The future of lighting is green

Mike Bolduc, C&K


Environmental considerations for commercial modern lighting

Performance and reliability are key requirements when it comes to keeping commercial buildings safe, comfortable and functioning. However, oftentimes eco-friendly considerations come second. Of course, this is easier said than done, as engineers must balance strict usage and durability requirements while also creating products that are environmentally friendly.

Because replacing or upgrading costly equipment every year to meet new environmental and industry standards just isn’t viable, it’s important to start integrating green initiatives from the beginning. 

To help design engineers keep this in perspective, here are some best practices for engineers when it comes to creating green lighting products. We’ll cover how to implement eco-friendly, energy-efficient designs without sacrificing reliability and performance for some of the key commercial building applications.

Retrofit lighting

Consider this: lighting represents 19 percent of global electricity consumption and 23 percent of electricity consumption in the U.S. With these statistics, it’s no wonder building owners are constantly looking for ways to use it more efficiently. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), one of the easiest ways to reduce a building’s carbon footprint is to retrofit lighting.

A lighting retrofit not only makes lighting more energy-efficient by upgrading the lamps, fixtures, sensors and controllers, but can often offset the cost of these projects over time. The best news? Most of the devices used for these upgrades only require simple tact, pushbutton or DIP switches – low-cost products as opposed to costly touch screens and displays - in order to interface with the end user.

Occupancy/motion sensors

For improved lighting efficiency, one of the most common products is the occupancy, or motion sensor. These products can be mounted in a corner of the room, be part of a wall light switch or be mounted on the ceiling in the case of high bay sensors used in warehouses. The device typically incorporates a passive infrared (PIR) sensor to determine movement. Many of these sensors require the use of a DIP switch to adjust sensitivity and timing settings. DIP switches are generally required to have low profile miniature footprints and have a contact system which can resist corrosion and provide reliable switching at low current levels.

C&K’s SPA single in-line DIP switch has a high-pressure contact system that does not require tape sealing and has retention features that hold a part to the PCB prior to soldering. These switches can be used for a variety of applications, including LED signage, occupancy sensors, wireless wall switches, and LED street lighting.

Daylight sensors

Using daylight sensors combined with automated shade or shutter controls can help reduce electricity consumption by turning off or dimming the lights when enough ambient outdoor light is available. The controllers used to program or manually actuate the shades often use tact switches for the user interface. The haptic properties and long-term reliability of the tact switches selected can have a big impact on the quality perception of the end product.

C&K’s KSC2 switch is part of its popular KSC tactile switch family. Offering engineers and designers excellent tactile feeling, low profiles and actuator and sealing options to suit any design, the KSC2 is often used in applications such as integrated room controls, room occupancy sensors, programmable light timers, lighting controllers and shade controls.

Dimmers and programmable timers

Dimmers and programmable timers are popular wall switches that can be used for lighting efficiency in green buildings. These devices can be hard-wired to the building or be managed wirelessly by a remote controller for easy use. For wireless switches, there is often a need to use standard or rotary coded DIP switches for network addressing of the wall module.

Tact switches are also commonly used under the buttons to actuate or program the wall unit. These tact switches need to perform reliably over many years of repeated cycling and also have the appropriate haptics (or sound and feel) to add to the overall quality and performance perception of the application.

Building control systems

In large buildings, lighting devices are typically managed by a building control system. Most of these devices employ some type of tact or pushbutton switch for setup, programming and manual zone control. Similar to the dimmers and programmable timers, the tact switches in building control systems need to have appropriate haptics so it’s easy for the technician to work with in case something malfunctions or needs to be repaired. Because these controllers are usually located in utility rooms or remote parts of the building away from more populated areas, they must be able to withstand dirty and dusty environments, as well as potential variations in temperature.

Upgrading commercial lighting systems or starting from scratch may seem daunting, but there are already huge strides being made industry-wide. Today, there are more than 36,400 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified commercial projects, representing nearly 5.5 billion square feet, and an additional 53,200 projects in the pipeline waiting to be certified, which will add more than 11.6 billion square feet of space. Every day, more than 2.2 million square feet of space certifies to LEED, according to the USGBC. At this rate, environmental priorities are no longer a pipedream, but a necessity for the buildings of the future.

From carbon emission mandates to green building certification, the global movement towards energy-efficient buildings is in full swing and is only gaining steam. These energy-saving lighting retrofits serve as examples of how commercial building operators can achieve high-functionality while keeping environmental factors top of mind. Otherwise, they run the risk of falling behind.