Theatrical and architectural LED lighting options just keep getting better, benefitting church clients well beyond simple energy savings.
LED lighting fixtures, with all the advantages they now offer, are given a lot of attention for their theatrical-space applications. However, they have a lot more to offer than just illuminating the stage, platform or chancel in a church’s sanctuary or auditorium.
“The most obvious benefit of utilizing LED lighting will come from electricity savings,” says John Fuller, global brand manager for Chroma-Q, distributed by Toronto, Ontario, Canada’s A.C. Lighting Inc. “LED fixtures are significantly more efficient, delivering more light with less electricity. Incandescent lighting delivers about 14 lumens per watt, whereas LED lighting can be greater than 63 lumens per watt.”
LED technology also offers benefits for churches looking to reduce HVAC costs, specifically, reports Product Marketing Manager David Hilton with Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) in Middleton, Wis. “They minimize their staff’s burden to change light bulbs, and enhance worship experiences with dynamic color and control. There are many parts of a church campus, and the roles LEDs can play in each of them differ.”Theatrical LED
For the purpose of illuminating the pastor, choir, orchestra or praise band, the needs are the same as for a concert or theatrical venue. “As with any lighting design, it is often about drawing attention to where you want to people to look,” says Mark Ravenhill, president of GLP US Inc. in Sun Valley, Calif. “Doing this through increased intensity, a different color, a changing color, or even some dynamic movement, can achieve the desired effect. With LED lighting sources, there are more options to the designer now than there were a number of years ago, and there continue to be new products coming to the market constantly.”
“The primary need of this area is to make the people look good,” adds Hilton. “Incandescent fixtures were great at doing that, but that’s not the case with every LED fixture.” If [churches] are capturing video of their services, [whether] for some sort of broadcast or just archival purposes, it’s important that LED fixtures be flicker-free on video. This is something not all LED fixtures can claim. If [a church is] broadcasting its service, this is an important consideration.”
At this point, there are LED versions of all styles of theatrical fixtures, from the simple PAR can wash fixtures, zoomable Fresnel fixtures, to spotlight fixtures. If a manufacturer sells these traditional fixtures, they likely now have an LED equivalent of it.
And the stage is not the only area in the auditorium or sanctuary that can benefit from LED technology. Architectural LED
“Designed to replace conventional house lighting, a variable white light downlight can be hung like a standard pendant/downlight in a facility with ease,” states Eric Loader, director of sales for Elation Professional in Los Angeles. “Ours offer dynamic control of the color temperature of white light produced.”
Alexander Hsu, regional sales manager for Meteor Lighting based in City of Industry, Calif., adds that in addition to traditional DMX control, its pendant lighting offers other dimming options as well. “We have standard line-voltage dimming that will take the fixture down to about 10% of full, but also a ‘Superior Dimming’ line-voltage dimming option that can dim down to 1%.”
“Retrofitting existing house lighting fixtures to be LED is also a possibility,” comments Hsu. “Many traditional church facilities prefer to keep their current chandeliers but want to benefit from LED technology. The internals of the fixtures can be converted to LED light sources, preserving the original fixture style, and thus maintaining the look of the sanctuary.”
With the lower maintenance requirements of LED lights, you also have the option of being less concerned about access to the fixtures for maintenance. Many LED light sources are rated for as many as 50,000 hours of operation, compared to around 2,000 or less for [a great number of] incandescent light sources.
" … it’s important that LED fixtures be flicker-free on video. This is something not all LED fixtures can claim."
—David Hilton Product Marketing Manager, Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC), Middleton, WI.
Outside the sanctuary, traditional area lighting can be updated to use LED light sources as well. LED manufacturers such as Cree have lamps that can go into existing recessed fluorescent or incandescent fixtures, and many are dimmable through controlling the line voltage to the fixture. This can allow dimming capability where none was previously available. And the benefits continue.
“You’ve got a lot of spaces in houses of worship that serve multiple purposes,” adds Paul Kennedy, general manager of Philips Color Kinetics based in Burlington, Mass. “You can have a hall with a traditional look during normal worship times, but at another time there might be an event where a different look would be better—for example, a youth event. Color changing LED lighting controllable via architectural control systems or theatrical lighting consoles lets you create very different experiences with light in the same space.”
And particularly in a more traditional church setting, there are architectural features that can greatly benefit from being accented through lighting.
“Cove lighting gives you the option of creating a beam of light coming from a narrow aperture or space,” explains Kennedy. “This provides a hidden source of light that may produce a glowing effect, or could be washing a wall. The fixture is hidden, and helps to create a more immersive experience with light. One of the things that LED lighting brings to the market is a very narrow, controlled beam that helps with cove lighting applications.”
“Then,” Kennedy continues, “there is traditional wall washing where the fixture may not be recessed. This is intended to provide lighting for a more dramatic experience. The different affects you can achieve through beam angles and colors all become an important part of the designer’s arsenal. Using a fixture with a lot of emitters that have narrow beam angles and mounted close to the wall can show of a wall’s texture; mounted further out, it creates a uniform lighting wash across the wall. And a number of advances in optics give you even more options: asymmetric beams can give you very even lighting across a wall while reducing the ‘hot spots’ near the light source itself.”
“When you consider exterior features such as a church spire or cross,” Kennedy concludes, “you can highlight those dramatically with high-power, narrow beam spotlights. LEDs make it easy to shape light into a narrow beam. Spots are an important part of the architectural lighting portfolio.”Infrastructural Impact
Moving significantly to LED lighting will also impact your infrastructure considerations.
“The savings in energy is substantial,” states Ford Sellers, senior product manager for Chauvet Professional of Sunrise, Fla. “This is not only the result of lower power consumption, but also lower HVAC costs. LED fixtures generate far less heat. This not only saves money in air conditioning costs, it also enhances the comfort level of people in a church, especially in areas like choir lofts. After our fixtures were installed at the Tabernacle of Praise in Atlanta, some members of the choir thought the church installed a new air conditioning system—they felt more comfortable because the LEDS gave off far less heat than the incandescent lamps they replaced. You would need less room and power for dimmers. You’ll need less HVAC capacity. You’ll need less overall power in your facility. However, you will need to have a way to distribute data (typically DMX or Ethernet cabling) to your lighting fixtures, and you will probably need a way to kill power to your LED lighting fixtures when the lighting system isn’t in use. Modern LED lights have micro-processors, like your computer (or your phone). It is a good idea to power these down when you’re not using them. This increases longevity and reliability.”
If you are retrofitting a facility with LED lighting and running DMX data lines would be prohibitive, there are other options available. “Built-in wireless DMX is a big advantage in a fixture,” Loader adds. “You can plug the unit into standard power and control it remotely without having to run DMX cable control lines to the fixture.”
“When designing a new facility or designing an upgrade to an existing facility, LED lighting solutions can be embraced,” concludes Ravenhill. “The technology is now well established and the product solutions offered are wide and varied.”
[Editor's note: This piece was originally posted in May 2017.]