My first experiences with lighting controls weren’t good. In the 1980s, a cousin of mine, knowing that I’d be interested, was showing off the new occupancy sensors he had just installed in his Providence, Rhode Island home. We were sitting in the living room chatting quietly when—you guessed it—the lights went out. Throughout the evening, if one of us hadn’t recently gotten up for a beer, we would have to periodically flail our arms or clap to keep the lights from switching off.
Then around 1990, I was intrigued with the idea of dimming fluorescent ballasts and got hold of one of the first to try in our office, at the time located above my garage. After both that ballast and its replacement failed, I gave up and bought a standard nondimming electronic ballast.
Not an auspicious entrée into the world of lighting controls!
The good news is that lighting controls have come a long way since then. They cover the spectrum from simple toggle switches all of us are familiar with to sophisticated energy management systems that detect who’s in a space, measure how much natural daylight is available, judge the lighting requirements based on programmed inputs, account for electricity prices and electric demand charges, then regulate light output accordingly to save the maximum amount of energy and money.
This article should serve to acquaint you with the basics of this quickly evolving aspect of design. The information—as is true for lighting controls in general—will be most pertinent to commercial-building applications, where lighting controls are most commonly used, but much of it is also relevant to residential buildings—where lighting controls are gradually gaining a foothold.