Light it up

Something we often take for granted is the lighting in our homes. Perhaps more important now than ever before, Amy Wallington looks at some of the latest human-centric lighting trends in the home.

Have you ever been into an expensive fashion shop and the lighting is really low and dim and you end up leaving with a headache because it felt so uncomfortable? Yes, I think we’ve all experienced that or something similar. That is an example of non-human-centric lighting.

“With human-centric lighting, we are thinking holistically about how artificial lighting can be harnessed to mimic the daily rhythms of natural daylight,” explains Hugo Fitzjohn, chief solutions architect at Light Walls. “Our circadian rhythm is the internal human body clock; we subconsciously take cues and triggers from the changes in daylight throughout the day which regulates this clock.”

This method of lighting is not only for the home, it has a place almost anywhere because of how effective it is. “The cues have such a profound effect on how we function that NASA opted to update all of the lighting on the International Space Station,” he adds. “The goal was to improve the circadian rhythm control of the astronauts which in turn made them more productive. We still don’t fully understand everything about light’s nonvisual effects but with three decades of research we can see that there are potential benefits in thinking about mimicking the effect of daylight.”

Shading is just as important as the lighting aspect of a human-centric lighting solution. Image: The Appeal Group

Human-centric lighting has grown with the development of LED lighting, which allows much more tuning and control compared to the traditional light fixture in the middle of the room with an on/off switch.

“I’d say that right now, most human-centric lighting systems aren’t bought, they’re sold.”

“The advancements in LED lighting allow for control companies to tune lighting to specific colour temperatures that are designed to seamlessly transition throughout the day from high energy, midday productivity, to evening relaxation, and ultimately healthy sleep,” says Angela Larson, senior vice president of customer operations at Savant.

There are three important parameters to consider when synthesising daylight in the home – correlated colour temperature (CCT), brightness, and colour rendering index (CRI), according to Fitzjohn. “Colour temperature and brightness are often seen as the primary objectives,” he states. “However, CRI which measures the quality of the light is incredibly important too. The closer the CRI score is to 100, the closer we are to the quality and behaviour of daylight. In the past, light could be very bad, for example warm fluorescent would score a measly CRI of 51, which meant that it was hard to get a true representation of the colours of objects. With modern LEDs, we now look to specify a minimum of 95 CRI wherever practically possible to make the artificial light seem more real and thus give a truer representation of colours.”

Wellbeing

Health and wellbeing have perhaps never been as important as they are now. After spending the last 18 months at home, general and mental health awareness has really grown, and we are constantly looking at ways to improve it. Having the right lighting can do wonders for our mood and natural wellbeing.

“The innovative use of light keeps evolving,” says Charlotte Sablon, marketing at Basalte. “It is common knowledge that the light of the sun is crucial for our health and wellbeing. Therefore, every artificial light source should match the qualities of sunlight as closely as possible. That’s the idea of centrally controlled circadian lighting – to stimulate natural daylight. Light can affect our motivation, wellbeing and productivity. Our physiological response to light depends on things like colour spectrum, intensity, and timing. The quality of light in our environment is therefore of great importance when we spend a long time in closed rooms. Especially in times when so many people work from home, this aspect becomes more relevant than ever before in day-to-day life. That’s why tying in circadian rhythm into your home automation system is the next big thing. It can improve the ability to concentrate, prevent sleep disorders and increase general wellbeing.”

Shading can be used to control how much natural light and heat is in the house which works with the lighting system. Image: The Appeal Group

The benefits of having a human-centric lighting system at home has never been more realised, as Sablon pointed out. While many people have moved to a permanent home office, they are getting outside into natural daylight less and less which can have a profound effect on their productivity and wellbeing.

Sleep is also affected when we have bad lighting at home. Larson conveys: “An element of daily wellness is our ability to adhere to a daily circadian cycle, otherwise known as our sleep/wake cycle. This sleep/wake cycle has historically relied on cues from the sun with bright/cool light during the day, warm/dim light in the evening and no light as we sleep. As we get further and further away from life outdoors, our sleep/wake cycle has been disrupted by artificial lighting, and now we often experience bright/cool light even as we should be slipping into warmer evening light to better prepare us for sleep.”

Feeling blue?

When programming a human-centric lighting system in a customer’s home, it is important to think about the colour spectrum. Sablon explains: “Blue wavelengths in light are the biologically active parts. For this reason, it’s best to use cool white light sources with wavelengths in the blue spectrum to stimulate the body in the morning and as a boost when high concentration and alertness is needed. In the evening, warm white light can aid relaxation and rest.”

Colour temperature plays a huge part in how we feel. Lighting is one of those things that you don’t notice when it’s good, but when it’s bad, it really stands out, and not in a good way.

“Colour temperature has a direct impact on a person’s bio-rhythm,” she continues. “So by controlling it as part of an intelligent lighting system, it is possible to influence the mood and behaviour of those in the room. To make it as easy as possible, you can integrate these settings into scenes. When you activate the ‘Home Office’ scene for example, the lights dim up with a cold colour temperature using bluer frequencies. This kind of light will increase awareness, productivity and wellbeing during the day.”

Alexandre Zveiger / Shutterstock

Of course, when integrated with a home automation system, LEDs can be automatically tuned to reflect the light outside. “Taking advantage of advanced LED lighting that can be automatically tuned to specific colour temperatures throughout the progression of each day, people are better able to naturally transition from go-mode to relaxation and then to healthy sleep,” suggests Larson.

Savant offers an innovative technology in this space called Savant Daylight Mode, designed in partnership with USAI Lighting. It is a 24-hour circadian cycle that is configurable inside of the Savant Pro App. Larson continues: “Daylight Mode allows for time-of-day settings of kelvin temperatures as well as lighting intensity shifts that all happen seamlessly throughout the progression of each day. Daylight Mode can be personalised for the individual home, intelligently adjusting for related factors such as geography, time zone, and season.”

Shutting light out

A human-centric lighting system is not just about the lights themselves; shading is also a very crucial part of the set up.

“During the warmer months, the right window shading will not only control the amount of natural light in your home, but also reduce heat gain and the need for artificial cooling (air conditioning), allowing you to maintain a comfortable temperature,” says Tina Loveland, business development executive at The Appeal Group. “In winter and on colder days, the warming effect of natural sunlight is welcome and can reduce the need for central heating, therefore cutting down on energy bills. Installing a dynamic shading system allows the home to benefit from passive solar heating on cold days, from limiting solar gain on hot days and provide that all important cosy feeling during the evening.”

“This kind of light will increase awareness, productivity and wellbeing during the day.”

As well as thinking about programming to work with the artificial lights, shades are also needed to control the amount of natural daylight. Sam Shervill, marketing manager of Silent Gliss explains: “One of the main considerations for human-centric lighting and shading is how the space will be used. Will it be for work, home, or both? Different levels of light are needed for different tasks and the home control system needs to work with the shading system to manage the levels of light, avoiding glare. The orientation of the window is also important; south facing windows may need a different fabric solution to a north facing window. Some rooms will have both and the human-centric lighting will need to work alongside the shading to create the correct ambient light.”

It’s also worth considering that even with a human-centric lighting solution, it is still artificial lighting. It helps to extend the natural light from the windows but as humans we still need real natural daylight.

“By integrating shading into a building control system you can maximise natural daylight as part of human-centric lighting,” she adds. “The shading system can control the levels of daylight coming into the room without eliminating the ‘good’ daylight. By controlling glare, the smart lights can be used as a supplementary source instead of a primary source.”

This also affects mental health and general wellbeing, as Loveland highlights: “The fact that some people suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and vitamin D deficiencies both show how vital natural light is for human wellbeing. Bright, artificial light is great for illuminating the home at night but we are attuned to natural light and our physical and mental health relies on it.”

Working as a whole system, the shading carries multiple benefits to enhance a home. “Installing the right shading can prevent fading of carpets and soft-furnishings, regulate temperature in the home, and add a level of security and privacy,” concludes Loveland.

Savant’s Daylight Mode is a 24-hour circadian cycle that is configurable inside the Savant Pro App. Image: Savant

New trend

Although still developing, human-centric lighting has been around for a while and we are now beginning to see it more and more in people’s homes. The last 18 months has helped this situation with people wanting to invest in their properties and having more money to spend.

There has also been a shift in attitudes towards the technology, as Fitzjohn picks up on: “I’d say that right now, most human-centric lighting systems aren’t bought, they’re sold. Our industry is really starting to pick up on the benefits that human-centric systems offer and are using them as a differential sales tool and way of upselling a lighting system. In time, as the technology becomes more common place, we’ll see an increase in uptake and more people asking for these systems.”

He has also noticed that the idea of creating different lighting to mimic the weather outdoors is a driving factor. “For me, this is a really exciting aspect of really bringing light to life. Look out the windows in the UK and you will often see clouds which of course adds another layer to the daylight we experience. In reality, the light is always changing randomly throughout the day because of weather patterns, and we can now replicate these effects indoors. This is a conversation that I’m increasingly having about how we can create living light. We have some projects being built right now where we have tens of thousands of individually controlled high CRI LEDs in a giant matrix behind a diffuser on the ceiling. This system allows us to create dynamic lighting effects very easily including the experience of living light with the cycle of light brightness and colour throughout the day layered with the effects that clouds create. This level of biomimicry is something that is very new, and I see us having a huge demand for this in the future in high-end residential and commercial spaces.”

Main image: Chlorophylle Photography / Shutterstock