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LED Upgrades: Thinking Outside the Box

Key Points
  • Upgrades should include design and technology updates to improve overall lighting performance.
  • The project should focus on more than just energy savings and incorporate multiple objectives.
  • Measure and test results, and obtain guidelines and warranties on all installations and products.

LED boxBy upgrading your facility to high efficiency LEDs, you can significantly reduce your lighting costs. Often, however, these projects end up being a missed opportunity. Too little attention is paid to technology and design aspects that can improve light quality and optimize system performance. By looking at the big picture, you can create a new lighting system that not only saves money, but improves your indoor environment.

Consider the whole

Energy savings shouldn't be your only focus when upgrading lighting. Consider light quality and its potential impact on safety or productivity. Retail operations should take into account how lighting illuminates products.

Hospitals, schools and other facilities have specific lighting concerns that should be addressed. Consider maintenance personnel and the ease of ballast and lamp replacement. Also, take into account how light output and color scheme will affect staff, students, patients or customers.

Stay informed

Information is vital in making good investment decisions. Gather records about the lighting system installation and maintenance—age, type, fixture wattage and so on. A lighting audit is a good basis for measuring the financial worth of an upgrade.

The contractor implementing your retrofit should provide an installation checklist spelling out exactly what will be done. It should describe every step in the process, from ordering the fixtures to cleaning up. This will help to reduce the potential for misunderstandings.

Be a matchmaker

Your new lighting system may not live up to expectations unless it's designed to match the specific needs of the application and the space. Consider the following:

  • Quantity. The quantity of light needed depends largely on the application or the tasks being performed. The Illuminating Engineering Society provides recommended light levels for a variety of applications and visual tasks.  
  • Distribution. The human eye sees the amount of light reflected off surfaces, not absolute light levels. It's important to distribute light evenly to avoid glare or dark spots, which can cause eyestrain or obscure visual tasks.
  • Light quality. Light quality is measured by correlated color temperature (CCT) and color rendering index (CRI). CCT describes the color appearance of a light; a low CCT creates a warm, relaxed atmosphere, while a high CCT indicates a more highly concentrated light space. CRI indicates how well light displays colors on objects; the higher the CRI, the more accurately it displays colors. 

Take control 

Even the most efficient lights waste energy lighting empty spaces. Automated controls add convenience and optimize efficiency. Controls dim lights or switch them on and off based on time, occupancy, light level or a combination of strategies. Commonly used lighting controls include:

  • Timers turn lights on or off, and dim them according to a set schedule.
  • Occupancy sensors turn lights on or off when motion or the infrared radiation of a person is detected.
  • Photo sensors dim lights or switch them on and off based on the presence of daylight.

LEDs start instantly and are inherently dimmable, making them a perfect fit for control applications. Controls can be integrated into an energy management system (EMS) that handles a variety of building energy loads. Wireless light controls add flexibility and are cheaper to install.

Keep your focus

While LEDs are durable and have a long rated life, proper maintenance is critical to optimizing performance over the long term. Light output decreases over time and dirt accumulation on lamps and fixtures reduces their effectiveness.

Address maintenance at the beginning of the upgrade process. Implement a schedule of regular cleaning and group relamping, which saves on labor costs and ensures more uniform lighting.

As with any project, planning is important for a successful lighting upgrade. Work with a qualified contractor or lighting designer to ensure you have the right system to fit your needs.

Image source: iStock