Clint’s Controls Corner: Removing Complexity From Lighting Controls Projects


Clint's Controls Corner (text only)

Lighting controls systems today are becoming increasingly complex, in order to maximize energy savings and meet current energy codes. With the increased complexity of the systems and requirements, building occupants are often having more and more difficulty operating their controls systems on a daily basis. The best controls systems for building occupants are the ones that they never notice. Energy savings need to be balanced with the occupants’ ability to effectively operate the system while still meeting energy code.

The fact that every person has unique needs for their environment creates a lot of hassle for facility managers. Some people think that the lights are too bright, or too dim, or they don’t understand why the system works the way it does and get frustrated that the lights aren’t behaving the way they think they should. These occupants may all be in the same room! Lighting controls design would be so much simpler if we could just keep people out of the building. Yes, that’s an engineer talking.

Fortunately, with proper design and installation, lighting controls can enhance the workplace environment versus irritating and intimidating the occupants as they often do. 

When designing a controls system, it is best to start with a clearly defined sequence of operations that will meet code and balance the energy savings with the building occupants’ ability to have control of their environment. Controls systems today have many different options and capabilities. However, the more complex the system becomes, the more likely occupant difficulty in operation becomes. When this happens, facility managers often end up overriding the system which greatly reduces the potential for the energy savings that was paid for in the cost of the system. In most cases, the best system is the one that meets energy code with the minimal amount of system complexity.

Once the sequence of operations is defined, it is typically best to leave the detailed system design to the manufacturer or manufacturer’s representative. There are many controls systems on the market today that will operate per a specific sequence of operations. But, depending on the system, many different topologies and components are possible. Detailing the system architecture without taking this into consideration will lead to problems during installation when the contractor has to resolve conflicts between the engineer’s design drawings and the lighting controls shop drawings.

For installation, it is imperative that the contractor follow the shop drawings. These drawings have been developed with all of the details for a fully functional and code compliant solution. No rough-in should begin without these shop drawings. Furthermore, in order to minimize any issues, a pre-construction meeting should be conducted with the installing contractor and the lighting controls system programmer. This will set expectations and create understanding of why the system is detailed as it is. Following the pre-construction meeting, the controls system programmer will stay involved with the project, and will act as a resource to the contractor for any questions. Often, a five-minute phone call can save hours of rework later in the project.

Effectively balancing intuitive system operation with code compliance will achieve the best results in energy savings. Having a well thought out sequence of operations, followed by a detailed design of the specific plan that is implemented by contractors, with the direct assistance of technicians that understand every piece of the system, are the keys to the most successful lighting controls projects.

Through every step of the design and construction process, MH Controls is focused on providing the best solution for every project that we are involved in. We look at the design in great detail to be sure that the controls will be functional and code compliant, and will operate as best as possible for the building occupants. During construction, we have a pre-rough-in meeting on every project with our local ProSite Services field technicians that are available to help the installing contractor. 

We strive on every project to create predictable outcomes and user-friendly control solutions.

This article was written by Clint Conley, our Lighting Controls Department Manager. Clint can be reached at 720.904.8554 or