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LD+A The Magazine of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America

Lighting Research & Education  

Balancing Energy Codes With the Vision Needs of Seniors

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Seniors need more light, but energy codes restrict the amount they can have. This was a key topic during the recent IES Light + Seniors Symposium. For the most part, energy codes do not make a distinction about age and lighting levels. Some codes do exempt senior communities from complying with the energy code but not always in a clear, concise manner. Code inspectors who work for jurisdictions are responsible for seeing that all codes are met when a building, commercial or residential, is under construction. Some of these inspectors have objected that older people are not vision-impaired and thus cannot be exempt from the code. The exemptions are hidden and not always found in the same place. Sometimes the exemption is in the electrical code, sometimes it is in the energy code but vaguely stated. Rarely is IES RP 28 Lighting and the Visual Environment for Senior Living listed as the governing authority. Enforcement varies from state to state and from community to community. In some areas there is an energy code but it is not enforced; in other states the code is strictly enforced.

Not surprisingly, this muddled situation can pose a challenge for the lighting community. But good news is on the horizon due to five developments that may help solve the current jumble of codes and regulations:

  1. New LPD. ASHRAE’s Energy Committee is reviewing and studying the creation of a lighting power density (LPD) for senior living communities. This means that as part of the ASHRAE energy standard a specific section will address the lighting levels needed for older people. The committee has surveyed the lighting in many senior living communities as part of its work. RP 28 from the IES is under consideration as the baseline for establishing lighting power densities. ASHRAE/IESNA 90.1 is the national basis for energy code adoption by the states. We could see this major change added to 90.1 shortly.
  2. A national database. The creation of one location where all codes and regulations would be grouped in a searchable format would be a useful tool for everyone involved in the design of senior living communities. A group of individuals is currently at work hoping to create such a database if funding can be found.
  3. Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). A workshop committee of researchers, members of the federal government, architects, lighting designers, low vision and aging advocates has been formed under the auspices of the National Institute of Building Sciences and the U.S. Access Board to begin a study of adding lighting for low vision and older people to the ADA. This committee has met several times and has begun the technical work necessary to develop a policy that could be adopted into the ADA. Much work is yet to be done not to mention the political efforts needed to make this happen.
  4. LEED revision. LEED Credit 22: Interior Lighting Quality pilot program’s goal is to “ensure that energy efficiency isn’t achieved at the expense of occupant comfort.”
  5. New MOU. The American Institute of Architects and the National Institute of Building Sciences have signed a Memorandum of Understanding emphasizing their mutual interest in the design, construction, operations and maintenance of high-performance buildings. One of the first items coming from this relationship will be an industry-wide summit focusing on creating awareness and understanding of how design adds allure to such things as the health, safety and welfare of building users. Another project from this collaboration will be an on-line portal for building industry research and knowledge accessible to the public.
According to LD+A contributor Bob Dupuy, “those of us working on these issues feel certain that good lighting design for older and vision-impaired people can be compatible with the energy conservation movement. But an understanding of the needs of the special population must be understood by all. We cannot just lower the watts per sq ft in senior communities without regard to its impact on those who live there.”

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