Lighting Can Be Part of Your Environmentally Friendly Gym Design

Kurt Broadhag, MS, CSCS, is a fitness professional with more than 15 years of experience in personal training and gym design. He is president of both K Allan Consulting, a firm specializing in health club design and management, and 23D Gym Design, which develops both two- and three-dimensional fitness center layouts. Kurt can be contacted at (310) 601-7768 or via e-mail at [email protected].

Note: Green gym design incorporates a number of components centered on saving our natural resources, decreasing the production of harmful elements released into the environment and creating a healthy environment. In my first article of the series entitled "Green Flooring" the major green theme was saving natural resources. The focus of this article is on lighting and how a few simple steps can help reduce your electricity bill and help the environment.

The EPA estimates that 25 percent of all energy used is consumed through lighting. Of that, three-fourths is used in commercial and industrial settings. Coupled with the fact that most electricity currently produced is through fossil fuels and coal (although alternative supplies are becoming more readily available), the impact on the environment just from lighting demands can be devastating. The whole process of energy production from the extraction of natural resources to its distribution has a negative effect on our environment. Incorporating environmentally friendly lighting in gym design is one of the easiest and most effective design components you can do when it comes to retrofitting existing facilities.

So what are we referring to when we talk about lighting? In the commercial facility, it is both natural light and lighting fixtures that combine to light the space with levels typically measured in foot-candles. Lighting fixtures are designed for various functions — ambient light, task light or accent light. These fixtures can be grouped into three major categories — the basic light fixture, linear fluorescent and high intensity discharge (HID). Each fixture has its own specific function.

In the past, energy efficiency was associated with replacing the basic incandescent light bulb with the compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL). The other two types of light fixtures, both linear fluorescent and HID, were limited by the fact that they could not be controlled via dimming, or took too long to warm up, often 8 to 10 minutes. Advances in ballast designs (the unit that controls current and converts electrical energy into light in both fluorescents and HIDs), did not occur until recently. This has led to new types of lighting control, including bi-level switching, step-dimming ballasts and continuous dimming. Now, with this new family of lighting, traditional lighting can be replaced with the more energy-efficient models.

Making lighting more environmentally friendly can occur two ways — by eliminating lighting or reducing the energy demands of required lighting. Obviously, a certain level of light is necessary, especially in the gym where liability concerns loom. The standard benchmark set forth in the ACSM guidelines for lighting levels in fitness centers is 50 foot-candles throughout the facility. The easiest and most environmentally friendly way to achieve this is through natural lighting. This concept, often referred to as day lighting, uses a controlled admission of natural light through glazing via openings such as windows and skylights. When using natural light, you should plan against certain factors that can curtail the eco-friendly benefits, such as radiant heat gains through the windows and glare — both of which can be prevented with design concepts such as window tinting.

The quickest fix by far is replacing old, non-efficient light bulbs. Energy-efficient bulbs save electricity. The standard CFL bulb can save anywhere from 50 percent to 80 percent energy cost from the normal light bulb with no loss in light quality. This is because the ratio of a CFL to a traditional incandescent light bulb is 3:1 in comparable energy usage — meaning a 60-watt light bulb can be replaced with a 20-watt CFL. Secondly, the CFL fluorescent has a much longer lifespan, lasting eight to 10 times longer than the incandescent. Finally, these new energy-efficient bulbs create much less heat, which keeps the temperature down in the gym. The bottom line is that switching to energy-efficient bulbs saves money in utility charges, creates less harmful byproducts in conversion to energy, and saves natural resources by using fewer bulbs over time.

In addition to switching out bulbs and fixtures, additional lighting features can be used to control light levels. Motion sensors can be installed in areas, such as locker rooms, to turn off lights automatically when no one is in the room, thus saving electricity and increasing the life of the light bulbs. Dimmers and photosensors, which control light levels based on available natural light, should also be considered. These are used to monitor natural light and adjust the artificial light accordingly to maintain optimal lighting levels. The rule of thumb for these sensors set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification is to install these daylight controls within 15 feet of windows or under skylights.

One final component of the environmental lighting chain involves end-use disposal. The majority of light bulbs, including CF, HID, and fluorescent, contain small amounts of toxic compounds such as mercury that can leak into the environment in landfills. As a result, care must be taken to dispose of these properly through your local hazardous waste recycling center equipped for light bulb disposal.

With new technology and advances in lighting, we are becoming more and more efficient in the way we light our environments. Promising advances on the horizon include new uses of the light emitting diode for interior lighting. Considering that we have been able to cut our energy savings by 50 percent with energy-efficient lighting in the recent past, the future looks even more promising.

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