Light-emitting diode (LED) lights provide many benefits for homes and businesses, such as energy efficiency, durability, flexibility, and improved overall light quality. In particular, K-12 schools often see improvements in academic performance after upgrading to LED lights. If you work at a school and are looking for a cost-effective way to improve your students’ learning experience, LED lights represent a crucial pathway for meeting these goals.
A Brief History of LED Lighting for Schools
Before the 1930s, schools were lit entirely by daylight, as artificial lighting was not available at the time. Then, from the 1930s until 1945, there was an “open air” movement in schools, whereby architects incorporated “natural” spaces into their designs. With the physiological and psychological well-being of their students in mind, many schools implemented physical exercise and outdoor activities. In the post-war period that followed, however, schools began to shift their focus to lighting, acoustics, heating, ventilation, and other elements in school designs. It was during this time that fluorescent lights became widely used in school lighting systems.
However, in recent years, studies have shown that fluorescent lighting has various adverse effects on students, and schools are now replacing their fluorescent lighting with LED bulbs.
Here are the benefits of LED lighting for schools:
1. Improved Student Concentration and Performance
One of the most important benefits of installing LED lights in classrooms is the improved academic performance of students. Several studies have found that LED lights can be tuned to imitate natural light, which is known to improve concentration and boost a student’s learning ability.
LED lights can be switched on to emphasize white and blue light, which boost productivity and concentration. Younger students, in particular, tend to have difficulty concentrating in the early morning. LED lighting can help shift their natural biological rhythms to overcome the tiredness they experience early in the morning and jump start their day!
Other researchers have found that LED lights can boost cognitive skills and lower students’ rates of error. One well-known study on these topics was conducted by Professor Dr. Michael Shulte-Markwork, who worked at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendoft as the Director of the Clinic for Psychosomatics in Children and Juveniles. In his year-long experiment, he set out to determine the benefits of light on students’ learning behavior. His study involved 18 teachers and 166 children, with ages ranging from 8 to 16, from the Grundschule in der Alten Forst elementary school located in Hamburg, Germany. Shulte-Markwork took baseline measurements and measured results using standard tests that were scientifically proven. He also had a control group that worked in a classroom with standard lighting. For the test group classrooms, he installed dynamic lighting, allowing teachers to adjust the lights to a setting suitable for each learning activity or the time of day.
In this experiment, teachers were able to choose from four different preset lighting schemes:
Normal: This setting was suitable for regular activities in the classroom.
Energy: This setting could be used to invigorate the students when they were required to be more active, such as at the beginning of the school day or after lunch.
Focus: The focus setting was designed to help students concentrate during challenging assignments.
Calm: This fourth setting was designed to relax the students during individual assignments or quiet time.
Unlike the majority of lighting systems, which come with a fixed light output and color temperature, each of these lighting schemes had a different light output and color temperature. LED lighting is a great choice for settings that require this level of flexibility.
The results of Shulte-Markwork’s experiment were as follows:
Improved Reading Speed: The students increased their reading speed by 35%.
Improved Concentration: The students reduced their errors by 45%.
Reduced Hyperactivity: When teachers gave students mathematical problems to solve, they used the Calm lighting scheme, which reduced the students’ hyperactivity by an astonishing 76%.
Researchers have also conducted numerous lighting-related studies in the healthcare field. Research on the effects of lighting has led to the development of practices in healthcare that are now widely used to enhance the performance of staff and the well-being of patients. For instance, hospitals are now using LED lighting that has high color temperatures to keep employees alert and support the mood, healing, and well-being of patients. At night, hospitals are also dimming the lights in patient areas and adjusting the lights to warmer-color temperatures, indicated periods of rest for staff, patients, and family. Researchers have found that these practices promote improved sleep quality for patients.
Fluorescent lights can also cause interruptions in the school day if they break or become damaged, resulting from trace amounts of mercury contained within the bulbs. In response, the Environmental Protection Agency established specific rules for schools that need to replace broken fluorescent lamps. If a fluorescent lamp breaks during school hours, the school must be evacuated until all traces of the mercury have been removed from the premises. With LED lighting, this kind of interruption would never occur because LED lights do not contain any hazardous materials found in fluorescent lamps. If an LED light does break, replacing it is a quick, easy process.
We’ll talk more about the health benefits of LED lighting later on.
2. Energy Savings
Schools that choose to install LEDs won’t just see increased academic performance — they’ll also enjoy decreased energy bills. Unlike fluorescent lights, LEDs are free of mercury and completely recyclable, which make them the most environmentally friendly lighting option. LEDs consume less energy than any other type of lighting available on the market, meaning that your energy and maintenance costs will be substantially reduced.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, switching to LEDs can reduce your energy consumption by 75 to 80 percent. By adding reflectors, sensors, lenses, timers, and other options, your school can increase its savings even more.
Education facilities in the United States that continue to operate with fluorescent or incandescent bulbs spend more money trying to compensate for the heat produced by these outdated lights than they do on the lights themselves. By upgrading to LED lights, the savings generated by these avoided expenses can be relegated toward other parts of your facility that require more attention.
For schools interested in upgrading to LED lights, follow these steps to make sure your upgrade is as successful and cost-efficient as possible:
Conduct an audit: Gather data about your school’s energy consumption and present the information to your school’s decision-makers to get their support.
Mockup an area of your school: Once you have the approval of your administration, mockup an area of your school with the LED lights that you proposed.
Look for utility rebates: Speak with your local representative or distributor to find out if you qualify for utility rebates.
Seek funding: In some situations, this could be the most difficult step. Your school may not have the money to upgrade all of its lighting at once. It may have to be installed in phases over a longer period of time.
3. Enhanced Lighting Controls and Flexibility
Classrooms that are equipped with lighting controls can match their color temperature to certain times of the day/specific activities. These tunable presets can be adjusted for activities that require a sense of calm or attention, as needed. However, even more basic features, such as dimming, are being implemented in less than two percent of classrooms, which can have significant impact on students’ learning experience.
LED lighting can also improve the educational experience of students outside of the classroom. Online education is now the main educational pathway and source of revenue source for schools. However, a lot of the digital content is recorded under fluorescent lighting, which other causes a distracting flicker on video recordings and digital presentations. When lights are dimmed, this flicker effect is further exacerbated. However, thanks to the recent advancements made in LED lighting, you can now choose flicker-free LED lights with dimming and color-tuning features across a large range of illumination without noticeable interference or banding.
The United States Department of Energy has described the next-generation integrated lighting system for classrooms as an exceptionally energy-efficient, tunable, and fully dimmable white lighting system. The report emphasizes that lighting in the classroom should offer flexibility to accommodate different methods of teaching.
LED lighting is considered one of the key components of “smart buildings.” Today’s advancements in LED lighting include embedded sensors and networking capabilities that enable optimization across lecture classrooms, auditoriums, lecture halls, and other areas.
4. Health Benefits
Fluorescent bulbs aren’t just wasteful — they can also harm your health and wellbeing. Replacing fluorescent lights with LED lighting in educational environments is associated with the following health benefits:
Reduction of Harmful Contaminants Associated With Fluorescent Bulbs
Installing LED light fixtures can lower the risk of exposure to harmful contaminants like Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines PCBs as carcinogens that can harm the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems and are often found in the T12 fluorescent ballasts. While all of these ballasts have the potential to leak or rupture, some of them are also known to emit small amounts of PCBs during their normal use. The EPA also released an announcement that schools in the U.S. built before 1979 may still have some T12s that contain PCB. You can be exposed to the contaminants if you breathe contaminated air or touch contaminated materials following a rupture or leak. People exposed to high levels of PCBs may show signs of rashes or acne and, in some cases, even lung and liver problems. Researchers are continuing to conduct studies to better determine the adverse health effects of PCBs.
Outdated lighting technology contains another, more familiar contaminant — mercury. Fluorescent lighting contains a combination of inert gages and mercury when the current passes through the glass containment tube. Depending on how you’re exposed to the contaminant, it can enter your body through the skin or lungs. If a fluorescent tube shatters, anyone nearby is at risk of mercury contamination, which makes fluorescent tubes a serious safety hazard in schools. Mercury is also hazardous because it produces UV light. UV radiation can damage tissues in our skin and eyes, and if exposed to it for too long, cataracts can form and macular degeneration — the most common cause of blindness — can also occur.
Improvement of Light Quality
Some other ways that LED lighting can make the school environment healthier and more comfortable for students include:
Improvement in Visual Performance and Comfort: Glare and flicker are two issues associated with outdated lights and can affect the teachers as well as the students. Glare often causes you to blink, squint or look away and can be caused by one of two things — excessively high luminance or excessively high luminance ratios. In both scenarios, the students’ visual performance will decline as their comfort levels decrease. Two types of glare exist — disability and discomfort glare. Discomfort glare refers to the pain associated with viewing glare, whereas disability glare reduces visibility. Disability glare occurs when light is scattered throughout the eye, which then reduces the retinal image’s luminance contrast.
Less Irritation for Autistic Students: Autistic students are especially susceptible to the harmful effects of fluorescent lighting, including an increased sensitivity to direct fluorescent lighting’s sub-visible flicker. This can lead to eyestrain, headaches, and an increase in repetitive/compulsive behavior. LEDs, on the other hand, are resistant to the flicker-effect when they are completely dimmed, which makes them an excellent choice for special education student bodies.
Reduction in Hyperactivity: Color temperature has also been shown to play an important role in students’ health/performance. Studies show that cool color temperatures can improve the behavior of students with learning disadvantages or hyperactivity disorder. This cool light color allows them to concentrate on projects and tasks more effectively. Hyperactivity is related to stress conditions, which can be aggravated by the radiation produced by the fluorescent lights. When exposure to this radiation is decreased, performance and behavior improve.
Improvement in Circadian Rhythms: The optimal function of the body’s circadian rhythm depends on the right kind of light. This vital process helps your body determine when you should wake up, go to bed, and even focus and relax. If students are regularly exposed to lighting that doesn’t match their circadian rhythm, it can disrupt their sleep-wake cycle. And students who aren’t getting enough sleep are at increased risk of focus and performance related issues. Improvement in Mental Cognition: Exposure to cooler color temperatures during the morning hours is known to help with morning wakefulness, contributing to improved concentration and performance in school.
Improvement in Mood: Light levels are also important in the classroom, and bright lights are used to treat several types of depression, including Season Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD affects people during the coldest months of the year when people don’t get enough sunlight exposure during the day and is a common problem in schools and offices. If you spend too long in a room that’s dimly lit, it can affect your mood and lead to depression.
5. Reduced Maintenance Costs
Every classroom, hallway, bathroom, and office needs sufficient lighting, and the number of bulbs maintenance workers must replace can number in the thousands. If a school uses fluorescent bulbs, maintenance crews may spend a significant portion of their working hours replacing lights, especially when those lights are not easily accessible, like those found in gyms, auditoriums and other spaces with high ceilings. However, since LED lights have a significantly longer lifespan, your crew can spend less time maintaining/replacing bulbs when you switch to LED.
6. Other Economic Benefits
Shorter Payback Period: An educational facility’s payback period is usually one to three years. Over the course of an LED bulb’s lifespan, savings can reach millions of dollars, which help educational facilities and school districts better adapt to their budgetary constraints.
The Ability to Replace Any Type of Light: LED lighting can replace many different types of lights, including fluorescent lights, fluorescent tubes, high hats, and can lights. LED lights can be suspended, recessed, or flush-mounted on walls or ceilings. Regardless of the type of lighting you have in your school, LEDs can replace them.
Contact SitelogIQ about K-12 LED Lighting Solutions
SitelogIQ is a full-service facility design, planning, and management company that is committed to making working and living spaces healthy and efficient. Our knowledgeable team possesses a broad range of knowledge in every aspect of facility design, planning, and management, including plumbing and mechanical systems, energy efficiency, central energy plants, building controls, and lighting systems.
Over the past several decades we have partnered with many clients in K-12 public and private schools across the country, providing classrooms with functionality, comfort, and efficiency through our K-12 school construction solutions.
It is our firm belief that every district has unique requirements. It is for this reason that we perform a comprehensive assessment of a district’s facilities, as well as its community as a whole. The resulting information gives us an in-depth understanding of what your district needs and can better create a project plan that suits your educational goals and budget.