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  • Writer's pictureApril Corey

Lessons Learned from Post Occupancy Evaluations

A lighting level map of an open office

Post Occupancy Evaluations

Post Occupancy Evaluations (POEs) are a valuable tool in understanding how design choices translate to real-world applications. Performing POEs provide a step towards bridging the gap between design, construction, and building use. I have performed 20+ of these evaluations, focusing on our specialty of lighting design, lighting controls, and electrical systems, in order to obtain an understanding of the efficiencies and deficiencies that arise from design decisions. These buildings have been operating under typical conditions for at least one year, are located all across the continental United States, are between 100,000 to 600,000 square feet, and are either new construction or major renovation projects. These buildings are considered high-end facilities, with high design and construction excellence standards.

Through this process, I have discovered many deficiencies that are the result of either design choices or industry process. It is of utmost importance that we learn from these experiences, to create effective, efficient, and comfortable spaces. The choices we make as designers must consider constructability and maintainability of all systems.

Constructability and maintainability are the keys to good, long-lasting design. In short, the most beautiful lighting in the world will look bad if it is not maintained. This simple rule may appear obvious, but I have found a disconnect between intended lighting design choices, and its ability to be maintained within the specific facility. As lighting designers, we may find ourselves eager to illuminate specific architectural features– and the interim result might be beautiful! However, if this feature requires lighting that is impossible to maintain, as soon as a luminaire experiences a failure, the feature will no longer be lighted.

By considering the whole design over the life of the building, we create spaces that are intentional and consistent.

Here are just a few of the lessons learned conducting POEs:

Locate luminaires in accessible locations.

The biggest culprit here is lighting located in tall, atrium ceilings. If it is too challenging, due to expensive and/or dangerous lifts or scaffolding, then O&M staff will find alternatives. In several facilities, I have observed non-essential atrium lighting that has been permanently shut off by O&M as a result of maintenance challenges. In some instances, staff did not have access to a tall lift, and in others, a heavy lift was not usable due to the type of flooring or other architectural features. If a heavy lift is required to modify the lighting, it is essential to coordinate with architects, structural engineers, and future O&M to guarantee that staff has continued access to a lift, and that the floor can support the weight of the lift. If not, then there is no point in specifying lighting that cannot be maintained. To ignore this reality will ultimately result in a waste of money and resources.

Understand how the building will be maintained.

Does this facility have access to full O&M staff with experience running high-performance buildings? The answer to this question must influence design choices. If the facility will not have access to a highly skilled full-time O&M staff, simplify maintenance by reducing the types of luminaires, and therefore reducing coordination when replacing a driver, ballast or lamp. It is even more important in these types of facilities to locate lights in accessible locations. A building with a dedicated, high skilled staff may have more time to clean and maintain lights located in more difficult to reach places.

Provide a consistent, reliable, and maintainable lighting control system.

Too often, maintenance staff is plagued with tracking down control system flaws and does not always have the expertise to accurately assess the problem. Typically, this is the result of overworked and often undertrained staff. Initial training may occur when the lighting system is first commissioned, but that training rarely reoccurs, even when there are substantial staffing changes. It is important to understand how much time O&M will be able to dedicate to learning and understanding the control system. If not much, then the design must be simplified as much as possible. If code requires more complex lighting control systems, then continued support from the manufacturer must be utilized to guarantee continued success. Additionally, a single commissioning effort is not sufficient for many control systems, especially within the infancy of the lighting system. Changes in furniture placement and color will affect the operation of the control system and may trigger the need for recommissioning. There should be at least (1) recommissioning effort within 5 years of the initial commissioning.

Final Thoughts

A major challenge, of course, is that the lighting designer has limited control over many of these parameters. Facilities maintenance may not be understood during initial design; ownership may be unwilling to pay for extended lighting control service contracts; and architects may design features that make accessible lighting impossible. Opening the conversation on these matters is crucial in recognizing the steps we can and should take to produce long-lasting and effective lighting design.

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