancing fast, with quicker construction via modular building techniques, BREEAM and sustainability making for energy efficient structures, and wellbeing high on the agenda. However one key area can often be overlooked – the lighting. Lighting controls can help tackle many issues that architects and specifiers are facing in today’s market. Today’s lighting controls are incredibly sophisticated in functionality and build quality, helping specifiers and installers to select the most appropriate products for each facility. However, those in control of specification must be fully aware of the options to make sure that they get the right product fit for the application, and for the school.
Holding pupils’ attention spans is one of the biggest teaching challenges of today. New distractions from smartphones and social media do not help. This is where lighting control is important, to help focus the attention and ensure greater wellbeing. Typically, there will be three or four banks of lighting in a classroom. One will be close to the windows, with another at the front where the whiteboard is. Ideally lighting control will adjust lighting accordingly, based on the varying levels of artificial and natural light. This means the lights nearest the windows will automatically dim and adjust their luminosity output. On a sunny day, this may be as low as 25 per cent of their full output. Moving further into the classroom though, and those other banks of lights may only need to dim down to perhaps 75 per cent of their output, or even stay at full, as the natural light does not penetrate through to this inner area. To focus the attention on whiteboards, dimmer switches and control interfaces on lighting should be available so teachers can set the lighting accordingly. They must also be easy to use too, to account for staff with varying degrees of technical competence.
Budget constraints and cost cutting is a key influencer on lighting purchasing, and new school projects are often targeted on delivering ongoing reduction in energy usage. Controls really come to the fore here. For instance, presence detectors ensure lighting is used only when required, creating a well-lit classroom suited to effective learning, and limiting energy use and cost when the classroom is empty. Schools will also often be used for extra-curricular or community-based activities, and traditionally more lights than is necessary will be left on to accommodate this. Commonly, this happens in connecting stairways and corridors. Obviously, this leads to wastage, so architects and specifiers should be looking towards flexible lighting control solutions to optimise usage automatically. As an example, in a classroom, a single long-range directional PIR presence detector may offer the same control as two or more conventional PIR detectors, if we account for the detection patterns and the space we are lighting. This can reduce capital costs and cabling requirements. This applies to corridors too. The directional qualities of some presence detectors can provide maximum coverage with the minimum number of sensors if placed correctly.
A modular approach
Schools are facing more pressure to comply with legislation and guidelines around sustainability. Most notably, this revolves around Part L of the Building Regulations and BREEAM both of which are driving good practice. This has led to a modular building approach by schools – structures made up of pre-manufactured components and then assembled on-site, which reduces time and costs. Lighting controls must also follow suit, with plug and play solutions that can be installed with minimal labour.
Martyn Frear is business development manager at CP Electronics