Lighting Control Commissioning: It’s only a struggle most of the time.

This article is part of Wood Harbinger’s Newsletter series.

By Nicholas Baker, EIT, LEED AP BD+C

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, lighting accounts for more than 20% of a building’s energy use. With the new set of energy codes,  new lighting techniques  will reduce energy used by building lighting.  Modern lighting controls have evolved into complex systems, often utilizing multiple energy-saving techniques, such as daylight dimming, occupancy sensors, LED lighting and smart scheduling.  Each of these different techniques helps to reduce the overall building energy consumption, but requires advanced controls to manipulate each system and the overall building lighting system. 

This is what makes commissioning of lighting controls a struggle. Lighting, luminaires and lamps are last to be installed. This often further delays the integration of lighting controls with the building controls, which could cause issues and delays in having proper lighting at the time of occupancy.

Lighting Integration, Difficult Unless…

Having worked on several projects as a commissioning agent, I have found very few issues when commissioning standalone lighting controls. This is because lighting control manufactures know how to control their complex lighting systems. The biggest issue I consistently experience occur when trying to commission lighting controls that have been integrated with a Building Management System. A way to avoid this issue is to have a lighting controls representative available, prior to installation and through functional testing, to work with the construction and commissioning team. It’s absolutely necessary to have a lighting controls representative as part of the commissioning team for a proactive lighting integration process. The benefits of starting well in advance of start-up are immeasurable. Issues discovered late in the game can be costly and are usually avoidable.

Poor & Great Integration in Practice

On a local middle school renovation project this past year, I was the Commissioning Authority and encountered a scenario involving poor lighting integration. There was no coordination between the lighting control representative and the building controls contractor before the start-up of the lighting system. As predicted, at start-up, many issues arose with lighting controls and communication between the lighting control panel and the building controls system. To remedy the situation, we held numerous meetings and site investigations to straighten out the lighting control integration.  Adding to the problem was the fact the lighting specialist was located in California and required a two-week lead to get him onsite in Washington State. This process took months to solve. In the end, the controls contractor wrote fairly extensive code to correct for the lighting control panel.

Conversely, on a different local high school in the same school district with the same controls contractor and commissioning authority (me) and a different lighting control system, there was a coordination meeting early in construction with the lighting control representative; electrical, mechanical and controls contractors; commissioning agent; and owner representative.  The panel locations and integration with building controls was discussed so everyone was on the same page. At the end of each phase, we all met up to perform functional tests on the system and found only minor issues that were quickly corrected. Things ran smoothly all because of the time we put in earlier to preempt any potential major issues.


Proper operation of lighting controls is crucial to an energy efficient building. Our experience shows that the most efficient way to assure proper lighting controls is to have a standalone lighting controls system that does not interface with the building management system. If this is not possible and lighting control must be on the building management system, it’s best to involve the lighting control and building controls representatives early and often throughout the construction process.  A couple of hours of time spent coordinating lighting controls can save days, even months, in the commissioning and turnover of a building.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NBaker_WH

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