How long has it been since you installed your current exterior lighting?
If the answer exceeds a decade, it might be time to reassess its performance and energy consumption. The lighting system may have several years of useful life left, but planning for a future retrofit with more efficient lighting allows you to phase in upgrades before age, wear, and dwindling performance force your hand.
When a Retrofit Is Best
Age, energy costs, and maintenance needs commonly induce facilities managers to consider upgrading, says Janet Nolan, president of J.S. Nolan + Associates Lighting Design. Exterior lighting that requires frequent replacements and repairs or looks dated is a prime candidate for a retrofit.
“Check to see if the lighting is providing the right amount of illumination appropriate for the task. For example, if it’s nighttime, there should be uniformity and not a lot of glare or burned out fixtures,” Nolan explains. “Look at your energy costs. If you have old incandescent technology, you’re spending a lot of money to run that system. If your system is more than 15 years old, you need to seriously consider some changes.”
Lit signage exhibits similar aging patterns, adds Mike Lev, director of operations for Harbinger Sign, a signage engineering and manufacturing company.
The glowing signature logo on the side of your building may still be bright enough, but as the lighting inside nears the end of its useful life, it will likely require more and more service. Weather can contribute to this phenomenon.
“It all boils down to the application,” Lev explains. “A parking lot light is exposed to the elements, so it may not last as long as something inside a store that’s protected from weather, changing climate, rain, and heat, though manufacturers generally account for that.”
A major motivator to upgrade – rebates and other financial assistance in exchange for using more efficient lighting – may come from the federal government, your state, or your local utility.
You won’t be able to defray the entire cost, but a sizable financial incentive can easily drop the payback to just a few years, says Stan Pomeranz, owner and founder of LightTech Architectural Lighting Design.
“I just did a project in Fayetteville, NC, where the 15-year-old metal halide lighting was replaced with LED. The payback was five to six years because there was no utility compensation,” Pomeranz explains. “In Raleigh, it would have been faster because Progress Energy (another electricity provider for the Carolinas) has a very active efficiency program.”
Where to Start
Before you speak with vendors or lighting designers, consider the goals of your retrofit. Are you focusing entirely on saving energy dollars while maintaining the same amount of light, or is there also a credit for a green building certification in play? Is your exterior lighting meeting your needs in security, wayfinding, identification, or other considerations?
Whatever your intent, it’s important to maintain a holistic strategy instead of replacing one sign or pole-mounted parking lot lamp at a time, Nolan explains.
Instead of taking a piecemeal approach, complete the most comprehensive retrofit you can and make room for successive replacements in the next few years’ budgets.
“It’s not just about a sign that’s old and needs to be replaced or landscape lighting that’s been run over with a lawnmower too many times,” Nolan says. “Stand back and look at the whole site. Is it working? Sometimes you have a budget that only lets you do certain things, but make a plan to retrofit the whole thing and implement it over time as you can afford it.”
Revisit this plan every time you’re about to start a new phase, Nolan adds. This accommodates possible advancements in lighting technology while still providing a general framework for each year’s upgrades.
“That fixture you specified for a certain location might have had a 1,000-lumen output, but all of a sudden, that LED array got better and is now 1,500 or 2,000 lumens,” Nolan explains. “Go back and look at that again prior to implementation to make sure your plan still works because manufacturers can change. That fixture you specified two years ago might have a lumen output you don’t want now.”
What to Watch Out For
Make sure you’re aware of any potential hurdles as you create a master plan to upgrade your facility’s exterior lighting. Some states, like California, have stricter efficiency standards than others, and local codes may impose additional requirements, as can the credit requirements for green building certifications.
A large project may require a permit and you may also be required to ensure the whole system meets current energy codes, which could result in additional upgrade costs if you have an older system, Nolan says.
You may even be subject to local regulations depending on your specific location within your county or municipality. In Florida, for example, 16 counties and 40 municipalities have adopted coastal lighting ordinances requiring that lighting near beaches be turned off during sea turtle mating season (generally May through October) to avoid disorienting and thus killing turtle hatchlings.
Signage-specific regulations also play a role in some areas, Lev adds. These requirements vary from city to city and may even differentiate between static and digital signage, so familiarize yourself with any local signage regulations early in the process.
“In some places, only certain parts of your logo can be illuminated on signage,” Lev explains. “For example, you might have a 5- by 5-foot sign that would normally illuminate fully. Certain municipalities and jurisdictions may dictate that only the acutal logo and the name of the establishment can light up.”
Regardless of what hoops you have to jump through and what heights you hope to achieve, upgrading your exterior lighting not only contributes to energy savings, but it also offers extra benefits if the retrofit is conducted properly.
“It’s got to be a business decision,” Pomeranz says. “There are advantages in improving your image, making your world safer, and distinguishing your identity from others.”
Janelle Penny email@example.com is
associate editor of BUILDINGS.