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The Importance of LEED Lighting


Green construction is a rapidly growing trend, with LEED being the most well-known and widely-used third-party sustainable building certification. It was created in 2000 with the goal of creating a trusted and recognizable green standard, providing both environmental and financial benefits, for all types of buildings. There are four levels of LEED certification: certified, silver, gold, and platinum.

LEED-certified buildings are required to reduce their energy consumption and waste. While the LEED standards are designed to minimize a building’s overall carbon footprint, certification also has broader financial benefits.

First, reducing waste and energy consumption decreases long-term costs. Energy isn’t free, so any significant reduction in consumption translates into utility bill savings.

The renovations and upgrades required to qualify for LEED certification also make the building healthier and safer for occupants. Being environmentally friendly also has the potential to improve public perception of the building, its owners, and its tenants.

When a building decides to apply for LEED certification, the role of project manager often falls to the facility manager. Even if a designated project manager is hired, the facility manager is still relied upon to make recommendations for the project and facilitate ongoing communication with the building occupants.

This article focuses on the lighting aspects of the LEED certification for Operations & Maintenance, LEED’s category for minor to moderate renovations to existing buildings. Lighting is a primary building system that has a critical role in sustainable buildings – 30% of the average commercial building’s energy usage comes from lighting[1].

Lighting fits into three categories in LEED v4, the current version of the rating system:

  • Energy & Atmosphere
  • Indoor Environmental Quality
  • Sustainable Sites

There are over 20 points available for lighting; the exact amount varies by project category, such as Operations & Management, New Construction, or Homes. Receiving credits for lighting requires more than just switching in energy-efficient lightbulbs – points can be gained for quality upgrades such as reducing light reflection, or providing occupants with more unfiltered daylight and views.

Lighting improvements can be made to both indoor and outdoor lighting, ranging from minor operational changes (choosing energy efficient light bulbs and encouraging building users to turn off light switches when not using the space) to moderate installations (installing solar powered light fixtures, shielding or coating windows to prevent glare, and using automatic shut off or dimming light switches).

The following are some simple and cost-effective ways to earn LEED points.

Indoor Lighting
Indoor lighting system improvements can be roughly sorted into two categories: optimizing energy efficiency or turning off lights.

To optimize efficiency, indoor light fixtures should be energy-efficient. The baseline rating is an ENERGY STAR rating of 69. To add to efficiency while controlling glare and light pollution, LEED also offers credit for lights with a luminance (a measure of light intensity) of less than 2,500 candelas per square meter.

Energy efficiency can also be targeted by lower levels of lighting; all lighting in shared spaces must have a mid-level or dimming option.

Turning off the lights can be controlled several ways:

  • Pre-set lighting schedules
  • A physical main lighting control system with a master switch
  • A remote lighting control system
  • Motion-activated lights

Whatever the lighting control system, the facility manager should ensure that all non-emergency lights are turned off outside of business hours.

Online control systems have many advantages. They allow the facility manager to control lights either on-site or remotely using a web interface, and notifications about performance can be emailed or texted automatically.

Motion-activated lights are an even more efficient option, as they save power in unused rooms even during the day, and no human intervention is required to shut off the lights. The sensors trigger lights when someone enters a room, and shut off automatically when no activity is detected over a certain timeframe. One challenge is that sometimes sensors aren’t sensitive enough, and can shut off while a person is still using the room – if they are sitting at a desk, for example. To avoid this issue, motion-activated lights are best used in common areas, not individual offices or other areas where occupants are stationary for extended periods of time.

All of these technologies can be installed to existing buildings relatively easily, and should be strongly considered by facility managers for LEED purposes, or to simply save on electricity.

Outdoor Lighting
According to the International Dark-Sky Association, at least 10 percent of all outdoor lighting, even fully-shielded lighting, creates light pollution. LEED incorporates some credits based on this issue into their certification, with the goal to reduce light trespass between properties, improve nighttime visibility, and reduce the impact on nocturnal ecology.


Exterior lighting should only be used for safety and comfort. LEED places limitations on lighting power density, and on emitted light angles.

Like indoor lighting, efficiency can be achieved through energy-efficient bulbs, but also through solar power. For areas with variant amounts of sunlight, some solar lighting systems can even predict weather patterns and conserve solar power for up to 14 days.

In addition, some lighting fixtures can reduce “uncontrolled” light escaping above 90 degrees, and be configured in patterns that maximize the efficiency of the lighting density.

Symmetrical lighting bollards, commonly used in landscaping, provide a condensed circle of light. Asymmetrical lighting bollards provide light in an elongated form ideal for pathways. The diagram below shows how light from each pattern is distributed on the surface surrounding the lighting source:


Exterior lighting can be added to normal lighting control systems, and controlled physically or via web interface.

Improve Your Lighting
Whether or not your goal is LEED certification, improving lighting efficiency and systems in your building decreases utility costs, generating large savings in the long term. If you are planning to become certified, the improvements can be customized to suit your building.

LEED doesn’t mandate meeting every item on a list of baseline requirements; instead, applicants can pick and choose from various credits to meet the minimum level of certification they would like to achieve. Once the level has been selected, facility managers should determine which credits are the most feasible and economical based on their available budget and resources.

If you are considering LEED certification, it is important to be as prepared as possible. Check resources from your national LEED overseer, and consult with a LEED-accredited professional to create a certification plan.

Brad Done is the vice president at Reliance Foundry Co Ltd. He has more than 25 years’ experience in the manufacturing of bollards and other outdoor metal products.

[1] Greenbiz.Com: What Facility Managers Need to Know About LEED Lighting Control Requirements

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