Lighting Design for Dummies (Part III)

In my June column, I said there were only two green options for lamps. I was reminded that there is a third option: lamps that use LEDs (light emitting diodes). LED lamps are becoming extremely popular, and I expect them to become a major component of lighting design.

LED lighting:

  • Is energy efficient
  • Has a long life
  • Is controllable
  • Has many colors
  • Provides excellent visual performance and high color rendering
  • Can be used to accent
  • Is mainly used in linear applications
  • Is a great under-cabinet application

LED lighting is expensive, but many people, including myself, believe the benefits justify the price.

Lighting Control Systems

As a quick review, there are three components to a lighting system: the light source, the fixture and the control system.

A lighting control system allows a person to manage all aspects of lighting in a room, from setting when lights are on and off to their brightness. Control systems can be set manually or electronically. They can be as simple as dimmers that can be adjusted by hand to sophisticated systems to set stages, moods and settings. I recommend lighting control systems because they save energy and reduce maintenance by extending the life of incandescent and low-voltage lamps.

Lighting control systems are becoming more important as governmental entities begin to regulate how much wattage is allowable. To meet these requirements, homeowners are demanding more functionality and flexibility. While this can be accomplished by simply stacking switches on a wall, this is not aesthetically pleasing. Meeting functional and aesthetic requirements requires design sensitivity, thorough product knowledge and an understanding of how to integrate all of these requirements into an attractive, energy-efficient and easy-to use-package.

Lighting control systems can:

  • Set different moods for different activities within a room. In a kitchen you could have one setting for dinner preparation, one for eating and one for accenting decorative elements.
  • Allow a customer to set a scene once and recall the setting again and again.
  • Enhance personal security by turning lights on with RF remote controls before a client enters their home.
  • Allow clients to dim lights in corridors and primary traffic areas overnight to ensure soft even illumination.

The most basic light control is a dimmer. Solid-state dimmers turn lights on and off, while the eyes see the average light intensity and it appears dimmer. The other advantage to a dimmer is that when the power is off, energy is being saved.

Different light sources (lamps) require different types of dimmers. Lighting control manufacturers now offer very simple and elegant wall box switches and dimmers. Lighting controls have evolved into systems that eliminate banks of visible wall boxes by replacing them with remote multizone devices that are controlled by stylish single-gang keypads.

The biggest advance in lighting control technology is the wireless RF (radio frequency) system. RF systems allow you to design a whole house control system in an existing home or in a remodel application without rewiring. These systems allow homeowners to use familiar style dimmers and switches, yet provide the ability to control them from master keypads located in strategic locations throughout their house.

These systems also allow you to mix RF and hardwired devices. For example, if there is a partial remodel, the new section can be hardwired and RF devices can be installed in the existing portions of the house to create an environment that allows a seamless integrated control system.

Lighting designers today have many more tools and options with which to work. Their responsibility is to use these tools to help architects, interior designers and homeowners create lighting systems that seamlessly integrate into the d├ęcor and architecture, while being visually stimulating, easy to use and energy efficient.

I want to thank Kathie Leslie from Lutron Electronics and Al Zaparolli for sharing their vast wisdom on lighting with me. If you have any comments, please forward them to me at