Just like the air-con temperature, preferences for light levels are specific to individuals and in a shared office this can cause plenty of disagreements. Office lighting has an impact on everything from health and safety to productivity levels so the importance of taking a proper look at the lighting in your office can’t be underestimated.
In this article, we’ll take you through your options for office lighting and what to bear in mind if you’re planning to upgrade your lighting system.
Where to start?
Lamp Shop Online’s Ultimate Guide to Office Lighting is a good place to start when it comes to designing a lighting plan for your office. This article takes an in depth look at what lighting works best in which areas of the office and explains the difference between background and task lighting.
This article will help you ensure you’re following best practice for your office lighting including:
- How to get the level of lighting right in your office
- How you can save money in the office with energy saving bulbs and gadgets
- Tips for how to improve the health of your team with better lighting
How much light is enough?
The level of light in an office has a massive impact on productivity. Dim lighting can impact on a team’s efficiency as low levels of light can make people feel sleepy and even cause health issues such as eyestrain and headaches. At the other end of the scale, lighting which is too bright can trigger migraines and cause eyestrain as the eye needs to work harder to focus in bright light.
According to the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, a 30-50 foot-candle (fc) range is suitable for general office lighting. ‘Foot-candle’ is a unit of lighting which measures the intensity of light in relation to its source, it’s defined as ""illuminance on a one-square foot surface from a uniform source of light". Although the Society recommends a 30-50 fc range, on average most workspaces are lit to 60 fc which means the light is much brighter than it should be. Over illumination can cause team members to suffer from headaches and migraines, anxiety and fatigue.
Getting the balance of light right, including natural light from windows, can have a major impact on a person’s health. A study by North Western University revealed that, “Office workers with more light exposure at the office had longer sleep duration, better sleep quality, more physical activity and better quality of life compared to office workers with less light exposure in the workplace.”
This light doesn’t have to come from natural light from windows (although this is preferable) there are light bulbs available, such as the Full Spectrum 5ft 58w 172 Activa Tube, which replicate natural daylight. Fitting these in your office will give your team the optimum level of ‘natural’ light.
- Measure the level of light in your office to check you have the correct foot candle level in each area. To do this you will need to invest in a light meter which measures the level of visible light, light meters can be expensive but you should be able to pick up a basic meter (which is all you’ll need) for around £50. You can see which light level is recommended for which area of your office with this handy table.
- Invest in task lighting (table or overhead lamps) and new light bulbs to get the levels of light right in your office.
Saving money on office lighting
According to lighting manufacturers Philips, 80% of lighting used in buildings is old technology and not updating lighting and lighting systems to more efficient models can have a real impact on your electricity bills. ‘Old technology’ refers to ‘static’ office lighting controlled by one switch, which means that the lighting in an area is either all on or all off. This type of lighting offers no room for adjustment and can cause a number of health problems, such as headaches and eyestrain, not to mention wasted energy as the lighting cannot be altered to make the most of natural light.
Lighting control systems
There’s obviously no point having the lighting on in places which are unoccupied. A more efficient way to light the office is to use lighting control systems with sensors which only switch the lights on when the room or area is in use. Sensor controlled lighting in low traffic areas such as toilets, storage rooms and corridors will drastically reduce the amount of energy lighting uses in these areas and will also mean that staff won’t have to remember to switch the lights off in these areas when they leave.
Some lighting systems work in conjunction with natural daylight. These ‘daylight harvesting systems’ reduce energy consumption by using natural daylight to offset the amount of artificial lighting needed to light an area sufficiently. As the amount of daylight increases in a room, the photosensors in the lighting control system detect the change and automatically decrease the amount of artificial lighting needed.
To make the most of a daylight harvesting system:
- Consider making your office décor as light as possible as dark fittings and fixtures will absorb light and thus make the artificial lighting work harder, costing you more money.
- Regularly clean your windows as dirt and dust will minimise the natural light coming through.
- Position desks in the area of the room with the most natural light and store filing cabinets and bookcases in darker corners of the office.
- You could even consider moving the office meeting area or breakout space into a darker area of the office as this area will be used less day-to-day than the desks.
Another energy saving option is to apply a timer to the lights so that they only come on during working hours, this prevents wasted energy from people forgetting to turn the lights off at the end of the day.
It’s important to note that the ideal lighting control systems should have a manual control so that staff can choose whether they have the lights on or not. This is particularly important in brighter weather when artificial lighting often won’t be needed at all.
LED bulbs are well known to save energy but it’s surprising just how much money this translates to. For example, a large office using 300 fluorescent tubes running for 7 hours a day could save £2,529 a year by converting to LED tubes. Considering that 33% of the electricity used in commercial buildings is spent on lighting, switching to LEDs represents a significant opportunity for making savings. The initial cost of LEDs can put people off making a switch but they are often much more affordable than people think, for example, a T8 2ft 10w LED tube can cost as little as £13.99 and you will make your money back on a tube like this after around 18 months of use.
It’s not just your bottom-line which will benefit from better control over your lighting, non-domestic lighting is responsible for around 24 million tonnes of CO2 each year. Shockingly, this is the equivalent of the annual greenhouse gas emissions from 5,052,632 cars.
- Research lighting control systems for your office. A good place to start is the Philips website which details a number of lighting control solutions.
- Once you have worked out the level of light you need in your office (see the ‘How much light is enough?’ section above) you can then work out exactly how many LED bulbs what wattage you need.
Office Lighting and Health
There is no doubt about it, work can be stressful – it wouldn’t be called work if it was supposed to be fun all the time. But whilst we accept the pressures that our jobs may present, there are added stresses that many of us experience in addition to our workload which can often be the icing on the cake when it comes to stress overload. Below are some issues to look out for which can be caused by lighting.
Shedding light on the problem
Many offices use fluorescent lighting, primarily because it is cost effective and the bulbs are long lasting, however, it can sometimes present negative health issues to employees. One reason for this is because fluorescent lights flicker. The fluorescent light bulbs contain a gas, which becomes excited and glows when electricity passes through it. The flicker is created because the electricity is not constant, instead it is controlled by an electric ballast that rapidly pulses on and off. The pulse is so fast that it appears to be on constantly, however, some people can perceive the flicker, even if they cannot consciously see it, hence causing headaches, migraines and eye problems. One way to avoid this is to upgrade to LED tubes, which although they still flicker, the effect is much less noticeable than with fluorescent tubes and you can take advantage of the money saving benefits of LED tubes.
SAD and stress related conditions
Stress, anxiety and depression can also be accelerated by fluorescent lighting, especially if it contains a green cast which makes the colours in the environment appear drab and sickly looking. Similarly, poor lighting can add to the symptoms of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).
What can be done to counteract the negative effects of fluorescent lighting?
There are several things you can do to counteract the negative effects of fluorescent lighting:
- Step outside and get some sun exposure. Even taking a quick walk in your lunch break will make a difference.
- Position your desk by a window or skylight.
- Replace regular fluorescent lights with full spectrum or daylight spectrum fluorescent lights as they have a better colour temperature spread and can work to counteract SAD.
- Incandescent lights provide a good spectrum of light and there is also the added benefit of it being a constant light source that doesn’t flicker. Having a single incandescent light bulb on in the room can counteract the flicker from the fluorescent lighting, and can also balance out any green tinge.
The eyes are often put under a lot of strain when focusing for long periods of time on a computer screen, especially if the screen contrast levels are high, there is screen glare or if you have a poor ergonomic monitor set up. Eyestrain can be made worse by uncorrected poor vision, stress and tiredness, but again, fluorescent lighting can also play a large part in the condition.
What can be done to prevent eyestrain?
- Ensure that you have adequate lighting levels for the task, but keep in mind that too bright lighting can be a cause of eyestrain.
- Keep the brightness of your TV monitor between 50-100% of the screen’s brightness.
- Once you have sourced lighting with the correct wattage for the task, ensure that it is positioned where it won’t create shadows, and therefore restrict the amount of available light.
- Make sure that you have regular eye examinations. Even if you wear glasses or contact lenses you may find that the prescription has changed.
- Follow the 20/20 rule. After 20 minutes of concentrated close-up work, take a 20 second break by looking at something 20 feet away.
- Speak to your team about their experiences of light in the office in relation to health. If migraines and eyestrain are rife in your place of work then it’s time to look at your lighting.
- Consider investing in LEDs (see above for the environmental benefits) and SAD lighting which will provide a non-flickering alternative to fluorescent tubes and may help combat feelings of depression and anxiety in winter months.
A few small changes in your office can completely transform how your office looks and, more importantly, how your members of staff feel when they’re at work. It’s important to note that people who are happier in the workplace can increase productivity by 10-50%! Changing your office lighting can also boost your bottom line as well with increase productivity and reduced energy costs.