At a time when the press is full of doom and gloom and many people certainly aren’t looking forward to a New Year, I would suggest there is merit in looking forward to the opportunities the future holds to ‘up our game’. Because I honestly believe that, while a downturn or recession is something that’s best avoided – if we can’t avoid it we have to make the best of it. And those opportunities exist wherever you reside in the supply chain.
As I work for a lighting company it makes sense to use lighting as an example. So, if you are a specifier or installer of lighting there may be fewer new build or major refurbishments to get your teeth into but the chances are there will be many more minor refurbishments. Based on the recession of the early 90s, many companies that were hoping to move to new premises will compromise and ‘refresh and refurbish’ their existing ones instead.
This provides a great opportunity to add real value to a project and lay the foundations for an enduring relationship with the end client that will pay dividends when the situation improves. And in this respect, lighting probably has more potential to achieve a dramatic improvement in an existing building than other services (unless that building is under-heated or under-cooled).
To some extent this will depend on the client’s underlying reasons for wanting to improve things. Realistically, albeit unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be because staff numbers are growing so fast that the existing accommodation is busting at the seams. Those organisations fortunate enough to be in that position will probably have the resources to fund a move to better premises anyway.
So the most likely reason will be a desire to improve the workplace environment and lighting is ideally placed to achieve this for a relatively low capital cost. Such an exercise could also make a major contribution to reducing overheads – in terms of both energy consumption and maintenance – if carried out in the right way.
This is where a combination of expertise and imagination has an important role to play. There will be a tendency for a cash-strapped client to want to do something for the smallest possible outlay. With the right guidance, though, it can be possible to achieve a major transformation for perhaps just a little more than a bog-standard lighting facelift.
In doing so I think there is great merit in combining the benefits of the two key lighting design guides: CIBSE LG7 and the British Council for Offices (BCO) ‘Office Fit-Out Guide’. In fact, I believe the BCO guide is undervalued by many people involved in lighting design.
The key thing about the BCO guide is that it’s all about creating a comfortable and stimulating working environment – putting the people in the space first. Of course, all lighting design should do that but there are many occasions where it’s not the overriding criterion.
This brings us back to the scenario described above; where one of the major benefits of re-lighting an existing space is the occupier is there to tell you what they want. This is in stark contrast to a speculative development where the budgets may be bigger but you’re working in the dark (if you’ll excuse the pun) because you haven’t met the occupier and so cannot possibly have a feel for their specific preferences and requirements.
Starting from a ‘let’s make it really good for the people’ approach it’s then reasonably straightforward to start planning how to make optimum use of the technical issues; like reflectance of surfaces, control of surface brightness and contrast ratios. Used judiciously within a ‘people philosophy’ these parameters can help to make every light fitting work harder for its living while bringing a really positive change to the workplace. Very often, spending a bit more on higher performing luminaires can reduce the overall number of fittings so the ‘upgrade’ is cost-neutral.
In parallel, depending on what was there before, this is a great opportunity to introduce dimmable fittings and incorporate better controls, so the lighting can be more responsive to the people. Just as importantly, controls such as occupancy detection and daylight linking will save energy and give the client a faster payback. Enhanced control will also usually extend useful lamp life so that maintenance costs are also reduced.
Given this, what I believe to be, very straightforward approach there are many building operators that can benefit from a greatly improved lit environment for a very modest cost. It requires your open mindedness and expertise as the specifier or installer of the lighting but in applying those skills you will have a very satisfied customer.