Blog - Get the light right with the right light.

Looking towards a large ceiling to floor window, partially covered with large etched dots to act as light controlLighting is a topic I like to write about reasonably regularly. It’s one of the areas I’ve noticed that seems to be cropping up more and more in terms of health issues, and so I think it’s worth dwelling more on why this is, and what we can do about it given that most of us are not lighting specialists.

For example, we recently received a request to go and see a client who has developed tired eyes and increasingly severe headaches since moving into their new office. These headaches are coming with increasing rapidity and it’s logical to wonder why. Surely it’s reasonable to think that brand new offices would have the lighting absolutely spot on given that they have only just been built? Well sadly no. In my experience, this does not seem to be the case. And inadequate lighting, combined with the many more hours we spend looking at a computer screen or other digital devices, means our eyes are starting to show the strain and let us know this is the case, even from a much younger age. Headaches are a common add-on to tired eyes as we continue to gaze, invariably with too much or too little light, at a screen.

Although eye specialists say too much or too little light won’t affect your eyesight, it will however cause eye strain, which in turn causes headaches. Plus, as published by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information, there is also a direct correlation with tight neck and shoulder muscles and how much light there is on your screen and surroundings (this is known as visual ergonomics), so if you want to be working in a healthy workplace, lighting is an important aspect to consider. But how do you know what to choose for office lighting, be it commercially or a home based office if you are not an expert in the lighting field?

Desks in large open plan office, with half closed blackout blinds on windowsIn terms of an office build, construction companies and builders will employ electricians or a lighting design company, who will generally install a recommended number of lights in a ceiling according to the amount of space in the office. In larger spaces, this can also vary according to whether there are shopping aisles or shelves to be looked at.

Can you rely on an electrical company to have the right information for your specific business? Will an architect have the correct knowledge about this specialist area of lighting? After all, it’s not only looking at buying the right product for the job, you also have to consider the ongoing costs of maintenance.  Things to consider when you’re purchasing include the type of the lights being used ie LED vs fluorescent, with the higher initial costs of LED, but longer life span, however, LEDs can also create headache issues if not the right type or situated in the right place.

Another consideration is whether to add in daylight reactive dimming controls or occupancy sensors which will both reduce excess light when not required. These features will reduce running costs long term, but to be really cost effective, need to be considered at the planning stage.

Unfortunately, all too often, by the time I arrive with a light meter to check on the suitability of the lighting in your workspace, the costs to change the lighting set-up or add in task lighting, can be significant. However, help is at hand. You can get some expert advice from the Illuminating Engineering Society – check their website for members (although I was unable to locate any in the South Island). And (partly) through the EECA – Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) who promote energy efficiency, energy conservation and the use of energy from renewable sources. They have an excellent section on their website – which has many resources within it, but again, if you live in this part of the world, delving deeper, it is hard to find any recommended South Island based lighting specialists.

Their site – should you not have a chance to read it – also includes the following information on how to create a well lit environment:

  • Maximise natural daylight levels, but avoid glare.
  • Choose light colours for walls and ceilings to help create a comfortable and pleasant environment.
  • Select and place fittings that distribute light on the ceiling and vertical surfaces, to create a sense of spaciousness.
  • Use light sources with a high colour rendering index and a 4000 K colour temperature to improve visual comfort and to help keep staff alert.
  • Allow zoning so people can dim lights or switch them off when they’re not needed, saving electricity and extending the time between maintenance checks.

Other things I advise you to consider when you are involved in a new office build or a revamp or your office, include:

  • The type of work your staff do
  • Where workstations are going to be positioned
  • Allowing for growth in number of workstations
  • Whether you have a lot of natural light in the work space (there’s no point having ceiling lights right next to a large window)
  • Whether you want LED lights and which type to get – do they have an angle of lighting or do they shine directly down (the former are preferable)?
  • Types of covering on the lights (most clients I have known find an LED bulb with no covering is too bright)
  • Position of workstations so that they don’t get sunlight directly onto the computer monitors, or if they do, make sure the windows have good blinds (including blackout if required) to manage this

I recommend that if you are planning to move into a new office or renovate your existing premises, or are simply re-doing your lighting, that you find a lighting designer or expert in this field when using an architect or construction company. They will have the required expertise to get the best result for you, and will potentially save you significant amounts of money in the long run.

Plus, as you will be taking care of their wellbeing, your staff – either knowingly or unknowingly, as those avoidable headaches are kept at bay – will appreciate that initial investment!