Lighting & Universal Design

Emma Green , 6 October 2021

The NATSPEC Technote for Universal Design/Lighting provides useful information for the documentation and specification of lighting. Emma Green from NATSPEC takes a look at the safety impacts of lighting in residential design.

Lighting is a crucial design element. When applying the principles of universal design, lighting becomes an essential way to ensure the safety and comfort of every person navigating a given space. Universal design is the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible and usable to all people of different ages and abilities over time, without the need for adaptation or specialised design.

In order to navigate through a home, you need a suitable level of lighting. Inadequate lighting lowers a person’s ability to identify hazards and obstructions, and can make wayfinding more complicated. It can also affect communication for people who are deaf or hard of hearing if they rely on lip reading or sign language. Different rooms in the home require types of lighting that correspond to their purpose.

The effect of certain types of lighting on different materials and surfaces must be taken into account. A space isn’t well lit if the light reflects uncomfortably. Harsh, direct lighting can cause glare and visual fatigue. Diffuse lighting, anti-glare devices and shading devices are all useful ways to improve light quality. Colour temperature also affects visual acuity and comfort, as well as the atmosphere of a space. Privileging natural light where possible can make a space more liveable.

A lighting element can obstruct a person’s vision and become a hazard if it is not well positioned. For example, strip lighting installed under cupboards may be problematic for people with a lower vantage point. Similarly, lighting controls should be located at an appropriate height. Push pads may be easier to operate compared to standard light switches. Dimmer switches allow the user to control illumination levels, which can improve visual acuity and allow lighting variation for different tasks.

Motion sensor lighting is a useful solution in many spaces. Bathrooms, hallways, entrances and outdoor areas can all benefit from motion sensor lighting for safety and convenience. However, as lighting requirements vary from person to person, as well as from activity to activity, it is important to have manual overrides for any automatic lighting.

As lighting is so important for safety, comfort and communication, stipulations must be included in project documentation. Specifying the type of lighting, required level of illumination, height of lighting elements and controls, and lamp colour temperature, among other considerations, reduces the need for future modifications and avoids additional costs. The NATSPEC TECHnote DES 042 Universal Design: Lighting provides further useful information for architects.

Specifying universal design considerations from the very beginning of a project ensures the greatest number of people can live in a home in safety and comfort. Applying the principles of universal design when specifying lighting is a simple way to improve a home’s usability for everyone.

NATSPEC is a not-for-profit organisation owned by Government and industry. It maintains the National Building Specification and has been a valued part of the Australian construction industry for over 45 years.