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How important are light fixtures in schools

January 13, 2012

We’ll finish off the week “light” (sorry) – James Monroe Elementary School in Washington state has replaced almost all of their light fixtures with LED-based products.  Administrators say they are willing to absorb the high up-front costs for the promise of long-term energy savings and the associated cost savings.  Teachers at the school say the light is “warmer” and better for reading.

The science of light frequency has been of interest to ergonomic and human performance experts for years, and has been touted in advertising for light bulbs for about as long.  Some experimental studies have found little measurable difference in cognitive performance among various lighting products, including incandescent, fluorescent, and so-called “full-spectrum” lights, but anecdotal evidence still suggests that “warmer” light (associated with incandescent and fire-light) is easier on the eyes, and full-spectrum products can make black print easier to see on white paper.  Fluorescent lighting, on the other hand, has been linked to seizures due to the imperceptible flickering inherent to the design of the bulbs (or the very perceptible flickering present when a bulb or ballast goes bad).

School leaders looking for energy cost savings who can access a significant capital outlay might well look to replace lighting fixtures throughout buildings.  Understand that those energy savings will be the primary interest when it comes to hard evidence, though ergonomic concerns should be considered.  Get samples of products and test them with staff and students, and get stakeholder input from the people who will have to work under the new lights all day.

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