Feature Article - October 2004
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Let There Be Lighting

How to illuminate the world inside and outside your facility

By Kyle Ryan

Its most devout followers believe there isn't a question in life that isn't answered in the Bible. Installing a lighting system for your soccer field? Go no further than the Bible's opening passages:

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, earth was a formless wasteland, and darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. God saw how good the light was.

Endorsements don't come any bigger than that, but when it comes to the specifics of lighting installations, be they indoor or outdoor, the Good Book doesn't really have anything specific to offer. And it's not a simple subject.

"There's a lot of factors that go into this," says Mark McKinnon, general manager of the Homewood-Flossmoor Racquet & Fitness Club in Homewood, Ill. "engineering of lighting, it seems simple, but it can become very complex."

So listen thee, brethren, and learn from these examples.


In a report to recreation facilities on lighting systems, the Australian Ministry of Sport and Recreation listed some basic steps to follow. First, you need to define the need and, second, what level of lighting is required for it.

When it comes to sports, lighting needs increase with the level of competition. For example, a softball field behind an elementary school doesn't have the same lighting system as, say, Safeco Field in Seattle. The former might have 50 foot candle's worth of light in the infield (see sidebar on page 29), and the latter might have 200, according to Bill Whitman, a lighting designer for DMD & Associates, an electrical-engineering firm with offices in Seattle. Lighting standards are set by the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA).

"They establish a class of play, and the class of play is based on the age of the player and the speed of the ball and the number of spectators," Whitman says. "The more spectators you have, the more lights you need because the more spectators, the further removed they are from the action."

Whitman summarizes it this way: Lighting needs increase as the speed of the ball increases and its size decreases. Lighting also has to be consistent, especially if it's outdoors.

"The reason uniformity is important for players is, as the ball moves through light and dark areas, the way the human eye perceives that is it appears the ball changes speed," Whitman says. "Both the trajectory and speed may be involved in terms of perception."

Some sports organizations have their own standards that supercede IESNA standards, according to Whitman, like Little League Baseball, which requires more light than the IESNA recommends. When television gets involved, all the standards change no matter what.

"TV has to be treated as a separate issue," Whitman says. "It's not the kind of thing a typical designer can do."