The Essential Rules of Good Lighting

We’re back with an educational blog series for you! This month, we’ll discuss the rules of good lighting, particularly in commercial spaces.

We have to consider lighting for every project we do at Baker Associates, and it can get very technical and complicated. But when done correctly, the results can be AMAZING and bring the necessary finishing touch to the vibe and atmosphere of a space. Included in this post are some of our favorite lighting moments from previous projects we’ve done, so we hope they can serve as inspiration!

Good lighting is essential in any commercial space. It can impact the look and feel of a room and the health and safety of building occupants.

There are a few key things to keep in mind when designing a commercial lighting plan:

Illumination Levels

Illumination levels are the amount of light hitting a surface, measured in foot candles. The illumination level should be appropriate for the function of the space. For example, office spaces typically require an illumination level of 50-70 foot candles, while retail spaces may need up to 100-foot candles.

commercial lighting

Color Temperature

When you hear someone say, “Oh, that light looks blue” or another color, the color temperature is usually what they are referring to. This measures how “warm” or “cool” a light source appears. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K). Warmer colors have a lower Kelvin value (2700-3200K), while cooler colors have a higher Kelvin value (4000-5000K). Some people confuse this with illumination levels, but they are two very separate things!

CRI (color rendering index)

This is a measure of how well a light source renders colors. Think of it as the clarity of light.  A higher CRI means that colors will appear more accurately illuminated under that light source. 90 CRI or higher is the goal; anything less than that can negatively impact how a particular object is lit.

commercial lighting

Space design

How a space is designed can impact the lighting needs. For example, rooms with high ceilings may require more light to adequately illuminate the area. When we begin our project lighting plans, space design is often the first thing we consider. Some basic questions we ask ourselves are usually:

What are we trying to illuminate in this space?

Which products or areas is the client looking to showcase the most?

What is this space going to be used for?

That gets us to our next thought:

The function of the space

The intended use of a space should be considered when designing the lighting plan. Task lighting may be necessary for office spaces, while accent lighting may be more appropriate for retail spaces.

Lighting is unequivocally tied to what the function of that space will be. For example, if you’re doing very detailed work in a car dealership requiring a lot of lighting, you may opt for more direct light. Alternatively, if you’re designing, say, a lounge, you might opt for more indirect lighting or lower-foot candles since the space is more for relaxing, waiting, checking phones, etc.

commercial lighting

Using a lightbox

A lightbox is a type of indirect lighting that can be used to create a more relaxing atmosphere. Lightboxes are often used in office spaces or retail spaces to provide a subtle wash of light.

Accent lighting

This directional lighting is used to highlight specific areas or create focal points. Accent lighting can highlight artwork, architectural features, or merchandise in a retail space like this Honda dealership!

commercial lighting

Interior/exterior lighting

Lighting needs will be different for interior and exterior spaces. Exterior spaces need to be well-lit for safety reasons, while interior spaces may require more subtle lighting.

The exterior lighting can often be the most difficult to put together, mainly when dealing with the “trespass” as you land a site. What does this mean? 

Well, it’s important to remember that all properties have a designated square space where they are located, so this needs to be kept in mind when dealing with exterior lighting. You want to ensure you are lighting the designated space and not interfering with nearby businesses. This is often the issue with car dealerships, as clients like the cars and outside to be lit but also need to consider neighboring businesses, which can be tricky since light isn’t something that can be controlled. 

It feels terrific when we master this on our projects because while, on the one hand, we’re fulfilling what our clients want, we’re also making it so that the local community doesn’t dread whenever a new car dealership wants to open up around them!

commercial lighting

Ok – So what’s the scoop on direct vs. indirect lighting?

Direct lighting is when the light source is directly visible, while indirect lighting is when the light source is not visible. Direct lighting can be harsher and may cause glare, so it is often used in task-oriented spaces. 

commercial lighting

Indirect lighting is more subtle and can create a more relaxing atmosphere.

Another thing to consider when thinking about direct and indirect light is the contrast ratio: This is the difference between the lightest and darkest areas in a space. A higher contrast ratio means more contrast between the light and dark areas. Again, these elements are dependent on the space function. You’ll see a higher contrast ratio usually in retail settings since they are trying to showcase specific products to sell. We’ve also seen this in many of our car dealership projects where we’ve used the contrast ratio to highlight show-floor cars.

commercial lighting

What about directional vs. ambient lighting?

Directional lighting focuses light in a specific area, while ambient lighting illuminates an entire space evenly. This lighting can create focal points or highlight certain areas, while ambient lighting creates a more general light wash. Directional lighting can very much be described as a focus light, which, as we mentioned above, proves very useful in retail spaces. Ambient light shines out all over from a fixture, which can be a gorgeous touch for a more relaxing space.

commercial lighting

The dreaded lighting mistakes

A few common mistakes are made when designing commercial lighting plans.

  1. Using too much direct lighting, which can cause glare and make a space feel harsh.
  2. Using the wrong light color temperature, which can make a room feel too cold or too warm.
  3. Not considering the intended use of a space or any of our aforementioned pieces when designing the lighting plan can lead to inefficient or ineffective lighting.
  4. Cheap lighting looks like cheap lighting. There, we said it.

So what type of light is suitable to use?

This depends on the desired look and feel of the space, as well as the function of the area. Some common types of commercial lighting include incandescent, fluorescent, LED, metal halide, and halogen lights.

Lighting will not be amazing forever, though. Metal halide lights are always the cheapest color when you install them. Then as they age, the ball will start turning a little green or blue, and finally, you’ll end up with a sickly color. With fluorescent lighting, depending on the manufacturer of the fluorescent bulb, you may get variations in color temperature, even though it was noted as the same color temperature lamp. Over time and as light ages, their appearance may differ from what is expected.

Another thing to keep in mind, too, is heat. The heat comes off the light fixtures. You have to really think about that when you put them in, especially cans, because these things heat up with a lot of energy in there.

Our recommendation? Get in touch with a good lighting consultant. At Baker, we have our own lighting consultant to get advice on what lights will work best for our projects. That way, when clients work with us, they know we’ve done the research and talked to experts before presenting any plans!

commercial lighting

Following commercial lighting laws and code requirements

Several commercial lighting laws and code requirements must be followed in the United States. These include the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the International Building Code (IBC), and the National Electric Code (NEC). Commercial lighting in Minnesota must also follow egress path requirements. 

We pride ourselves on this at Baker: making spaces beautiful while still being functional and accessible for all. Following laws and codes is just the name of the game in this industry, and we’re proud to say it’s something we’re always diligent about sticking to!

It goes beyond just following basic laws and codes. At the end of the day, it’s all about the health & safety of building occupants. Emergency lighting is critical for all businesses to have – backup power-generated lighting is something we always look to include in our plans. With exterior lighting, it’s important to include lighting in trash enclosures and places where people need to see that can get dark at different times of the day. 

And while there’s a minimum requirement to meet for industrial and commercial lighting, we always like to go above and beyond. For example, Kristy always wants to ensure extra lighting in the bathroom so that if you’re in the very far stall, there’s light back there. Imagine the light goes out, and there’s only a 1ft candle coming in from across the room? That sounds like a recipe for a bad day!  For these reasons, it is crucial to consider the health and safety of occupants when designing commercial lighting plans.

commercial lighting

So, there you have it.

Lighting is a crucial aspect of any commercial space, yet it’s often overlooked. The proper lighting can make all the difference in the look and feel of a space and the health and safety of those who occupy it.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if you need help ensuring your commercial space has the perfect lighting solution. We’d be happy to help you create a stylish and functional space. Contact us today for more information about our services!

What do you think about good lighting? Are there things you like to keep in mind when making a lighting plan? Let us know if the comments!

Check out our full lighting gallery below.