Sensing Becomes an Opportunity in Latest Energy Codes

Occupancy and vacancy sensors are set to become significantly more 
important elements in commercial electrical designs over the next 
several years, thanks to increasingly stringent efficiency requirements 
in state and national energy codes. As a result, electrical contractors 
should take some time to understand the latest code updates and the 
products available to meet new demands. Hubbell Wiring Device-Kellems

Chuck Ross

Occupancy and vacancy sensors are set to become significantly more important elements in commercial electrical designs over the next several years, thanks to increasingly stringent efficiency requirements in state and national energy codes. As a result, electrical contractors should take some time to understand the latest code updates and the products available to meet new demands.

The three leading energy codes – the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Buildings Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and the California Energy Commission’s Title 24 – all have upped the ante on lighting controls in their latest editions. ASHRAE’s standard, probably the most widely adopted of the three, introduced significant lighting-control updates in its 2013 edition (the 2016 edition was recently released, but it includes few controls-related changes).

Occupancy sensors (which turn lights on when activity or presence is detected) and vacancy sensors (which require manual operation to turn lights on, but automatically turn lights off after a set time of no detected activity or presence) are two of the devices now required in many commercial and institutional spaces. Both sensor types most frequently incorporate passive infrared (PIR) technology, which detects human body temperature and movement, in their design.

Because PIR sensors require direct line-of-sight to to detect occupancy, correct placement is critical to their successful operation. In cubicle-style office spaces, for example, standalone, ceiling-mounted units might be required to ensure office workers don’t go undetected. For classroom, conference rooms and open-style offices, however, manufacturers have introduced light switches with integrated sensors. Because they’re the same size as standard single-gang switches, they’re easy to install and offer code compliance in a device with which electricians are already familiar.


Photo courtesy of Hubbell Wiring Device-Kellems