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The ensuing dramatic, permanent transformation of how commercial space is used after the COVID-19 pandemic is likely the most unprecedented simultaneous challenge and opportunity that business leaders in the construction industry have ever had to face. The transition back to the workplace after the initial lockdown is already in progress.

According to a poll by Gartner, companies will be integrating remote work for employees but a majority of them plan on having a percentage of their workforce report to a physical location. As the business leaders of the construction industry focus on meeting the ever-more-acute expectations of building occupants in the areas of safety, comfort, energy savings, sustainability and productivity, upgrading to human-centric lighting (HCL) is one way the industry can leap ahead in the new paradigm. By incorporating advanced LED lighting, HCL is a cost-effective means to dramatically increase occupant comfort, satisfaction and performance, all the while reaping energy savings and sustainability benefits.

Building for Health

HCL—an evolving, symphonic amalgamation and integration of electronics, software, sensor and other IoT technologies—aims to optimize the positive impact of lighting on human health and wellbeing. Extensive research has shown that altering the intensity of light (bright or dim), the distribution of light (where the light source is located), the spectrum of the light (correlated color temperature) and how the light is presented at different times of day (typically brighter around midday and dimmer in the evening to synchronize with human biological clock) directly impacts health and wellbeing, according to Journal of Circadian Rhythms. These impacts include the timing of an individual’s circadian rhythm (sleep/wake cycle), their mood and their ability to focus on tasks, according to research published in the journal Somnologie.

According to World Green Building Council, total business operating expenses include 90% staff and 1% energy costs. If lighting equates to 20% of an organization’s 1% energy cost and LEDs can eliminate 50% of lighting cost, LED lighting can reduce 0.1% of these total energy expenses. Published studies on HCL have shown significant increases in productivity and learning efficiency. In a study by University College of London, an experimental workplace with circadian lighting played a role in improving productivity by up to 20%, making employees 38% calmer and 10% more focused than their colleagues in the control group. A 20% increase in productivity would translate into benefits of at least 18% of total expenses versus 0.1% from energy savings. By upgrading to HCL, organizations can benefit from 180 times of energy savings.

As LED lighting became commoditized over the past few years, unfortunately, many LED lamps come with severe flicker. Negative impacts include visual fatigue, headaches, migraines and reduced task performance, as well as exacerbated autistic and epileptic seizures, according to a study in PLOS ONE. Flicker in lighting occurs as a result of modulating the current to electric light sources and can be easily avoided by using quality flicker-free or low-flicker lamps. The hazard of flicker is augmented when the frequency of flickering is faster than what human eyes can detect, yet such imperceptible flicker is still negatively impacting our physiology, brain and cognition.

Lighting Controls: No Longer a Hurdle for HCL Adoption

Another bottleneck for mass adoption of HCL has been lighting controls, which are traditionally complex and costly. However, using power-line communication instead of 0-10v dimming (which requires separate communication cables) or wireless control systems can eliminate much of the cost by avoiding time-consuming and costly system integration. Power-line communication also does not bring any cybersecurity risks, a feature that is particularly attractive to mission critical facilities for government, financial, health care and higher education organizations.

Alongside the various control platforms are the illumination sources. The two leading options are integrated LED luminaires and tunable tube-based LEDs (TLED). Integrated luminaires offer a consolidated lighting system at the expense of upgradeability, increased cost and higher environmental impact at disposal. High quality dimmable and tunable TLEDs, on the other hand, offer far more affordable mechanism to introduce HCL without the need of installing new troffers, thus avoiding incurring significant lifecycle waste and cost generated from replacing the whole fixtures by integrated luminaires.

Buildings with HCL Positioned to be Change Agent for Occupant Satisfaction and Performance

 In a matter of months, COVID-19 has elevated performance expectations on buildings by building occupants, owners, operators and regulators more rapidly and massively than sustainability standards, like LEED and WELL, have done over years. HCL—with its current capabilities of minimizing flickering and providing circadian lighting and future prospects of adding more impactful features such as UV disinfection—has enormous and timely potential to bring immediate visible and physiological impacts to occupants. The construction industry has distinct potential to not only keep buildings relevant to the world post-COVID-19, but also transform into a forward-thinking and trend-setting change agent for human performance.


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