While historically lighting has played second fiddle to the audio needs in many houses of worship, in recent years lighting has gained in importance and is now considered an integral production element in contemporary worship environments.
Lighting can be practical, by facilitating wayfinding, or simply allowing people to see. As well, creatively lighting the facility itself now plays a large part in house of worship design. Lighting can make a significant impact in creating an environment, mood, or emotion, as Richard Davis, senior designer at Ardee Design Group of Nashville, Tenn., notes, "Lighting that is too bright or garish makes people feel uncomfortable, and may invoke feelings of being in a place that is unsafe. Too dark or shadowy will make people feel uncomfortable. Lighting that is balanced and pleasing in focus, color, color temperature, and limited glare will help put people at ease, and therefore much more focused on and open to the message being delivered." And Davis warns, "Glare is very uncomfortable, especially as people age, and should be managed carefully."
The most recent trend is the shift to LED technology (for both architectural and theatrical applications), as advances in the technology have yielded some practical solutions. As Eric Loader, director of sales at Elation Lighting of Los Angeles notes, "COB technology (chip on board) LED engines are making a big push into both theatrical and architectural lighting. LED engines are getting bright enough now they can start to replace traditional discharge lamp fixtures." Randy Borden, founder and CEO of Borden Lighting of San Leandro, Calif., concurs, "It is only in the last 2-3 years that LEDs have had the horsepower' to provide useful light, especially for larger spaces. While there are LED fixtures available for warehouses and gymnasiums, for example, they produce too much glare for worship spaces. The challenge with LEDs is to provide adequate light levels but without glare."
For theatrical lighting applications, Barbizon Lighting Co. Director of Marketing Tobin Neis says this about LEDs: "As solid state lighting (LEDs) gets brighter and able to throw greater distances, it's becoming a more viable option. There's still an upfront cost for what will net you savings down the road in terms of lamp life, energy, and maintenance savings. But like with most any productyou get what you pay for."
Being good stewards: LED to the rescue
Lighting can also impact a church financially, and often with a new or upgraded lighting system, the costs of operating and maintaining a theatrical system or architectural system beyond standard utility and work lighting can be a surprise, and not in a good way. The two main advantages of LED over incandescent lighting are the savings over time as well as energy savings. Borden says, "In the case of worship spaces, with the fixtures not operating every day, LEDs could be expected to last for decades. Based on an expected 50,000 hours for LEDs and assuming 40 hours of operation per week, you could expect the LEDs to last 25 years, which is of great benefit in terms of maintenance."
David Venus, director of marketing for PixelFLEX of Nashville, Tenn., adds, "LEDs can save you both time and money. Projectors and conventional lights pull 50%-70% more power than LED fixtures and video. Their lifespan, in some instances, can be 85% longer, as well."
Another advantage of LEDs over incandescent lighting is that incandescent also generates a good deal of heat, which can lead to higher HVAC costs. As Davis says, "When calculating such energy savings, it is not simply a matter of reducing energy usage by the lighting fixtureone must also consider the difference in heat generated. Replacing 500-watt incandescent downlights with 100-watt LED fixtures will also reduce the HVAC load proportionally. For facilities located in the Southern states, this is especially important."
It's all about control
However, it's not only the lights themselves that can affect the bottom line, particularly in architectural lighting. As Neis explains, "Energy efficient lighting and the thoughtful use of controls can make a great impact on energy savings. One of the easiest ways to do this is with occupancy sensors on closets and bathrooms so the lights automatically turn off."
Neis continues, "Smart systems with occupancy sensors and time clocks are a great help for energy savings. They also can be administrated from one place if changes need to be made. These systems know when daylight savings starts and ends, when sunrise and sunset happens, and you can set events to coincide with weekly happenings very easily."
Davis adds, "Architectural controls are the key to future energy savings. First and foremost, they should be easy for the user to operate. The more successful systems may be complicated to set up, with the goal that they are easier for the user to operate. Newer systems also have the ability to allow multiple rooms and areas to be controlled via a single processor, thus cutting costs considerably."
For theatrical lighting control applications it's more about flexibility and ease of operation. Venus offers this advice: "You want a control surface that is multifaceted and has the ability to do the things with the fixtures and video elements you are looking to create. Don’t spend tons of money on fixtures and skimp on a control surface, as you will have ultimately wasted your money."
Loader reminds church leaders to also consider volunteerswho must oftentimes run the lighting. "In most [house-of-worship] (HOW) installations, you are typically dealing with volunteers. Having a system that is user-friendly and easy to operate is key. Sure, everyone wants a big lighting desk with a lot of featuresbut if your main programmer leaves you and you have nobody to run itthen what?"
And Neis sums it up like this: "It boils down to [what] type of lighting you are trying to achieve. If you are using newer, color-changing fixtures, I’d recommend something with a color picker to make programming easier. Think about scalability if you are in a growth-mode; you want your desk to be able to grow with you as much as possible. Also consider the person who will be using it week to week. Does your facility have an actual lighting person or is it a volunteer? Those questions will also determine the interface needed for operating the systems. You can control looks from an iPad or mobile phone if you wish, it all depends on what suits your facility best."
Whether you are upgrading your system or building a new facility, a key element for success is to hire a qualified lighting design professional. Before deciding on a designer, it is advisable to check references and visit other facilities they have been involved with. Look for someone you can trust to understand and share your vision. And be sure that comprehensive training for your volunteers is included as part of the system purchase. Following these guidelines will help you to make the most of your lighting investment.