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Technology: House lighting

Technology: House lighting
Coloured house lights at Pulpit Rock in Colorado Springs

Technology: House lighting

Bob Mentele, worship market manager at Elation Professional, explains what house lighting is and how it differs from entertainment lighting

The term ‘house lighting’ typically refers to the audience area of a performance space. It has been expanded to encompass other venues’ seating/gathering areas as well. The term is used to classify and separate performance/entertainment lighting for general area lighting. House lights are intended to simply improve general illumination of a space but are also used to highlight architectural details in the audience area. New advancements in house lighting instruments allow for colour-changing options. These versions can be used to enhance the mood of the space and expand the feeling of inclusion in the performance area.

Bob Mentele
Bob Mentele

House lighting differs from ‘entertainment lighting’ in a few ways. One major difference is intent. House lighting is meant to provide general illumination at a specified level evenly throughout a space. It is not typically meant to draw focus or attention. With that intent in mind, the design for a house light differs from an entertainment fixture in a few ways.

House light fixtures are typically designed to favour increased output and light quality. Most are larger in size than an entertainment fixture because they are designed to be convection cooled through the implementation of heat sink fins. This eliminates the need for a fan to cool the fixture, allowing it to be completely silent. Fans can quickly become an audible issue in quiet environments or when large numbers of fixtures are located in one area. This feature is not one to be overlooked.

Care is taken when designing a house light fixture to ensure that the light output from the lens is even and homogenised. This reduces the visibility of multiple shadows being cast from a fixture, which can be an issue with fixtures that use multiple LED arrays or optic lenses, which are common in entertainment wash fixtures.

Lastly, house light fixtures are designed for a flexible installation in both mounting of the fixture and termination of the connections. A well-engineered fixture will allow for multiple mounting options, like yoke mounting, pendent mounting or direct mount. Manufacturers also use terminal connections for power and data wiring, in lieu of installed connectors, like those required in entertainment fixtures. This enables an easier, straightforward installation. Most electricians are not as familiar with termination of entertainment connectors.

What to consider

When looking at house lighting options, houses of worship initially need to decide what function they would like the lighting to perform. Are they wanting to simply illuminate the room in white lighting, like is typical for most spaces? They can also select colour-changing fixtures that would allow for white lighting, as well as colour-changing options. A physical consideration to take into account would be the ceiling structure. Is the ceiling exposed and can the lighting be exposed as well, or is it a covered ceiling that will require recessed fixtures? What other obstacles are in the ceiling? HVAC elements, fire sprinklers, support beams and other factors need to be taken into account when laying out the fixture placement. Those elements could also dictate at what height the fixtures can be installed. The installation height will determine the size of the beam of light cast by the fixture once it hits the floor area. The size of beam is what is used to lay out the fixture placement and lens to use in the unit.

The house lights switched on at Vintage Church in Edmond, Oklahoma
The house lights switched on at Vintage Church in Edmond, Oklahoma

Another consideration to make is the need to include data signals to each fixture, as well as power. Some fixtures allow for wireless data transmission but running physical wires is the preferred method as it is more reliable than wireless methods.

Discussions should also be had with the installation electrician about the emergency lighting system. Some jurisdictions require separate emergency lighting from general lighting systems. If the general lighting can be used for emergency lighting as well, considerations need to be made about providing power and DMX signals to the fixtures in an emergency situation.

House lighting is fairly ubiquitous across various spaces. Most want fixtures that provide even, adequate light output. Most typical designs can be implemented in any space. The main option that is affected by design would be the fixture colour. Most are available as simply black or white. Some can be custom painted by the manufacturer if something unique is required. If the more industrial look of the exposed lighting fixture is not desirable, shrouds or covers can be offered and installed over the fixture. The other consideration is if exposed lighting fixtures are acceptable. If not, a recessed fixture should be considered.

Entertainment fixtures as house lighting?

Using a fixture designed for house lighting is typically not recommended for use in entertainment applications due to the design of the connections for power and data, as well as mounting capabilities. However, some entertainment lighting fixtures can double up and do get used as house lighting. PAR fixtures are the most common that get placed in these systems as they provide soft, even fields of light. Care should be taken when using these fixtures in this fashion for a couple of reasons. Most PAR fixtures use fans to cool the LEDs. Those fans can be noisy, and they also need room around the fixture for airflow. They are also not approved for recessed or enclosed applications.

One other issue with using entertainment lights for house applications is the fact that they are not designed to be left on constantly. The duty cycle of entertainment fixtures needs to be considered and restricted. Specifically designed architectural lights are produced for constant power applications.

This article first appeared in the November-December 2019 edition of Worship AVL. Subscribe at

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