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California Dreamin’

California Dreamin’

A specialty lighting distributor discusses the controls commissioning and documentation process in California and how distributors everywhere can help ensure a smooth and accurate installation.


As distributors are well aware, Title 24 is a collection of energy standards that address the energy efficiency of new and upgraded homes and commercial buildings; since 1978, California residents are required to meet the energy efficiency standards contained in Title 24, Part 6 of the California Code of Regulations. Updated periodically by the California Energy Commission to allow consideration and possible incorporation of new energy-efficient technologies and approaches, Title 24 has long been considered the nation’s strictest green building code and continues to influence other states’ energy and building codes relative to the use of products like lighting and controls systems.

Though California’s Title 24 can be tedious and time-consuming to adhere to, these standards are slowly infiltrating construction and retrofit regulations across the country. So, what’s the current lighting and controls commissioning/documentation process that’s encouraged/required in California? And how can distributors elsewhere proactively participate in and add value to this process, which may eventually make its way across the nation?

Following, Jeremy Ames, LC, IES, director of design at specialty lighting distributor Regency Lighting in Chatsworth, California, offers his perspective on the process of commissioning and documenting lighting and controls systems in the Golden State as well as the role distributors in all states can play in ensuring a smooth, accurate, and compliant installation.


lightED: Who’s most responsible for the lighting and controls commissioning/documentation process in California?

Ames: Although Title 24 creates extra burdens on the lighting design function with regard to the stringent specification, qualification, and coordination activities it requires, the majority of the burden for the documentation falls on the electrical engineer, the contractor, and the Acceptance Test Technician (ATT), a trained field technician who verifies the installation and operation of newly-installed equipment or construction elements of a non-residential building. A certified Lighting Controls ATT has been required to perform acceptance testing for lighting controls in California since July 2014.

lightED: Based on your experience, please describe the lighting and controls commissioning and documentation process you undergo in California.

Ames: At Regency Lighting, we’ll work closely with the business owner or architect to understand their basic control needs for the space and will then work with a controls manufacturer to come up with a code-compliant system that meets those needs. Because of Title 24 requirements, the controls system required is typically more expensive than the client is expecting and therefore involves communication to explain the requirements and why we can’t be code-compliant with a simpler solution (this has been most noticeable in the restaurant segment). At that point, we’ll coordinate the controls design with the electrical engineer of record who’s responsible for incorporating the necessary documentation into the plans to show compliance. The plan is then submitted to a plan reviewer, who confirms that acceptance testing is properly identified in the construction documents and assigned to the responsible parties. The contractor or qualified third-party ATT is included in budgetary and coordination activities and confirms the validity of the system design, ensuring that both the documentation and the installation correctly follow the design. Finally, after installation, the ATT must confirm that the system was installed and operates as designed and will sign off on the Non-Residential Control Acceptance (NRCA) forms that have to be filled out to show acceptance, which the building inspector will review.

lightED: What do you feel is the main objective for a designer or distributor in this process?

Ames: I think that the main goal of the designer is to truly understand the client’s project needs and design an appropriate control system that meets code. For the distributor, it’s about being a strong coordinator/liaison between the controls manufacturer and the electrical engineer and ensuring that documentation on the plans is specific, clear, and accurately shown. If there’s confusion over the way the controls system is designed, chances are the electrical contractor will have a million time-consuming questions or else will just install it improperly, so the goal is to ensure that the bill of material is accurately reflected on the plans and that the plans are very clear in terms of where devices go and how they’re installed. It helps to get the owner to buy in on the design and get the engineer of record and the controls manufacturer together to ensure that the documentation on the plans is crystal clear. Another goal for us is coordinating the actual commissioning of the system with the controls manufacturer and the electrical contractor; specifically, we need to make sure that the EC has properly done their part to get the system up and running and schedule the controls manufacturer technician to be onsite in a timely manner. If the system isn’t up and running to begin with, the scheduling process starts over and typically takes 2-3 weeks. This reality isn’t exclusive to California, but because of the complexity and scrutiny of some of the systems, it’s just more difficult and time-consuming.

lightED: Are there any specific services a distributor can provide within this process to add value and gain a competitive advantage?

Ames: The best way for a distributor to gain an advantage in the complex world of controls and Title 24 regulations is by being an expert and advocate for his customer – e.g., by truly knowing how to execute on the customer’s needs and making sure that all of the details get clearly communicated all the way through the process. It means forging strong internal relationships with the controls manufacturer and being a product expert who’s proactive enough to catch errors rather than just assuming that a BOM and quote sent over is accurate. These skills can help save a lot of heartache on the back end of a project when you’re in a time crunch.

lightED: Are there any other tips you can offer distributors nationwide when it comes to the tedious but critical process of commissioning and developing documentation for lighting and controls? 

Ames: I would advise distributors to be a strong voice in the process and not just a bystander. We have to be the bridge between the design, the plans, and the people in the field. We must review the electrical sheets when they’re released and ensure that what, how, and where products should be installed are all clearly documented. I’ve experienced the greatest success when I can set up a conference call between myself, the electrical engineer, and a specification expert with the controls manufacturer — each of us has a unique perspective on what’s important, so it’s critical to communicate the intent, design, and layout of the controls system on paper. If we’ve all reviewed it and are satisfied that the BOM matches what’s shown on the plans and there’s clear documentation on the electrical sheets as to where devices go, there are rarely questions and errors on the installation side, which typically leads to a smooth process. It’s when this coordination doesn’t happen, and the engineer simply shares generic notes and layout info and relies on the contractor to “just read the installation instructions” that we see a ton of errors and installation problems. If the distributor doesn’t review the electrical sheets and ensure that the proper design and BOM are shown on the plans, it can definitely create confusion and delays for the contractor who’s installing the items.


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Susan Bloomis a 25-year veteran of the lighting and electrical products industry. Reach her at susan.bloom.chester@gmail.com.

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