Left hand, meet right hand

Two parts of the Building Regulations are at odds, but there’s little prospect that the hopelessly out of date Part B will be updated any time soon, says Miles Pinniger, international lighting consultant

Despite the cynical comments I made about the Parliamentary Lighting Group in the March Eco Warrior column, my worst fears are confirmed — the editor’s not heard a squeak out of any of them since March.

Even the mighty US, a non-signatory to Kyoto, is pressing ahead with the ban of all incandescent lamps next year, despite its cheap energy costs and its mindless energy-wasting culture. Predictably, the humble GLS lamp is becoming the darling of the US media.

Returning from this year’s LightFair in Philadelphia one might have been forgiven for thinking that the only light source ever known to man was the LED. The latest craze is the LED modular recessed office light fixture.

Numbers of these boring white boxes with LEDs in them showing little or no design flair were not limited to traditional manufacturers. The Far-Eastern flat-screen TV manufacturers were trying to get a slice of the world lighting market for the first time — after all, you only have to take an LED-backlit TV screen, remove the LCD gate, turn it on its side and you’ve got the perfect office lighting fixture haven’t you?

The only problem is that for a 600 x 600 recessed modular fixture, the distributor price from the major manufacturers was around $250 (about £156). A fairly unattractive option for all but the early adopters — and three or four times more expensive than the (probably better) fluorescent option.

As I predicted in my last column, the energy saved by these devices compared with, say, a 3 x 14W T5 fluorescent fixture is only about 30 per cent, so the payback is pretty underwhelming. Only by introducing dynamic power management controls would the necessary 80-85 per cent energy savings be achieved.

In regard to controls, LightFair was more appealing with several manufacturers offering innovative electronic control systems.

Encellium showed a simple, open architecture, retrofittable software-based system that piggybacks onto anybody’s electronic ballast and gives digital, addressable control through a data bus and can be commissioned over the internet.

Lumenergi’s BMS-based system can control lighting alongside HVAC and other services, and is retrofittable in situ in existing buildings.

The manufacturers of both systems claim up to 80 per cent energy savings compared with uncontrolled systems.

Part B
Back in the UK, those selling and specifying lighting to save energy are faced with more wishy-washy, out of date legislation that, because of its age, actually prevents manufacturers from using new generation super-efficient optical materials.

Yes, it’s the UK Building Regulations again, but this time Part B. Necessary of course, but don’t be fooled by the date of 2000 on the front cover – Approved Document B is based on legislation made after the Summerland disaster in the Isle of Man in 1973, where large amounts of Oroglas flammable plastic cladding caused a deadly result.

Part B contains a specific section on lighting diffusers (recessed only) and rooflights that was introduced in the 1970s to limit the area of flammable material used in suspended ceilings.

It also applies to any recessed lighting diffusers — for example the 1,800 x 600 mm troffers that were popular at the time. It differentiates between the categories of flammable materials TP (a) and TP (b), TP (b) being the more flammable but the better optically and the more stable.

For TP (b) materials, Part B limits the maximum surface area to 50 per cent of the relevant floor area — but the real problem is that it limits the spacing between such luminous areas to a minimum of three metres, which exceeds the typical 2.4 or 1.8m luminaire spacings found in most suspended ceilings.

Struggling with the parts
Now here’s the conundrum: smaller, more efficient luminaires need to use newer, super-efficient optical plastics to meet the ever-tightening requirements of the much more up-to-date Part L, which is rightly focused on saving energy.

But according to the 30-year-old Part B, you can’t use them more closely than three metres apart.

We’ve already got LED recessed downlighters that use acrylic – TP (b)– lenses, and more are coming onto the market every day. Their foreign manufacturers know nothing of the archaic Part B that restricts their use.

The irony is that most current LED downlighters have so little output that you’re forced to space them much more closely than three metres.

In an attempt to clarify a way forward, I spoke to the Department for Communities and Local Government (Eric Pickles’ lot) to find out when Part B might get modernised.

Ah well you see, there are other priorities, like making Part L even tougher, so Part B won’t even get considered till 2013 — with the possibility of a new draft by 2016. How ridiculous is that?

So which part of the Building Regulations would you like your scheme to comply with: Part B or Part L? Soon you won’t be able to have both.

Miles Pinniger is an international lighting consultant

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