Ensuring a win in the lighting specification process

For this student health center project, there were not three manufacturers who could provide the particular light desired, so the lighting specifier wrote a performance specification and created drawings of the ideal fixture to allow the manufacturers to custom-built it. This maintained competition during the bidding process.
Photo © Kris Decker/Firewater Photography

Building trust with the owner
A lighting specifier may not be involved early in the design process, because lighting is often considered secondary in a building project. As a result, the lighting specifier may miss out on some important interactions between the owner and other design team members. It is important to try to participate in the design process as early as possible, because lighting is an essential ingredient in the full project package. Lighting factors can play a big part in how a project develops.

A good designer has technical expertise and a voice that should be included in most of the process, from early design development all the way through construction administration.

During design development, critical decisions are made that could affect lighting direction—there is still plenty of time to make some crucial shifts if necessary. For example, when decisions are made about ceiling heights and finishes, consulting the lighting specifier might help avoid problems (e.g. using incorrect lighting for the height of the ceilings or reflectiveness of the surfaces in the space) later in the process. Thus, it is crucial to have lighting specifiers involved at the start of the project, as they can often provide insight into which lighting systems will work best within the architectural design. Ensuring certain lighting decisions are made early on can also spark thought in other trades, such as where ductwork or piping can be routed, what controls need to be selected to coordinate with other systems, and decisions regarding the budget.

When it comes to controls, the lighting world is blessed with many choices. Architectural LED lighting product development occurred faster than many experts first anticipated, and along with this trend came many more lighting control opportunities and exponentially more product choices. However, the lighting specifier’s job is not only to provide choices to the entire design team, but also to advise on what is practical, affordable, and functional. Not every project requires the latest highly sophisticated control system. Luminaires can still be controlled in new and innovative ways that are not extremely expensive. It is important the lighting specifier knows the options and can negotiate the needs of the owner during the design process. He or she should be available and as involved as possible with the architect and the owner throughout this process, not just at the submittal stages or after all other building decisions have been made.

For the Durham City Hall project in North Carolina, the lighting specifier reviewed samples for the facade lighting with the design team, and was involved throughout the process to ensure accuracy and a quality final product.
Photo © Sterling E. Stevens Design Photo

The need for designer involvement continues through the construction administration phase as well. The fact the design is complete does not mean that the lighting specifier’s work is done. Contractor submittals should be reviewed to determine the specification intent has been met and that every detail matches those of the bid documents. Further, because contractors have so much field experience, they tend to be very good at bringing up questions that may not have been covered completely in the bid documents. These questions should be directed to the designer of record, not just any field person standing in to oversee the project build.

More often than not, some information in the submittals needs to be reviewed by the contractor and perhaps resubmitted. For instance, the lighting specifier may find the light output, type of control, or a product finish desired by the owner is not correctly represented. This is the last chance to ensure the design intent is met and the owner is getting what is expected before the contractor purchases products. If those documents are not completely reviewed for accuracy and compliance, various problems could result in the field. Nobody likes an installed surprise that does not meet the specifications—therefore, it is the lighting specifier’s responsibility to step up and engage in the design process rather than waiting to be asked.

Finally, as the project is being constructed, the lighting specifier should be involved in the field in order to confirm:

  • the products being installed are exactly the same ones approved during the submittal process;
  • installation of both luminaires and controls is as intended; and
  • all are functioning properly.

Constant project involvement pays off in dividends at the end of the project with successful installations and satisfied owners.

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