The Business Case and Modern Lighting in the Workplace

The Economics of Office Lighting and Why Lighting Can Improve Productivity

modern office lighting

If you are a business owner, are you aware of the 3-30-300 principle?  This principle refers to an estimated amount a company spends per square foot annually for energy, real estate and workforce costs.  

For example - under this framework, energy is figured at $3 per square foot, operations/rent is $30 per square foot and payroll at $300 per square foot. This was designed to help a company understand where cost savings will be the most valuable.  This model shows why changes to the human experience has the most impact. So, if you can increase productivity by 10% it will equate to a value of $30 annually per square foot.  

Here is a link to a video that explains this principle:  What if you could improve your employee’s satisfaction at work, reduce sick days, increase productivity and save money on your energy costs all at the same time?

The HR advisory firm Future Workplace conducted a survey of 1,614 employees in North America and they discovered that the #1 office perk they would like is access to natural light and views of the outdoors.  78% of the responders said that access to natural light improved their wellbeing and 70% reported an improvement in work performance.  

Research by Cornell University Professor Dr. Alan Hedge found that optimizing natural light in an office significantly improved the health and wellness among workers.  There was a reduction in eyestrain, headaches and drowsiness. (Workspaces, by Jeanne C. Meister, September 3, 2018)

Why is Natural Light Important to Humans?


To understand why natural light is so important, we need to think of our ancestors.  Before we had electrical light humans spent 90% of their awake hours outside. Being outside they were surrounded by natural, dynamic (constantly changing) light.  They enjoyed the warm sunrises, bright blue mid-day lighting and then the warm glow of sunsets. Once inside they had the warm light from candles or fires.  

Our biological time clock, Circadian Rhythm, is reset each day by natural lighting.  As we fast forward to today, we are spending more than 90% of our time indoors under static (non-changing) light.  A study done by UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School found that the color temperature of the light source has the most influence on how we work.  They believe that it’s in our DNA to perform better under specific lighting.

How is Lighting Measured & Controlled?


Light is measured in temperatures and colors, the measurement used is Kelvin (K), the warm glowing incandescent lights we grew up with are listed as 2700K, with numbers increasing as the light gets cooler.  Mid-range is 3000K-4100K and gives the look of a cool white, with a sunny day blue sky measured between 5000K-6500K being a very cool blue light. Studies have shown that the cooler light increases alertness as well as improved mood, energy and may boost productivity and sales up to 40% and creativity up to 15%! 

When we are in blue light our melatonin is suppressed, we feel energized and are more productive, we are more alert, think of how you feel on a bright sunny day.  Light sets the mood, in areas where you are wanting to increase cooperation and a sense of comfort you will want a warmer light, in production areas a brighter, bluer light is needed. 

I have had the opportunity to work with employees who have ADA’s because of the lighting in an office.  Also, I’ve worked with people who are diagnosed with circadian disruption and have trouble getting to work in the morning, others who suffer from intense eyestrain and headaches.  All have been successfully remedied with proper lighting.

Lighting Types Are Evolving - But We’re Still Using Outdated Lighting in the Workplace

Overhead lighting was designed when we were using paper and pencils.  We are now on computers primarily, and the light needs to change. For example, modern lighting from a task lamp helps to balance the light at the computer, reducing eyestrain and headaches.  It is also able to change in color and intensity. This kind of light will give a boost of blue light mid-day, a crisp clear light for high acuity tasks such as working with numbers. if you are working at night it will create a nice warm light that will not inhibit the production of melatonin and therefore won’t interfere with getting a great night’s sleep.

Slim Profile LED Ceiling Light

Slim Profile LED Ceiling Light

LED (light-emitting diodes) lighting has the potential to reduce operational costs and improve productivity.  LED lights can improve worker satisfaction because LED panels can eliminate the glare and flicker that many people experience with fluorescent lighting. 

This is not only important for comfort and worker satisfaction but can also have a positive impact on the bottom line of a business.  LED Lights use a fraction of the energy compared to fluorescent lights. They will lower utility bills and reduce the need for ongoing maintenance as they have a longer life than traditional fluorescent lighting options.  

Fluorescent options also put off most of their energy use in heat so you may be running the air conditioner more that you will need to with LED’s.  While the initial investment in LED’s may be more expensive than fluorescent options, they generally have a payback in energy savings of a few years.  When maintenance savings and worker satisfaction is added to the equation the payback may be only a few months! As an added benefit and cost saving - LED’s also do not contain mercury (which is harmful to the environment) and therefore do not have an added expense for recycling & disposal.

What if Office Lighting was Programmable and Customized?  

Office task lamp with preset color configurations

Office task lamp with preset color configurations

This is the next break-through in lighting for offices.  These lights can be set to automatically change color and intensity and have controls so that they can be changed for personal preferences.

Lighting in offices should be layered so that employees can work comfortably - instead of all the light coming from the ceiling which can cause glare and a negative impact on health.  It is important to also have ambient and task lighting, allowing the individual greater control of their light.

DALE Office Interiors recommends the use of lighting to zone different areas.  For example, use an oversized pendant light above a large table to create definition around an area for meetings.  Spotlights can direct people to different areas of the office or building. Low lighting in small nooks to give the impression of privacy.  Breakout areas can be enhanced with the use of accent lighting to create unique and attractive light designs. 

In all areas, flexible features like dimmer switches, lamps and task lamps to give people control over their own lighting.  This enables them to set the environment for work, meetings or relaxing.

Human Centric Lighting is the Next Step for Modern Lighting in the Workplace

“Human centric lighting (HCL) is aimed at providing the right light for our activities at the right place at the right time” - Maury Wright.  

In the office setting HCL lighting will be used to create an environment that allows everyone to feel, work and be their best.  This encourages productivity, comfort and well-being because HCL is used to support the changing needs of the individual.  

Office With Natural Light and Layered Overhead Lighting

Office With Natural Light and Layered Overhead Lighting

There are many reasons for choosing HCL. The ability to create a comfortable environment increases productivity - and when employees are happier at work you have greater retention of talent.  The benefits of HCL include a health circadian rhythm, improved mood, greater visual acuity, improved productivity and may enable employees to sleep better at night, all with energy savings and sustainability.

So back to the 3-30-300 principle… Business owners and commercial operators can use lighting to improve efficiency in two parts of this model!  The simpler part is reducing operating costs and boosting efficiency by replacing outdated lighting with new, energy-efficient LEDs. However, the real opportunity to see gains is to use lighting as a way to boost worker productivity by using Human Centric Lighting principles.

History of Office Lighting & Why It Matters Today

Incandescent Bulbs - Popular but Not Energy Efficient

incandescent light bulb.jpg

Incandescent bulbs were introduced in 1879 by Thomas Edison.  What many people do not realize is that up until about 10 years ago these were still the most common form of light bulbs in use!

The incandescent bulb was used everywhere and could be found in homes and offices.  They provide a nice warm glow but are not energy efficient! Over 90% of the energy used by incandescent bulbs is given off as heat.  They are extremely hot to the touch, and the underlying technology has not changed significantly since they were invented over a century ago.  

Halogen - Similar to Incandescent But Longer Lasting

Halogen lights which give the feel of daylight became readily available in the 60’s and had greater efficiency than the incandescent and has been a favorite light source for many applications.  However, halogen lights also produce a significant amount of heat.

Fluorescent Lights Have Been in Offices for Over 50 Years

Typically found in the form of tubes - these have gone from T12 (Which are 1 1/2 inches in diameter) to T8 and more recently T5.  The tube diameter has gotten smaller with the T5 being just over ½ an inch. As they have gotten smaller in diameter, they have also become more energy efficient and have a longer life.  Fluorescent tubes are powered by ballasts, going from magnetic ballasts to more efficient electronic ballasts. For many years there were rebates from utility companies which made conversion to these smaller tubes a wise business decision.  However, fluorescent tubes are problematic for several reasons. They tend to have an audible hum and also have a flicker which is visible to some people and can cause eye strain and headaches.  

Compact Fluorescent Lights - Energy Efficient With a Cost


CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Lights) began replacing the incandescent bulb in the 90’s. They provided energy savings compared to incandescent type bulbs.  They used the same fluorescent bulb technology but were adapted to a smaller form that would fit in downlights, table and floor lamps. However, they have drawbacks: they require a warm-up time so do not illuminate instantly when turned on.  They also contain mercury which is hazardous - especially if they break because it is toxic. These lights are often not disposed of properly and can end up going to landfills. These have always been my least favorite type of light. They were brought to market mainly as a go between for incandescent bulbs and the latest technology LED’s.

LEDs - The Emerging Standard

LED Office Ceiling Light.jpg

LED’s (Light-emitting diode) have been available for about 15 years.  They are now available for just about every light need. They come in multiple form factors including tubes and screw-in forms.  LED lights have a longer life, low maintenance costs and substantial energy savings (80-90% over the earlier light sources). By 2030 LED’s are projected to be the most common of light sources.  Currently, there are Utility rebates to upgrade to these lights. However the rebates are becoming smaller and soon will be unavailable.

As light sources have changed so have the fixtures that house them.  From bulk cloud like fixtures or exposed tube fixtures for fluorescent tubes, to flat panels that look like sky lights for the LED’s.  In today’s office environment you can have a look to fit any décor or need.

Human Centric Lighting - The Next Step

Human Centric Lighting Desk Lamp.jpg

HCL (Human Centric Lighting) is lighting that considers our biological need for light.  It can provide the correct light at the correct time of day for the task we are doing.  It uses LED technology to emit light at specific frequencies to match our biological patterns. For example, we respond to certain light frequencies early in the day versus the evening.  HCL lighting can include controls which can be manually changed or set on a predetermined schedule. This is lighting that I am most excited about and believe it will be a game changer for healthcare, offices and schools.

Creating Human Centric Lighting for the Office

Lighting Tips for Reducing Eye Strain

Overhead Commercial Lighting Design.jpg

Overhead lighting worked well in offices when we were only using paper and pens. Now that most of our time is spent on the computer and a vertical surface and angle, that same lighting can be ineffective - resulting in glare, eye strain and headaches.

With the computer screen our eyes are working to balance the light from the screen with the light behind. If you are in a cubicle and have a wall behind your screen that is dark, or a window that has daylight, our eyes are constantly trying to make sense of these differing light levels. The strain of these lighting variations can cause headaches and other issues.

Human Centric Lighting - Task Lamp With Controls

Task lamps can help ease eye strain, especially in cubicles. They help to provide balance in the incoming light. I have an LED task lamp with 3 light levels and 3 different light colors which can easily adjust to personal preferences. The other benefit of a task lamp is that the light can be positioned. The LED bulb is on an arm and can swing so it can be positioned behind the computer or over a flat work surface if needed.

Those who are doing high acuity tasks such as working with spreadsheets or numbers are especially happy with this lamp. This has also worked well for people who are unable to work under the overhead lighting. Some people are especially sensitive to overhead lighting and suffer from migraines caused by this light. However, the task lamp is able to be directed as needed enabling them to work without headaches.

Design Tips for Layering Light in the Office

A major complaint with fluorescent fixtures is the flicker from the ballast. In addition, many fixtures have exposed tubes which cause eye discomfort. We have just redone our office space with a basket style LED fixture - there is no flicker and there are no exposed tubes. It is a light that is dispersed both downward through the frosted the basket as well as reflected on the fixture surround making a very comfortable and pleasant light source.

Pendant fixtures are often hung so that they shine on keyboards or in meeting areas, these can effectively be used to differentiate between spaces and provide an area of interest for meetings or gatherings.

Lighting Tips for Shared Workspaces

In designing lighting for the office, it is important to take into consideration what the use of the space is. Is it for teams to collaborate in, individual workspaces, meeting rooms or as in many cases a mixture of all? What are the needs and preferences of the individuals working in the space? Employees who have some control over their lighting are found to be happier and more productive in studies looking at worker retention.

The size of the area will also determine which type of lighting fixture is needed and how many are actually needed for the space. We have had a number of customers who have too many fixtures in a small area and we are asked to decommission some of the fixtures. You want light that is sufficient for the task and yet won’t blast someone out of the space.

When you are considering office lighting you will want to have an expert involved who will ask about the use of the space and provide guidance to determine the type of lighting and appropriate amount needed.

Energy Savings Lighting, Energy Costs, Energy Trust of Oregon

Energy Savings

Energy Trust of Oregon is helping Oregon businesses take control of their energy costs.  This years initiative is targeted at lighting.  This is a video produced to highlight some of the ways lighting impacts your business.  We are a Trade Ally of Energy Trust of Oregon and have received their 2015 Award for Outstanding Contributions.

Flattering light

light, trade ally, ETO, Energy Trust of Oregon

Does the color of light matter to you or your business?  Unless we are looking directly at a light source- the sun, a candle, a headlight, we are viewing reflective light.  That is, the light that is reflected off of an object enters our eye, and through our retina and optic nerve finds its way to our brain where it is determined what we are looking at.  In order for us to perceive a certain color it has to be present in the light source.  If you have ever purchased an item and thought it was one color in the store only to get it outside or home and it is different this is why.

This is a great article looking at the colors of LEDs and a new way to rate the color present in them.  Flattering Light A new look at color by Craig Dilouie from Electrical Contractor Magazine.

The Changing Future of Office Lighting Design

worker productivity, human centric lighting, circadian lighting, lighting maintenance

Do you and your employees spend the majority of your day in the office.  If so the lighting in your office makes a difference in the health, productivity, safety and profitability of your business.  When assessing the impact lighting has on your business you want experts working with you. 

A recent article in Electrical Contractor Magazine states:  The office of tomorrow is an energy-efficient space designed for employee health and productivity, and today’s office is looking more like its future self every day. Lighting plays a key role.  To read more.....

There are so many options available to maximize your goals and priorities with lighting. With the every changing LED market new choices are arriving almost daily.  You want to work with someone who will understand your priorities and who has the knowledge of the ever changing product lines to assist you.  Today you can bring your office lighting into the future!

Energy Savings, LED LIghting

LEDs and the Cold


LED experts, Joe Cavanagh, lighting energy upgrades

All of the different lighting systems respond in various ways to temperature.  LEDs are no exception.  LEDs like the cold, in fact the colder the better for their light output and length of life.  LED's in meat freezers, deli cases and beverage coolers do very well.  On the other hand LEDs do not light the heat.  One of the main reasons for the premature failure of LED's is excessive heat damaging the driver.  With this in mind manufacturing facilities where there can be high temperatures because of equipment or, commercial kitchens with heat from ovens, exterior lighting on a hot roof are all examples of where the LED will not experience its full light output or life.  As with all lighting systems the environment it will be functioning in needs to be a major consideration to be sure that you choose the appropriate one and are able to maximize the life and quality of light output.

Office lights, Productivity, Safety, lighting for remodels

Have you moved or remodeled your office!

Banks, medical office, Sr. Living communities

The past week we have had several customers contact us because they have moved from one office space to another or have completed a remodel and the existing lighting doesn’t work for their needs.

We begin the process with them to determine what is not working with the lighting, it may be casting shadows now because of different furniture placement, in one case the previous tenant didn’t want much light and had removed fluorescent tubes from the fixtures.  In another situation the lens was missing from the fixtures so there was glare and the light wasn’t focused where they needed it.  Sometimes the lighting can be a relatively easy fix – replacement of lamps and tubes, or ballast, sometimes new fixtures are needed.  In any case, lighting is not a one size fits everyone’s needs, each business and person is unique as to their goals and how the lighting can help to accomplish that.

Energy Savings, Exterior Lighting, Pole Lights, Photo Cell, Timers

Exterior Lighting on during the day?

boom trucks, exterior lighting, pole light, bucket truck

Drive around any city during daylight hours and you will see poles and building exteriors with their lights on.  This is costing the businesses in a couple of ways.  It will wear out the bulb and internal components twice as fast so they will be paying double for repairs and new parts.  They are also paying twice as much for their electricity bill on wasted light.

Most common causes of lights being on during the day is a problem with the photo cell or if it is on a timer it could be as simple as resetting or adjusting it.  Lighting does have an impact on a businesses bottom line, make sure that you are not spending money on exterior lighting that is not needed in the daylight!

CRI Color Rendering Index, Indoor lighting, Office lights, Productivity

New Paint, Flooring or Furniture? Check your lighting

healthy light, LED's, commercial and industrial lighting

The color of your walls, flooring and furniture can change your lighting.  Dark colors on the walls, on the floor or in your furniture actually absorbs light.  Light colored walls can reflect and intensify the light.  If you have changed any of these things and you feel like your lighting is not the same you are correct,  it’s not. 

In any remodeling of space, lighting needs to be considered.  How much lighting do you need?  What is the space being used for?  Do you want the space to be warm and cozy or bright and crisp?  Do you need true color appearance- rendering? 

As you are planning to make changes in your home or office be sure to consider how this will affect your light!

Indoor lighting, Eyes and Lighting, Aging Eyes, Productivity, Safety

Our Eyes and Lighting

healthy lighting, human centric lighting, circadian lighting, worker productivity

As we age our eyes change.  Our pupils become more fixed so the amount of light entering our eyes is less.  The lens becomes yellowed so we don’t perceive colors as well.  At 60 our eyes require 2 times as much lighting to see and perform tasks as we did at 30.  Most lighting systems are designed with a 30 year old user in mind.  For performance, productivity and safety, lighting needs to be considered as we age.

Kelvin Temperature, Happy Lights, Office lights, Indoor lighting

Lights can make you happy!

happy light, century lighting, LED experts, eugene, springfield

Most of us know how energized and happy we feel on a beautiful, bright sunny day.  Our indoor lighting can have the same effect on us.  Lights come in a spectrum of “colors”, some are more yellow like a cloudy day to the other extreme some give off a bluer hue.  In between there is a light that more closely resembles “daylight”.   Some people call these “happy lights”.

Last night I was at an event with a woman who had been at a meeting earlier in the day with me and I had talked about how lighting can affect our outlook and mood.  She had been to a Dr.’s office midday and told me that she felt so good and calm and then looked at the wonderful lighting in the office and realized that it was the difference maker in how she was feeling.  I was pleased to hear as this was an office that we take care of the lighting in.

As we enter the fall season and our days are getting shorter we have customers requesting these “happy lights”, we have many customers who comment on how much better they feel because of their new lighting.  Lights can make you happy!

Kelvin Temperature, CRI Color Rendering Index

Lights- Color Temperature and Color Rendering Index

lighting upgrades, commercial lighting

Lighting is more than just replacing a lamp or ballast, it also has to do with color.  We have just helped Sterling Graphics with a move into a new space.  The kelvin temperature and CRI of the lamps they use are very important for their graphics business as they must have exact color matching ability. 

The kelvin temperature is often referred to as the color appearance of the light source – is it cool and crisp or warm and cozy?  This is a number system that ranges from 2700-6500.  CRI or color rendering index is the ability of the light source to reflect back to the eye the colors we expect to see in an object, this is ranked on a scale of 0 to 100.  Clear daylight is considered as a reference point of 100.

Some of the other businesses that we have helped that require accurate attention to these 2 factors are Dentists, auto body repair shops, craft and paint stores.  Lighting matters!

Energy Savings, LED LIghting, CFL

Incandescent, CFL or LED

LED expert, Joe Cavanagh, Suzanne Cavanagh, lighting maintenanc

This is the question you face when you need to purchase new lighting.  I will show you a comparison for a 60 Watt A19 – a standard light bulb for residential usage.

The incandescent bulb costs roughly $1.50 will last at 8 hours a day for 3-4 months.  Electricity cost per year is about $16.00.  This bulb is very hot to touch as most of the energy that is required to operate this bulb (60 watts an hour) is converted to heat.

A CFL equivalent costs from $2.50 - $4.00, and at 8 hours a day will last 2-4 years. Electricity cost per year is about $3.25.   Drawbacks for the CFL is that it contains mercury, has a slow warm up- is not an instant on, most are not dimmable and it is not intended to be turned on and off frequently as this will shorten it’s life.

The LED replacement costs about $7.00, are rated for 10-20 years of use at 8 hours a day.  Electricity cost is about $2.75 a year.  The LED bulb cost more upfront and not all are dimmable and excessive heat will shorten the life of the LED.  LEDs like cooler temperatures so consider this when you are choosing to go with the LED.

There is no perfect light bulb, you need to consider how you will be using the bulb (do you want it to dim, is it in a high heat area, how long it will be on at a given time) and what your budget is for purchasing and for annual utility costs.

This was part of a presentation I gave to #springChicks, #ChicksConnect, #Mastermind, #LED, #CFL, #EnergySavings in May 2015.

LED LIghting, Energy Savings, Dimmers

LEDs Shining Bright But Can You Dim Them?

circadian lighting, human centric lighting, office buildings

With all of the excitement and amazing options and energy savings available with LEDs there may be a downside, the ability to dim them.  There are many reasons people like dimming their lights, ambiance, a warmer light and energy savings.  With most LEDs when dimmed they do not change to a warmer color (there are new ones coming out that will be able to change), also incandescents when dimmed drop about 24% or more in light output, LEDs light output diminishes 10% or less.  For both light sources there is an increased life when dimmed although with the extended life of LEDs this is not an important factor. Be aware that LEDs may not work with your current dimmer, it is recommended that you replace your dimmer when switching to LEDs and be sure that it is compatible with the LED you are choosing to install.