Energy Codes: PA Looks to the Future of Lighting and Design

In this Article
Matthew Fracassini Project Manager

Pennsylvania has updated its energy codes to meet efficiency and sustainability goals. How will these changes impact lighting design? 

Over the past decade, lighting design has become a critical component to both new construction and renovation projects across various sectors. The A/E/C industry is aware of lighting’s ability to shape an environment, set a mood, and enhance well-being. Beyond aesthetic and scientific goals, however, lighting solutions are impacted by stringent energy codes and sustainability initiatives, ever-advancing technology, and changes in user expectations. As a leader in lighting design, The Lighting Practice strives to design to best practices. Developing lighting strategies that meet and exceed energy standards and our clients’ goals.

In 2017, a uniform construction code was established throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  This new construction code, 2015 International Building Code (IBC), which includes an updated energy code, went into effect throughout Pennsylvania on October 1, 2018. The City of Philadelphia subsequently voted to implement an even more stringent construction and energy code for commercial projects in the city, adopting the 2018 International Building Code (IBC).

Pennsylvania had not adopted a new energy code for almost 10 years, so this is a dramatic reduction. After reviewing the updated energy codes, Matthew Fracassini, MIES, LEED AP BD+C, Project Manager at The Lighting Practice made the following four observations: LEDs are preferred, controls will be everywhere, daylight harvesting is mandatory, and power use depends on location.

#1 LEDs Are Preferred

The energy code regulates the allowable lighting power that can be used according to space type. The allowable lighting power values in the new version of the code are based on a survey of designs that use light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. So, while other sources may still be used in lighting design, use of LEDs in most applications is indicated by allowances in the code.

#2 Controls Everywhere

There are many new types of controls required by the new Pennsylvania energy code – including vacancy sensors, multi-level controls, and daylight-responsive controls. In addition to reductions in connected load, buildings save energy by utilizing different types of controls in their lighting systems, because lights are on only when they’re needed. The energy code has harnessed these savings by requiring one or more layers of lighting control in nearly all space types.

As more space types – such as lobbies, corridors and other circulation spaces – are increasingly required to automatically turn off when unoccupied, it will be more difficult to achieve the “lantern” effect, a popular design motif that gives the effect of a glowing glass building.

#3 Mandatory Daylight Harvesting

The importance of daylight for human wellbeing and focus on occupant wellness have led to more open offices and common areas that are located along building perimeters giving occupants more access to windows and daylight.  The new energy code requires all general lighting near windows or skylights to have its own controls that are separate from the room’s other lighting.  These criteria will need to be considered when designing lighting systems for open areas near the building perimeter.

#4 Power Use Depends on Location

The allowable lighting power for exterior lighting now varies based on the surrounding environment. Projects in dense urban areas, for example, may use more power for lighting. In contrast, projects in remote rural areas may use less power.

“The building code is sometimes described as detailing ‘the worst building you can legally build,’” explains Matt. “Strictly speaking, this is true – the codes, including the energy code, are the baseline for building construction and performance. But there’s another way to look at it. By raising this baseline, the codes have incredible power to move us towards a more sustainable future by mandating how much energy a building can consume in construction and operation.”

Evidence shows that sustainable practices and energy savings are no longer simply buzzwords or nice-to-have features — they are a major part of our toolkit to prevent global catastrophe. As designers, understanding the goal of energy codes is part of how we build a truly sustainable future.