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Programmable Lighting Possibilities

Programmable Lighting Possibilities

A look at lighting systems that create atmosphere while controlling electricity costs

It's a common occurrence: someone runs into the church to do something for five minutes, turns all of the lights on and, in their haste, forgets to turn them back off again. The result: the building is illuminated all night with no one in it, producing unnecessary wear and tear on the fixtures and pumping electricity that is of no practical use.

For years, manufacturers have addressed this issue with timed systems, and as most technologies have moved to the network, facility managers can now program lighting for an entire buildingor group of buildingsfrom their offices. The days of doing the rounds, manually verifying that each switch has been turned off, are over, and well-intentioned souls who show up to catch up on a bit of last-minute work need not worry about whether they left the lights on again.

"Architectural lighting systems offer the flexibility and ease of control by allowing pre-programmed scenes to be recalled from remote wall stations," notes Ed Cheeseman, sales manager at lighting control manufacturer Leprecon in Hamburg, Michigan. "Over the years these systems have added various features such as energy management through time event triggers and remote programming and monitoring through network access."

K. Paul Luntsford, principal at PLA Designs Inc., a theater planning and lighting consultancy based in Aloha, Oregon, notes that programmable systems enable churches to preset different scenes that correspond to the events that the facility hosts, allowing access at the push of a button. This access can also be configured to place limits on who has the ability to change what. "You can determine that Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., when they come into the sanctuary and the lights are off and you push a button, that button doesn't let you get into the incandescent lamps, but maybe it lets you turn on some work lights," he illustrates. He adds that these preset systems can be reconfigured as the church grows or as the building changes, permitting flexibility that wasn't available with older technologies.

Joe Bokelman, architectural market manager for professional lighting products manufacturer Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) in Middleton, Wisconsin, suggests that churches seek a programmable system that combines the following features: time-of-day control, occupancy management (where lights go on when someone enters the space), and daylight harvesting (where systems can be programmed to take advantage of the daylight that is coming into the facility). "You should look for a combination product that allows you to program scenarios that apply to your facility now and that is flexible enough to accommodate changes or additions in the future," he says.

Fixtures & Intelligence Systems
The fixtures that correspond with the programmable system should be ones that can be turned on and off easily. "That usually means that you want to look at fluorescent lighting," Bokelman says. For the best level of control, churches may opt to purchase dimmable fluorescents. "That means that you need to have dimmable ballasts and fixtures. Those are available in new fixtures, and there is the ability to retrofit them."

While the majority of the systems are controlled via buttons, faders, and LCD touch screens, the main difference between models lies in processing: some systems are based on "central intelligence," while others apply "distributed intelligence."

As the term suggests, a central intelligence system operates based on a central processor that holds all of the lighting configurations for each station that is connected to it. For example, when someone presses Button No. 2 on Station D, the command is generated through the central processor. "Central processors are simple to configure and there is one thing to worry about," Luntsford says. The main issue with these systems is that if something fails, none of the stations works and the entire system is down. "That doesn't happen that often, but all of your eggs are in one basket. However, it's a really good basket."

Distributed intelligence overcomes this issue by assigning a limited number of capabilities to the central unit by distributing most of the processing capability to the individual stations, Luntsford explains. "Each station shares part of the load; when one station goes down, the rest of the stations remain up," he says. The configuration of these systems, he concedes, is therefore a little more complex. In deciding whether a central or distributed system is best for your facility, churches need to take into consideration their risk tolerance.

Risk tolerance, however, isn't the only factor that churches need to take in account when selecting a programmable lighting system. "You have to design the system and ask yourself at each doorway and at each transition point, who is going to be coming through this passageway?" Luntsford illustrates. "What is their user skill? How much do I want them to be able to modify the system? Then you can install the right kind of station and the right kind of access to that station." The larger your building is, the more sophisticated your needs will be.

Into Practical Application
Williamsburg Community Chapel in Williamsburg, Virginia, which boasts a new 1,500-seat sanctuary, recently installed an ETC Unison programmable system. Steve Hooge, minister of production services, explains that the system is programmed to turn the lights off throughout the entire building at 10:30 every night. The computerized console, which controls both the architectural and theatrical lighting, takes the highest precedence over everything else. For example, if the church holds an extended worship service in the evening and the console is on, the system wouldn't suddenly go dark. "However, under normal circumstances, if someone forgets to power down the architectural lighting, the system will send out a command and say, everybody off,'" Hooge explains.

Wherever possible, Williamsburg Community Chapel applies dimmable fluorescent fixtures as accent lighting, and these are the primary lights that are used for access to the space. "We've also tried to implement as much LED lighting as we can because of (the lower) power consumption and longevity of lamp life, and because of flexibility," Hooge adds.

Hooge underlines the need for a system that can be both accessed and modified with ease. "The ETC system uses a network where you can log into it remotely, so I can sit in my office and program on and off times," he says. "You should give yourself a degree of programmability, but you also need a system that the average layperson can use to turn on simple, basic light sets, however, with limited access."

Luntsford advises that the person in charge of the lighting system should take some time out to properly learn the technologyover and above the factory training that usually occurs at the conclusion of the installation. "People tend to think that's the training, and then when the building is open, everybody forgets about learning the system," he says. "The problem is, then when the system doesn't behave the way you expected it to when you hit a button, most of the time it's because you haven't read the manual and you're asking it to do something that it isn't configured to do. Training should take weeks; reading the manuals and doing a little experimenting before the pressure is on once the building opens."

Pricing and Flexibility
Pricing on programmable lighting tends to vary, depending on the size and sophistication of the system. Luntsford estimates that small control systems, without the dimmers, run churches anywhere from $3,000-$5,000, while mid-sized systems may run up to $10,000. Some large systems can cost as much as $15,000-$20,000; however, there is a significant return on investment. "It can have a huge impact on energy costs if the designer configures it accordingly," he says. "Most of the lighting processors that control the lighting in the sanctuary or for the lobby have the capability to control wasted energy as any building management system does." The system must be designed to take these parameters into account, he adds, and then the church personnel needs to learn how to use it properlyhence the advice to take the time for training.

Bill Ellis, vice president of engineering at Candela Controls, a lighting systems engineering, integration, and installation firm based in Winter Garden, Florida, concedes that at first some churches may not have the budget to install a programmable lighting system throughout the entire facility, but those organizations that wish to decrease their electricity costs can start small. One place to begin, he notes, is in the restroom. "You can install occupancy sensors in the bathrooms, and when somebody walks in the lights come on, and then several minutes after they leave, the lights go off," he explains. "You don't need to leave the bathrooms lit 12 hours a day, several days a week."

Ellis notes that churches should enlist professional help when installing new systems. He also points out that in order to gain as much functionality as possible, church staff should examine their existing system to determine future needs. "If you are installing a system into a brand-new building, it's kind of hard to tell what those needs may be. However, if you have an existing building, you are able to have some idea of what you do in certain areas," he says. "You know that you are going to be doing a certain activity in a certain place, but with some activities, you may not know yet. You want some flexibility."

This requires churches to project how much growth they will experience over the next 5-10 years. "Choosing a product or system that can grow with the needs of the church will help justify the up front cost and allow for upgrades along the way," Cheeseman notes.

Williamsburg Community Chapel used PLA Designs to design the lighting system, and, like Ellis, Hooge emphasizes the importance of enlisting a professional lighting designer with experience working in churches. "Do not allow the building contractor to use his favorite electrical supplier to design your lighting system," he cautions. "Bring in a lighting designer who understands church and who understands systems design, as opposed to someone who says, this is the way we've done it before,' or I've done it this way in a school,' because then you don't have the zoning or the flexibility to create different fields in a space."

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