Energy Efficiency | June 23, 2020

A 3-Step Process for Building Effective Lighting Controls Systems

A lot is asked of a lighting control system. When you flip a switch or adjust a dimmer to achieve a desired effect, there’s a litany of design, material and labor choices that go into making sure the system behaves correctly. As a project manager, one of the most challenging and rewarding parts of my job is designing and implementing these lighting controls. But how do you start?  How do you go from a metaphorical – and sometimes literal – blank page to a full-blown, building or campus-wide system? Using one of Mantis Innovation's recent projects for an educational institution as an example, I will walk you through how a great lighting control system is built.

How to design effective lighting controls for commercial / industrial buildings

  1. Choose the correct lighting application platform

  2. Select a trusted and experienced subcontractor

  3. Program the system for customized usage, energy efficiency and desired results

Understanding differences between lighting controls platforms

Choosing the correct platform for the application is the first decision to make. While many manufacturers offer a control system in their portfolio, not all control schemes are created equal.  Knowing a system’s strengths and weaknesses, and how those factors may benefit or limit a project plays a key role in making that initial choice.

For this project, a laboratory and classroom building at a college in central Massachusetts, we needed a system that was both easy and intuitive to use, while offering a fine level of control and monitoring.

Academic spaces pose a unique challenge when it comes to lighting controls. Within a single building, you may see three or four distinct environments, each with their own needs. In this case, we encountered labs which demanded high levels of lighting, classrooms and offices with their own needs, and spaces with active science experiments which required the lighting to mimic day and night cycles. These types of need sets will help you determine the right controls platform for the space you’re upgrading.

As a product agnostic Energy Service Company (ESCO) focused on designing solutions, the Efficiency Solutions division of Mantis can pick from any controls systems for projects like this one. Ultimately, we decided to utilize a system with the ability to set schedules and light levels at the granular level. Additionally, the platform can be adapted for future use. Its design allows for integration into building management systems and can easily handle the introduction of additional control points.

Why experienced support staff matters to lighting controls projects

With a system specified, the second decision is to choose the correct subcontractor to install the controls. This installation process is often not as straightforward as you might think. As such, it is key to work with an electrician who is familiar with the system and can help mitigate any challenges encountered during installation.

In this instance, Mantis was tasked with not only installing a new system but removing an obsolete one as well. We are fortunate to have built up a national network of many talented electricians, and our subcontractor did an admirable job on this project. We painstakingly traced the old system throughout the building, disabling control points as we went, ensuring that our new system could function unimpeded. 

Programming lighting systems

The final decision to make in the installation of a lighting control system is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable: how is this system going to function.

In this case, programming and fine-tuning the system meant coordinating with the various faculty and staff in the building. The challenges in this case are less technical ones and more practical, human ones. Making the sure the lighting in the building functions exactly as required is where the system really comes to life.

It was great fun to sync the lobby lights with rising and setting of the sun, set light at the perfect level for students and faculty, and generally tailor the building to be as energy efficient as possible.

As easy as flipping a switch

So, there you have it! There are three important decisions to make when choosing and installing a lighting controls system: What platform best suits your needs? Who should you hire to install your system of choice? And how do you make the system you installed come to life and work for you? If you can answer those questions, you are well on your way to finding the ideal lighting control system.

It may not be quite as easy as just flipping a switch, but once your project manager finishes initial programming of your system, it should be relatively simple moving forward. Customizing lighting controls solutions to meet the needs of commercial/industrial building occupants not only saves energy but can have lasting and significant impact for the folks that frequent the buildings.


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