Are architectural lighting solutions an affordable option for houses of worship?

Are architectural lighting solutions an affordable option for houses of worship?

Published: WORSHIP

Architectural lighting solutions play a crucial role in creating the atmosphere in today’s HOWs, but are they an affordable option? Alice Gustafson talks to four industry experts to find out.

Theatrical lighting often steals the limelight in terms of what takes centre stage during religious sermons, and while it plays a very obvious role in contributing to the effectiveness of a service, spare a thought for the more subtle architectural lighting. Taking into account overall affordability, including maintenance, energy savings and operation costs, are architectural lighting solutions an affordable option for today’s HOWs?

‘Very much so,’ insists a spokesperson from lighting manufacturer iLight – a Cooper Controls brand. ‘Once installed there can be as much as a 70 per cent energy saving made with a lighting control system’.

Worship AVL Asia learns that the use of modern dimming technologies can mean successful dimming and control of a wide variety of lamp types, including energy efficient LED, fluorescent and CFL.

‘Energy savings can be increased further with the use of time clocks and sensors to turn on and off lighting at particular times, and only activate lighting scenes when needed,’ the iLight representative elaborates. ‘Maintenance is also a big cost saving, adding to the affordability of a lighting control system. Lamp life is greatly increased due to many factors, including the way lamps are “soft started” when activated. With many churches having high ceilings, it’s a costly process changing lamps!’

Architectural lighting focuses on three fundamental aspects of the illumination of buildings or spaces. ‘The first is the aesthetic appeal of a building, an aspect particularly important in the lighting of worship environments,’ adds Chris Pease, sales and marketing manager, Lightronics.

‘Secondly, the ergonomic aspect: the measure of how much of a function the lighting plays. Thirdly is the energy efficiency issue to ensure that light is not wasted by over-illumination, either by illuminating spaces unnecessarily or by providing more light than needed for the task. In short, a properly designed architectural lighting plan is no more or no less affordable than any other lighting system in the facility.’

Many churches are now designed with two types of lighting systems: theatrical and architectural, with theatrical lighting comprising incandescent fixtures, dimmers, LEDs, and DMX controllers. Meanwhile architectural lighting includes house lighting within the worship centre and the general lighting in hallways, classrooms, offices, bathrooms and accents on walls. 

‘It plays a crucial role in setting the tone by providing general illumination and creating an environment,’ clarifies Tom Stanziano, South East regional sales manager, Philips Entertainment. ‘The most popular options and styles for house lighting are recessed or pendant lights. Recessed fixtures provide the ultimate in light source concealment without compromising performance. One benefit is that it brings the light down from the ceiling and puts it at a more effective height for the room. These fixtures come in many lamp types and wattages including incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED.’

There have been extensive developments in the world of LED lighting solutions over the past few years, culminating in a vast array of options on the market. One such company catering to this sector is Global Design Solutions (GDS), which has developed an LED lamp that can be fully dimmed from 100 to 0 per cent without any flicker or stepping, which is matched with the brand’s ArcMesh wireless protocol.

‘Adding to the reduction of complicated install costs, there are huge savings to made by moving to LED,’ says GDS architectural lighting consultant, Paul Johnson. ‘As we all know, it is a constant battle to maintain any bulb, whether it be incandescent, tungsten or halogen. Just as soon as you have replaced one that has blown, another three pop!’

Mr Johnson insists that one of the best advantages of LED is its lamp life. ‘On average, the GDS range will exceed the often stated 50,000 hour life expectancy due to our specifically designed heat sink and underpowered running capacity. In short, if you use your lights for 10 hours per day this will achieve a 13.7-year life span, and from an investment perspective that calculates to each LED costing 2.55GBP per year. Add to that the energy savings and reduced effort and cost of bulb replacement and you have a very cost effective and practical solution,’ he clarifies.


Since larger facilities often have higher ceilings, maintenance issues are inevitable. ‘When the design calls for hanging the lights so high that they require a lift to change the bulbs, churches need to decide if they can fit a lift in their budget and their space,’ Mr Stanziano advises. ‘Investing in a catwalk for maintenance purposes may seem costly, but compared to $60,000 for a lift, the catwalk is comparable and much safer!’

‘I think that when properly planned, architectural lighting systems are as easy to maintain as any other lighting system,’ offers Mr Pease. ‘Poor planning can leave you looking 20m up in the air and wondering how are you going to change that burned out light bulb.’

‘Architectural lighting systems do not require much maintenance,’ concurs the iLight spokesperson. ‘If a client wishes to change lighting scenes then this can be done via a PC remotely over the internet if an Ethernet device is added to the system.’

‘The average life of an incandescent lamp is about 1,000 hours, the CFL (Compact Florescent) is 10,000 and the LED is 25,000+ hours,’ notes Mr Stanziano. ‘To find the best options, churches must weigh the positives and negatives with the intended environment. For instance, churches in the US are changing because there is a push to recreate their image for the next generation. These churches tend to incorporate theatrical lighting into the architectural design.’

Rising trends

HOWs are often multi-functional spaces, providing regular services, functions and weddings, and having the option to set pre-programmed ambient lighting scenes at the touch of a button is nothing but convenient. By controlling the lighting a HOW can create the desired visual environment, providing the proper interaction between the pastor, the congregation and the choir.

‘Architectural lighting control is as simple as pushing a button,’ nods Mr Pease. ‘You should not have to operate a complicated lighting console to get the look you want for Wednesday night choir practice or for a Saturday night wedding. Save the lighting console for Sunday services when your volunteer staff can be there to run the audio, video and lighting systems.’

An added benefit lies in the fact that a control system can be programmed remotely, saving time in managing various areas of a facility whilst preventing lighting unused spaces and accidentally leaving fixtures on. In this way, lighting can also be set up in zones, so that sections of seating can be turned on and off when attendance is not as high.

‘We have seen a rise in the number of churches who want to combine their house lights and performance lighting systems,’ Mr Pease reflects. ‘Most of this is being driven due to churches wanting to take advantage of the energy saving LED technology.’

‘Architectural lighting solutions are becoming more popular, and we have a regular stream of church projects every year,’ concurs the iLight spokesperson. ‘Where LED lamps are being retrofitted for energy savings, the use of a lighting control system ensures good dimming performance though the range of the lamp. Conventional dimming solutions such as wall mounted rotary dimmers do not produce smooth dimming curves with the majority of LED lamps on the market, and this is a known problem in the LED world.’

‘We have seen an increase in requests for our systems due to the ease of install and the practically of the system,’ agrees Mr Johnson. ‘A well designed lighting system can make any space more usable, and with more and more houses of worship opening up their spaces for multi-purpose events, the need for a suitable lighting design with individually controlled lamps which can be set for any activity is a must.’

Architectural lighting fixtures are not as specialised as theatrical or performance lighting fixtures, and are therefore less expensive. ‘However new technology is always more expensive than old technology so investing in energy saving LED could cost more than installing standard incandescent lighting fixtures,’ notes Mr Pease. ‘Churches should look at the amount of savings they expect from their investment and make sure that they see a return on that investment in at least three years.’

Whether or not a HOW’s technical inventory is energy efficient also a key consideration in today’s market, with the majority of churches keen to invest in long lasting and cost-efficient products.

‘Many architectural lighting systems are designed to harvest natural light and the lighting control system is there to provide additional illumination when required,’ Mr Pease elaborates. ‘Some systems use LED or fluorescent lights to reduce electrical consumption, while some are used to turn on lights only when the space is occupied – both great examples of ways a lighting system can be more efficient and provide energy savings.’

‘It is our responsibility to promote energy efficiency,’ asserts Mr Stanziano, ‘but there is a balance that exists between designing an aesthetic worship setting and “going green.” Adding a control device offers savings over the life of the building by only using the systems when necessary, reducing lamp usage and replacement.’

Crucially, buying a quality product is the only way to ensure that the lighting system will provide value and longevity. ‘If your buying decision is based strictly on price then you can rely on the old adage that you get what you pay for,’ Mr Pease advises. ‘Look for an established manufacturer that has a proven track record, and look for a company that provides the best warranty.’

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