The Right Light for Your Equine Hospital

Here are seven tips for choosing the right light for your equine hospital by adding high-efficiency lighting and taking advantage of sunlight.
A small barn in what was originally a garage. The right light for your equine hospital can improve any space.
This small barn was originally a garage. The conversion process included adding new high-efficiency strip LED lighting fixtures. Courtesy Animal Arts

In this time of rising costs, would you be interested in lowering your practice’s electric bill by at least 20% per month? The right light for your equine hospital can do that for you. More specifically, the new, high-efficiency lighting can transform your practice space.

In addition to saving money over the practice’s lifespan, good lighting can create more comfortable environments throughout the hospital. It can also create better illuminated and safer medical spaces, and lower-stress equine housing spaces. In this article, we will provide some practical tips for good-quality, energy-efficient lighting in new and renovated equine hospital spaces.

LED lighting fixtures are the best for energy efficiency and other benefits. LED lighting is about 75% more efficient than incandescent lighting and about 50% more efficient than fluorescent lighting (source: Energy.gov). Using LED fixtures is now mandated in many areas of the country. However, you will still want to use them even if they are not required.

If you have tried switching to LED bulbs at home and are unimpressed, set aside your reservations. LED lighting has come a very long way. Modern, commercial LED fixtures can offer a wide range of capabilities, including superior color rendering, balanced output of frequencies, elimination of buzz and flicker, and dimming capabilities. Well-balanced LED fixtures mimic the feel of daylight in a space, allowing for a well-lit, natural feel.

In addition to converting to LED, we have provided our top seven tips for getting the most from your lighting and energy use. Here’s how to select the right light for your equine hospital.

1.Use the sun as supplementary daylight. 

An office with high windows letting in natural light.
By placing windows high on the wall in an office space, you can make use of natural light. Tim Murphy Photo Imagery

I have written about this in other articles, but I will repeat it here because it is so important! Locate openings on your building to take advantage of comfortable natural sunlight from the north and south. Avoid openings on the east and west, because the east and west directions bring in hot sun and glare. This assumes you are located in the northern hemisphere, away from the tropics.

On the south sides of buildings, overhangs work well because they exclude the hot, high-angle summer sun. They also let in low-angle winter sun. Windows work best when they are high on a wall. That way, they can throw light deeper into the space without cabinetry and equipment getting in the way.

Tip: If you want to save money on your energy bill, you can design artificial lighting o shut off or dim when natural lighting levels are bright enough.

2. Install occupancy sensors. 

Occupancy sensors are the electronic version of your mother yelling at you to turn off the lights! These common devices turn the lights on when the room is occupied and turn them off when the room is unoccupied. You can install them in non-medical spaces such as restrooms, offices and utility rooms (i.e., laundry rooms and janitor closets). Occupancy sensors are often code-mandated. But even if you are excluded from code mandates, they still make sense. Occupancy sensors are easy to install in existing buildings, and they always provide an energy savings benefit.

3. Coordinate your lights and fans. 

Remember that you must coordinate ceiling fans, which are common in equine spaces, with light fixture locations to avoid a “strobe light” effect. That is very unpleasant and makes for a hard-to-use, poorly lit room (or a room that gives you headaches). We often put light fixtures on either side of the center line of a room and put the fan(s) in the center.

4. Light up and down. 

Light fixtures are more effective when they cast light up as well as down. This is called direct/indirect lighting. Direct/indirect lighting is easier to achieve in office spaces than in equine medical spaces. That’s because in the latter, you place fixtures snugly against the ceiling for cleanability.

5. Cross-light medical exam and treatment spaces. 

Cross-lighting in a surgical space. The right light for your equine hospital will improve your surgical and exam spaces.
Cross-lighting provides even lighting in a medical space. The surgery lights (suspended by the white stems from the ceiling) provide additional direct sunlight on the surgical tasks. Tim Murphy Photography

The right lighting fixtures for your equine hospital should provide the most light from their long sides as opposed to their short sides. When we design a medical exam or procedure space, we place a lighting fixture on either side of the exam space to cross-light the space. In procedure areas, a task light might also be added for direct light over the patient.

6. Provide dimmable lights for critical patients. 

It is impossible for a horse, dog or human being to rest under bright lights. LED lights are easily dimmed, and there is a minimal cost to add dimming ballasts.

We recommend controlling each ICU stall on its own dimming switch so that medically stable horses can rest with the lights partially dimmed, while horses in crisis can be monitored under full, bright lighting for their safety.

7. Embrace the concept of differential lighting levels. 

We are very intentional about lighting levels in different spaces because it makes no sense to waste lighting energy when it is not needed. Medical spaces need to be brightly lit, but the rest of your hospital can be much more modest with illumination.

A foot-candle is a U.S. unit of illuminance on a surface that is one foot from a uniform point source of light and is equal to one lumen per square foot. Without really understanding this (I do not!), it is easy to understand the different illumination requirements of different hospital spaces:

  • Surgery: 75-100 foot-candles (without the surgery lights on)
  • ICU: 65-80 foot-candles (dimmable)
  • Exam spaces: 45-50 foot-candles
  • Office/reception (minimum): 30 foot-candles
  • Utility spaces such as janitorial/laundry: 15-20 foot-candles

A commercial lighting engineer or designer can lay out the fixtures so that you have proper lighting where you need it and not where you do not. This saves money and energy.

A well-lit classroom.
This shows a classroom space with natural light and pendant fixtures that allow for lighting of the ceiling surface. This eliminates a cave effect, resulting in an evenly lit space. Tobin Rogers

To the Sun

If you wish to go further than the energy-saving ideas presented above, a next logical step is to consider photovoltaic (solar) panels on the roofs of the buildings to harvest solar energy.

These can be converted into electricity for lighting, thereby radically reducing your practice’s reliance on electricity from the grid.

Photovoltaic panels are expensive, but you could consider installing the conduits and solar inverter and designing your building for future solar panel installation as your budget allows.

Take-Home Message: Choosing the Right Light for Your Equine Hospital

Well-selected and well-designed lighting systems have the potential to transform how your hospital functions and the way you practice medicine. Whether you redesign lighting or add to it, you can take advantage of newer technologies to improve the lighting within your equine hospital and reduce monthly electrical usage. Yes, even if you are on a tight budget. You can make the right light work for you.

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