Seeing the light: tackling whole-life costs of workplace lighting



The modern workplace has evolved almost beyond recognition in many instances. Adaptability has emerged as a defining factor when it comes to design and whilst many of the fittings and furniture can be altered, one area which has always proved difficult to change is lighting.

Here Steve Marr, an expert in power distribution at Legrand UK, outlines some of the most common difficulties associated with commercial lighting applications and how designers can counter them going forward.

Unlike many elements of a workspace or office, lighting is a constant. There are very few jobs where you can get away with just natural light, and therefore understanding how to get the best out of a lighting system is essential, especially given the amount of energy it can consume.

However, most facilities managers responsible for a commercial office are now familiar with ways of ensuring that a system is performing efficiently when it comes to energy consumption. This could include the switch from fluorescent to LED lights, and embracing lighting control technology such as energy-saving switches, sensors and dimmers; to ensure the optimum level of light is achieved. However, the ability to cut cost does not stop with the lights themselves, or the control.

In fact there are both short-term and long-term cost savings which can be made early on during the specification and installation stages, by paying further attention to how the power is distributed to the various lighting outlets.

Cable concern

Traditionally, one method of power distribution has dominated the commercial market: cable. From a pure distribution perspective, cable is still an extremely effective way of getting power from the distribution board to the lighting. Yet where cable has perhaps fallen behind when compared to other methods, is its speed of installation and, more importantly, its adaptability.

If you know exactly where you want both your lighting system and the wider power distribution infrastructure to run, then you can plan a cable installation very effectively. However, it is still a rather labour-intensive installation process as prior to any cables being introduced, a cable management system must be installed to properly support the run. Then cables must be laid, pulled through, and secured; all of which adds a significant amount of time to the overall installation process. Whilst it will result in an effective power distribution system, once complete, it is one that will be quite difficult to alter.

Here lies a second important detractor to the use of cable installations in a modern commercial office: a cable-based installation does not offer realistic adaptability when it comes to making future changes to a system. Electrical termination points, which are set at pre-determined positions as part of a cable installation, are difficult to either alter or add in once the system is complete. As such, it is quite hard and very costly to deviate from the initial installation.

This can pose quite a problem if a new tenant acquires the property or floor, and wants to change the lighting layout – perhaps as a result of creating more flexible working spaces through partitioning, for example, or even as a result of a building extension. Where a building has been extended, there needs to be an element of flexibility within the existing cabling system to support the new space.

Rewiring takes time as ceiling panels have to be removed; cables have to be re-wired; and more termination points have to be added. Again it’s a process that is not impossible, but is very time consuming and ultimately will increase a system’s total life cost.

Flexibility at the fore

As a result of a series of technological developments over the last fifty years or so, those responsible for both commissioning and specifying lighting power distribution systems now have a greater choice, based on the building and occupier requirements. Busbar technology is one such alternative that can dramatically improve a building’s total life cost.

Due to its modular nature, a lighting busbar system – such as the Zucchini LB Plus range – offers a fully customisable power distribution solution which can be simply push-fitted together to significantly decrease overall installation time compared to a cable system.

What’s more, once a basic infrastructure – or Category A install – has been fitted, it can be ‘tapped’ into at any point. Therefore if a facilities manager has to oversee an office reshuffle, or if a new tenant acquires the premises and would like a different lighting layout, a busbar system allows them to either slightly modify or completely redesign the system at a fraction of the cost and time.

As well as acting purely as a power distribution system, there are other combined options – such as Electrak’s Buscom trunking with Lightrak lighting control – which not only supply power but also facilitate communication between the light and control. This can help further improve efficiency through functions such as ‘absence detection’ and ‘daylight linking’ which ensure lighting is only used when needed.

Both types of busbar system require very little retrospective work once the basic infrastructure is in place. If additional lighting is required then just a few ceiling tiles can be removed to allow the new lights to be plugged in – or new control units can be easily added and plugged straight in to the power and controls network, providing extra capacity if the lighting control system needs extending.

In short, busbar offers a virtually maintenance-free, future-proof power distribution method for lighting systems.

Final thoughts

Workplace lighting has long been targeted as an area to reduce spending. Largely the focus on this has been tackling energy consumption through the choice of lamp, however, the vast majority of modern facilities managers and designers are fully up to speed in terms of commissioning and installing energy-efficient lighting systems. Lamp choice should not be the end of the story. The overall lifecycle cost of a lighting system can be significantly reduced by embracing new methods of power-distribution, particularly with regards to busbar systems.

Whilst cable has been a mainstay in the electrical industry, its lack of adaptability – particularly in confined places – has meant that despite having no detrimental effect on a system’s output, it is expensive and time consuming to both install, and retrofit. The emergence of modular ‘plug and play’ busbar systems – such as the Zucchini LB Plus busbar or Electrak Buscom range – provides those responsible for a building’s lighting infrastructure with a practical, quick and easily adaptable solution to keep the workplace lit.

With many of today’s offices expected to fulfil any number of different requirements, adaptability has emerged as one of the key criteria for power distribution systems. Bearing this is mind, there is only really one solution that meets the requirement for efficiency and flexibility in a commercial environment, and that’s busbar technology.