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Upgrade lighting for energy efficiency, and to set a mood

Image of brightly lit modern restaurant interior
Could this restaurant interior gain from a softer, slightly yellow-red light, to add comfort to the room? Lighting designers can ensure that while you're upgrading lighting efficiency, you're also establishing a mood that works for your business.

Choice of light can add to comfort, create an 'inexpensive' feel, or promote productivity

The lighting you choose for your business can not only significantly lower energy bills; it also helps to set the mood in your space.

In short, your lighting says something about you, and your employees and customers will feel it. So, what do you want to say?

"The feel that the lighting gives is based on several different factors," says Cristian Suvagau, senior Power Smart engineer and a lighting specialist. Here some of the things to consider.

Wide variety of energy efficient lighting offers choice in lighting design

Colour temperature is the aspect of light that describes the "whiteness" given off by a lamp. Some bulbs are "warmer" — denoted by temperature on the Kelvin scale, where 2700°K would be similar to an old-fashioned incandescent lamp. We perceive this light as slightly yellow-red, reminiscent of firelight. That sets a homey, comfortable, intimate mood.

It may sound strange, but Suvagau credits that preference to the relatively recent adoption of electric light.

"We evolved on this planet for so long with fire and so little with electrical light that obviously we're still adapted to firelight," says Suvagau. "Electric light has only been around about 150 years. There's no DNA adaptation there."

This is why upscale restaurants and retailers use dimmer, warmer light. It's relaxing, and sets a different pace. However, it's the wrong feeling for many other businesses.

Suvagau tells a story about a major grocery chain that switched to warmer lighting. Customers began to complain that prices were too high, the lighting offering a subtle suggestion that something had become more posh.

"For example, if you go into a small convenience store or a small corner restaurant, you have very inexpensive light, mostly fluorescent," says Suvagau. "It's bright, not too warm — and that creates a sense of effective price. You feel you're not going to be challenged on your wallet, and that's a good thing."

In a fancy retail setting, however, warmer light sets a different expectation. "It's more of a comfy feeling and so all of a sudden it's not a shop, it's an experience," says Suvagau.

Lighting mood affects productivity and visual acuity

"Cooler" light is perceived as more blue. Lamps that offer light with colour temperatures of 3500°K are somewhat neutral, where 4000°K or 5000°K is "cool." Light in this range mimics natural daylight, making it good for office settings.

"About 10 years ago they discovered another photo receptor in the eye," says Suvagau. "It senses when it is day or night based on the light, and it goes straight to the brain, saying, 'Okay, it's time to go to sleep', or, 'It's day time, stay alert.' Basically, cooler light tells your brain it's time to be active."

Suvagau says warm light may be appropriate in certain office settings, for example, the wood-paneled lobby of a law office. But for most office environments, cooler light is better.

"Your eye picks up that blue intake, which in turn make the pupils smaller helping with visual acuity. Light at the cooler end of the spectrum is more conducive to productivity; you have the sensation that you see more clearly."

There are specialty lamps that run to much cooler temperatures, 5000°K and more. But Suvagau warns that too much blue isn't good either — it starts to induce eye fatigue. So stick with a temperature range around 4000-5000°K for the best effect.

Work with a professional to find the right lighting

Lighting technology is evolving quickly. Compact fluorescent bulbs, still portrayed as the "curly" icon of energy efficiency, are being surpassed by better options in some applications.

Manufacturers of efficient lighting are responding to market demands — for example, some dimmable white LED bulbs add more red as they dim, to mimic the way incandescent bulbs glow at low light.

The colour temperature of the light, plus the ability of lamps to dim, are two ways that mood is set by lighting. How efficiently those lights perform is determined by the wattage of lamps, their effective placement in relation to visual task areas, controls such as motion sensors that turn lights off when not needed, and dimming (which reduces electricity usage).

With so many factors, getting professional help can be the best option. Members of the Power Smart Alliance are consultants, contractors and suppliers who are well versed in energy efficient options and BC Hydro incentive programs.

"Unless you really know what you're doing, then you may buy things that don't work for you, and it can be hard to even return it," says Suvagau. "Using a professional helps, especially now when the technology is maturing.

"If you use a professional, it doesn't mean you have to pay more for the quality. You end up paying probably less."