Lighting Controls within DeafSpace

Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. is a federally-chartered liberal arts university and the only university in the world established for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing. Design work at the university is shepherded by DeafSpace guidelines, which detail how to create appropriate environments for the users where interactions rely on visual and tactile communication.

Within a DeafSpace, for example, the audibility of a door knock or doorbell does not work to notify building occupants that there is a visitor outside. Likewise, in teaching spaces when a professor needs to call a classroom to order alternative notification systems are required. Lighting fluctuation has proven to be the most successful and reliable system for notifications in Deaf Spaces.

Various approaches at Gallaudet University achieve lighting annunciation with differing levels of response. Three-way switches have primarily been used for conference rooms, residence halls and classrooms, while pushbutton systems have been used in faculty offices. Both methods evolved as successful problem solutions simply as toggling on and off manually.

Sustainability-focused building codes now mandate a higher standard of energy performance for lighting systems, requiring the introduction of complex controls and electronically sensitive hardware. Daylight harvesting, for example, is a sophisticated control technology that allows for set illumination levels precisely in reverse proportion to the available sunlight. Thus, spaces attain optimal illumination levels while saving the most energy.

Through our work at Gallaudet University, we identified the following challenges that these new controls present for door notification and classroom annunciation within Deaf Spaces:    

  • Incompatibility of analog (manual) notification systems with digital (sensor-based) lighting controls;
  • Unidentifiable changes in illumination levels of a notification related to ambient illumination levels (Ambient illumination levels vary depending on the time of day and current weather conditions. Notifications that either turn off light fixtures that are already dim or supplement and/or override dimmed fixtures to achieve full brightness might be undetectable by an occupant.);
  • Complexity and cost of the lighting control system (Lighting and notification systems in a space can be standalone or part of a building-wide network. The more complex the lighting system, the more the initial installation costs).

Based on our team’s recent research and work with Gallaudet University, as well as participants in the Gallaudet Deaf Space Institute, we have learned a range of approaches to a modernized notification system may be achieved.  These include:

  • Line Voltage Controls – An approach used in College Hall, the historic administrative campus center, line voltage controls combine a pushbutton doorbell with fixtures attached to dimming ballasts. This approach is similar to the legacy pushbutton system.
  • Standalone System – This system is being installed in each space in Peet Hall, a dormitory converted into administrative and interpreters’ offices. It is comprised of standalone-lighting control systems combined with pushbutton doorbells. The lighting control system includes occupancy and daylight sensors connected wirelessly to a power supply. When the pushbutton is pressed, one fixture switches off and the other is forced to 100 percent brightness.
  • Network Control System – This approach was used for the Hall Memorial Building, the campus central classroom structure. The system connects separate dedicated fixtures and zones of fixtures, all controlled by pushbutton doorbells, to eliminate redundancy in component needs and generate a more comprehensive energy performance strategy.

Based on new lighting and control technologies, our team identified three options as suitable approaches for Gallaudet University to incorporate appropriate lighting controls in spaces compliant with DeafSpace Design Guidelines. 

The first option is a dedicated light fixture directly tied to a doorbell pushbutton; it is recommended for limited scope of work areas. The components include pushbutton and LED or florescent light fixtures with instant ballast. This option is a low-cost, simple installation. The system is independent and not integrated into primary light systems or energy performance strategies.

The second option is a stand-alone system tied to fixtures with dimming ballast. This option is recommended for renovation areas less than 25,000 square feet. The components include pushbutton, control sensors, a PowerPak and shunt relay. It is a low cost, simple installation with the sensory battery’s life averaging about ten years. The downside to this option is the limited number of zones per PowerPak and the fact that it cannot be tied into the lighting management system.

The third and least cost-efficient option is comprised of a network system tied to fixtures with the dimming ballast, recommended for renovation areas greater than 25,000 square feet. This system’s components include pushbutton, control sensors, control relays and a lighting management bulb. Spaces that are designed with this lighting system will have more zones of control, simple wireless installation, sensor batteries with an average lifespan of 10 years. They will also have better control results and energy reporting via the lighting management hub, integration of system into overall building management system and no negligible delay in notification.

Our team provides narratives of each system, a list of component needs, and pros and cons considering both the system’s initial installation, and its effect on long range facilities operations. It is our recommendation that the option selected for a specific projects be chosen based on the project’s needs, current energy mandates, site situations, fiscal requirements and overall campus needs. In order to provide flexibility, our recommendations allow for more than one lighting solution for a single project. This fluidity will allow for the university to provide its unique student body with a learning environment that fits their particular style of learning and interaction.

This article was originally published by World Deaf Architecture News in December 2018. Page Principal Todd Ray was the primary author with Interface Engineering Principal Kevin Cahill as the secondary author.