Shine a Light on Senior Living Design

Lighting in Senior Living remains one of the most critical design elements. However, lighting and energy codes rarely reflect senior needs. Codes were based upon standard applications not taking into consideration senior eyes which can require up to 75% more lighting than that of a 25 year old. Codes also do not take into account geographic location nor color temperature. Proper lighting in senior living is further complicated by not inviting Lighting Consultants into the planning process until after there is an issue.

Understanding the applicable codes, lighting types and needs can create an environment that works well for aging eyes, the specific geographic location and aides in emulating a home like experience.

Natural light is preferred as much as possible in Senior Living. In some areas of the country however, natural lighting needs quite a bit of help from artificial lighting. According to the website, States with the highest sunshine per year are: AZ,CA,TX,NV,NM, CO and FL at 76% sunshine per year and above. The States with the lowest sunshine per year are: WA,NH,WV,NY,MI,OR and OH with less than 50%.

According to the US Census Bureau, the largest numbers of seniors are in: California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan and New Jersey. As you can see, New York, Ohio and Michigan have the lowest sunshine per year while being amongst the highest senior populations in the United States. While California, Florida and Texas have the highest sunshine levels per year and also is among the highest senior populations. It is easily understood then that lighting requirements that were designed for a one size fits all solution will not serve a large portion of those they were intended to serve.

This is further complicated by the variation in energy code per State. California, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and New Jersey go by ASHRAE 90.1 2007/2009 IECC equivalent or more stringent, while Ohio goes by ASHRAE 90.1 2004/2006 IECC equivalent per the US Department of Energy’s Building Energy Codes Program. 10 states have no energy code adopted and another 3 use ASHRAE 90.1 2001/2003 IECC or less stringent.

A three legged stool approach is best served to meet the lighting needs of residents in senior living.

  1. Resident lighting needs for a specific Task or activity
  2. Building Code Lighting requirements
  3. Energy Code Lighting requirements

Resident lighting needs for a specific use or activity should take into consideration the following: amount of light needed for the activity, the need for adjustability, color temperature (2700-3200 Kelvin’s) and passive vs. non-passive requirements.

Coupled with building code requirements and that of energy code requirements the three legged stool approach will successfully meet the lighting needs in senior living. Conflicts may be present when trying to balance energy codes with needed foot candles; however, a possible solution is the introduction of LED lighting in wall sconces and other light sources in the future.

On an additional note, Lighting should also be used for way finding and cuing. Specialty lighting at elevators and other decision making points can also help with way finding and resident orientation. Over the resident toilet to help with cuing, as night lighting and at Resident room entrances. Lighting clearly plays an important role in Senior Living design and needs to be considered in detail to create the best environment for aging seniors.