I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Terry Clark, Founder, Finelite. The topic: K-12 school lighting. I’m happy to share his responses with you here. The interview informed an article I wrote for the December 2017 issue of tED Magazine.

DiLouie: How would you characterize the K-12 education lighting market?

Clark: I would characterize the market in one word: “Underserved”. More attention is given to selecting flooring than selecting the best way to light a classroom. As a result, too often, lighting has been bought based on a lowest first-cost basis. When lowest first cost is the focus, it is difficult for a Distributor to add value and to make profit on the project. That is about to change!

DiLouie: What are the top design trends in K-12 classrooms? How are K-12 classrooms changing?

Clark: Trend 1 – Using T-LED replacement lamps in existing and dated fixtures. This is the path taken when decisions makers are not aware of new approaches that are cost-effective from day 1.

Trend 2 – Recognize the teachers teach better with great lighting systems. Update the classroom lighting system by using cost-effective, LED-based, 2-color tunable white, plug-and-play lighting systems that light each area of the classroom appropriately.

No longer will the learning environment be static where teachers stand at the front of the classroom and lecture to students in desks. Classrooms are incorporating a range of technologies, from mobile devices and computers to interactive white boards and modular furniture all designed to enhance the learning the environment supporting collaboration and personalized interactions.

Classrooms must be dynamic to accommodate the wide range of activities occurring, therefore a lighting system that can adjust to the tasks at hand is needed.

DiLouie: Generally, how are these design trends affecting best practices in K-12 classroom lighting design?

Clark: Best practices include a teacher-specific control panel that allow a touch of a button to change from general lighting to lighting appropriate to AV systems, to tablet use, to energize students and to calm them. Teachers can easily set these presets to reflect the unique nature of their classrooms. The system allows for school-wide schedules and can provide data to energy administrators as needed. One firm should take full responsibility for pricing, installation, and warranty support.

DiLouie: How influential are initiatives like CHPS, energy codes and LEED in the construction and renovation of schools?

Clark: They help. But, new research shows that newer, cost-effective approaches should be used. CHPS and LEEDs are working to update their recommended Best Practices to reflect what is now possible. Doing that in a timely basis is their challenge.

DiLouie: How is new teaching technology increasing demand for flexibility? What are typical lighting requirements? What lighting and control solutions are appropriate for satisfying these requirements?

Clark: Video displays, white boards on multiple walls; tablets for all students, Wi-Fi in every classroom are some of the things we see in many new classrooms. Since each of these needs a different type of light at different times in different intensities, new lighting systems are needed!

To satisfy the requirements and promote student learning, an energy efficient and cost-efficient tunable white lighting-emitting diode (LED) lighting system composed of luminaires, a user interface, a controller, daylight harvesting systems and occupancy sensors to promote energy efficiency specifically designed for education settings is needed.

DiLouie: Tunable-white lighting is offering ways to support learning by allowing teachers to control both intensity and color temperature throughout the day. How useful are these strategies, and what evidence supports their use? What are typical lighting requirements? What lighting and control solutions are appropriate for satisfying these requirements?

Clark: Lighting controls designed for teachers and teaching are the most appropriate. Key specifications include user interfaces tailored for managing common classroom scenarios such as general, audio/visual, and laptop/tablet activities. Vertical lighting should be used to increase light on vertical teaching surfaces and improve visual performance for students. Color tuning can be used to cue behavior and future proof learning environments.

The good news is that recent research1 shows that these new lighting systems can be made to be very reliable, to deliver excellent spectrums of light over the range of 6500K to 2700K, to be cost-effective, and to cover a very wide range of classroom types. However, these systems are just being designed into and installed in actual classrooms. Accordingly, concrete evidence of their effectiveness may still be some way down the road.

DiLouie: What are the most appropriate retrofit options for K-12 classrooms?

Clark: Today’s LED-based 2-color systems are so different from yesterday’s fluorescent light fixtures, that retrofits are no longer appropriate. Trying to do that will be a waste of money. This will become clear as we go forward.

DiLouie: How are energy codes affecting design of K-12 classrooms?

Clark: New codes are causing key decision makers to look at lighting more closely than before. When that happens, it creates the opportunity to explain why it is necessary to install a new system. That is a good thing.

DiLouie: What LED benefits are particularly suited to classrooms?

Clark: Properly designed, LED-based luminaires deliver extremely long-life (50-years is not outrageous), energy efficient, and maintenance free lighting in the classroom. LEDs also allow for 2-color tunable white systems that were not really feasible with fluorescent light fixtures.

DiLouie: When selecting an appropriate K-12 lighting solution, what should electrical distributors be looking for?

Clark: Make sure you are getting a fully plug-and-play system that combine new 2-color tunable white luminaires with special plug-and-play switches and teacher interfaces. Look for one firm that can guarantee pricing, delivery, easy installation, and one source warranty support.

DiLouie: What can distributors do to ensure they are most competitive in the education lighting market?

Clark: Ask great questions. If they are asked to price a retrofit, ask why they are not taking the opportunity to upgrade to a new system. If they are asked to quote a new system, ask who can provide it on a turn-key basis. As they move into this new area, be sure to ask: “who are the trusted partners that will be around for decades to support the system”.

DiLouie: If you could tell all electrical distributors just one thing about today’s education lighting market, what would it be?

Clark: Do not assume that the only issue is first purchase price. Strive to add value to the project. That will let you increase your profits by providing additional value.

DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?

Clark: No other area of school design and construction has undergone as much change as the way we should light classroom. You will bring value to your customers by helping make them aware of this. Bringing increased value to our customers is what you need to continue to succeed in the years to come.