Know-How: Lighting

May 1, 2003
Different types of spaces call for different types of lighting and different types of controls.

Energy savings and the benefits that daylighted classrooms can have on student performance have brought greater attention to how schools light their facilities.

Schools can control the learning environment more efficiently by going beyond traditional on/off switches, and using sensors and automated systems that regulate when and where lights are on and how brightly they shine.

The Watt Stopper, a manufacturer of lighting-control products, has put together a lighting-control best-practices guide to help school officials decide how to illuminate their buildings.

Controls that adjust lighting in response to fluctuations in daylight or to accommodate different activities are beneficial for classrooms.

“Classrooms, where students are engaged in reading or computer work, are better suited to the use of continuous dimming controls; while in hallways, where occupancy may be more transient and students are moving, would be well suited to on/off daylight switching controls,” the guide says.

In a classroom occupied throughout the day by the same teacher, he or she might want greater control over the environment. In those cases, a manual override of automatic controls might make for a more contented employee.

“Common areas, where no single occupant is dominant, benefit more from purely automated controls,” the guide recommends.

Classrooms with hanging artwork that can move because of air flow should be outfitted with infrared sensors instead of ultrasonic sensors.

The guide offers general recommendations for other spaces:

  • Gymnasiums and multipurpose rooms often have high-intensity-discharge (HID) lights that require a restrike period. In those cases, it is best to use a control panel with time-based on/off control.

  • Exterior spaces should have lighting systems controlled by clocks as well as photocells that turn on lights at dusk and turn them off at dawn.

  • To enhance security on a campus, facilities should have adequate night lighting, and manual controls should be accessible to staff members.

  • For spaces that will be used after-hours, schools should install systems that provide the flexibility to accommodate those uses.

The guide is on the web (PDF format) at



Percentage of education buildings that use standard fluorescent lighting.


Percentage of education buildings that use incandescent lighting.


Percentage of education buildings that use high-intensity discharge lighting.


Percentage of school buildings that use compact fluorescent lighting.


Percentage of school buildings that use halogen lighting.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Information Administration, 1998, “A Look at Commercial Buildings in 1995: Characteristics, Energy Consumption, and Energy Expenditures”

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