Key considerations when specifying light quality for classroom lighting

Presented by: Sogol Salary, Hans-Peter (Hepi) Wachter, Marguerite Keesee, Lisa Holliday

An important feature to be considered in school facility design is meeting lighting standards. Although there are several publications on lighting standards available, it is not clear which standard should be predominantly used. The authors investigate healthy and safety school building features as part of a publicly funded grant (EPA Environmental Protection Agency, Healthy Schools Project). While the selection and inclusion process of building features for healthy school design is not part of this paper, the challenge arises selecting adequate lighting standards in school types, namely elementary, middle, and high school. Considering lighting as building feature, different associations focus on lighting as necessary requirements from different perspectives such as light level, energy consumption, and illumination. (Table.1). Learning activities in school facilities may require a wide range of lighting standards as different activities require different levels of light (NOAO 2015). Generally, activities in school facilities may require differing ranges of illumination especially in active learning spaces such as classrooms. According to levels established by the IESNA (The Illumination Engineering Association of North of America) lighting levels required and necessary for schools are between 30-75 fc depending on the form of instruction that is being used in the space. Furthermore, a guide published by the Virginia Department of Education (2013) clarifies different light levels for different available tasks in a school building. As mentioned in this guideline, educational spaces such as general classrooms need lighting level of 55-60 fc (foot-candle), computer labs need 30 fc, and gymnasiums requires 30-50 fc with a focus on range within tasks and not school type (Table.2). The Lighting Design Lab (2013) predominately differentiates between school type within task type. According to their Foot Candle Light Guide (2013) illumination level standards required for the same type of classroom in a High school and Elementary School are different. For instance, the amount of light considered for a Gymnasium in High schools should be 50 fc while in an Elementary school should meet 30 fc. While reviewing standards of illumination, the research team developed a taxonomy of light level standards with association to school types and learning activities, to better understand desired lighting levels for schools considered for inclusion into a healthy and safety building features handbook for school designs. This research presentation will report on the procedures taken to identify lighting as a building feature for the design of healthy schools and how light level requirements and measurements defined in a range were selected and applied in a building features list, guiding visual school building inspection protocols and a school building plan and specification review tool.


  • Dilaura, D. L., et al. (2011). The Lighting Handbook. New York, Illuminating Engineering Society or North of America 10th Ed.
  • Lighting Design Lab and E. T. o. Oregon (2013). "Foot Candlie Light Guide." 7th.
  • NOAO (2015). "Recommended Light Level." Retrieved December 02, 2015.
  • Virginia Department of Education (2013). Guidelines for School Facilities in Virginia's Public School. Lighting., Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Education: 34-35.