Points to Keep in Mind For a Lighting Upgrade

I am frequently asked to visit campuses around the country in search of potential opportunities or challenges that can be solved by better lighting. When we tour these campuses, we note the specifics so we can supply the area with the lighting it needs.

Even with the wide variety of campus needs, there are a few guidelines that will help facility managers and contractors when considering a lighting upgrade. Those guidelines include the following items:

Select your team carefully.

Evaluate your lighting team and ensure it features qualified professionals with relevant experience and credentials. These people should have acronyms like LC, CLMC, CSLC, CLEP, CEM, CDSM or LEED-AP O+M after their names.

Pick one: Retrofit vs. Relight vs. Redesign.

By far this is one of the questions we see the most. Retrofit is the process of converting an existing fixture to a more current lighting technology, or using a more efficient generation of the same technology. A relight is a “one-for-one” fixture replacement without relocating installation points, generally using a more efficient technology and adding controls. A redesign is the replacement of the existing system with new energy efficient fixtures and changing the fixture layout to best suit the lighting requirements of each space. Controls systems are increasingly being added to redesigns, so make sure to consider this in the planning process.

Understand the macro goals of the lighting project.

As a result of significant advances in lighting technology, facility managers are beginning to ask targeted questions in regard to fixture design and ability to be maintained or modified over time. Is your goal maintenance savings, energy reduction, increased light levels, or all of the above? Are you considering individual fixture controls or a controls system? By analyzing your goals, your chosen vendor can design a lighting proposal that meets specific needs rather than a solution that is tailored to a more widespread or general targeted audience.

Understand the visual tasks performed in the space.

This may be the most important consideration. After all, the reason for lighting can vary. Are specific tasks being performed in the space? Is it a collaborative area designed for socializing and interaction? Is color rendering a critical element? Some of the most important factors that determine the amount of light you need are: the time needed to focus on an object in the space, the size of an object you are working with, the reflectances in the space, and the contrast between an object and its background.

Don’t underestimate rebates, tax deductions and energy codes.

Do your homework in the planning phase, or ask for help to identify what rebates are available for retrofits and new fixture options. Make sure the products being proposed in the solution get you the best rebate. There is a lot of nuance here, and rebates can differ by product selection. A large majority of significant commercial buildings have a Building Management System (“BMS”) controlling all aspects of operations. Energy codes frequently require the addition of advanced lighting controls, with alterations and energy benchmarking requirements for existing buildings being required by many cities and states. These factors bring together the perfect opportunity to unite lighting and other building systems under a “single pane of glass” for control and monitoring.

“Future proof” your investment.

Approach your proposed solution from a different angle. Think about maintenance, replacement of components, ability to tailor light levels over the fixture lifetime, and the ability to integrate controls at a later date. Does the lighting solution utilize interchangeable aesthetics? Does it feature the ability to be scaled in size and output? Also, consider how LED systems now have a greater life cycle than legacy technologies. Ask tough questions about the manufacturer behind the product to ensure they will be around if and when you need product support.

Scrutinize the environment.

In a recent AIA study, architects and building owners noted they are beginning to place greater emphasis on the impact of design decisions on human health. Nearly 75 percent of architects and 67 percent of owners say health considerations now play a role in how their buildings are designed, indicating that healthy environments have become an important tool in marketing to faculty, students and staff. Advances in lighting technology are having an impact on this trend.

Precisely assess how much light is needed. Good light levels are always a balance between safety, energy usage and visual acuity. The amount of light is an important part of being able to operate efficiently, but too much light will waste energy and money but it can also be uncomfortable and unsafe. Consider if overhead lighting alone is sufficient or if individual task lighting might be appropriate or necessary for labs or hands-on work areas. For more intricate areas where inspection is critical, individual task lighting could be helpful to achieve the level of visibility for those tasks.

Identify any voltage or circuiting issues.

When relighting a facility, the capacity and condition of the existing wiring must be examined. It is important to have the correct voltage and current carrying capacity to support the new fixtures. The existing wiring also needs to be in good condition. Don’t install new fixtures that will last a long time on a building circuit that has limited life. Investigate any and all surge issues—be it incoming or outgoing. Most people often forget to consider an additional external surge suppression system installed at the panel. They may be necessary in areas with frequent voltage spikes.

Request the facility electrical plan.

Regardless of how old the facility electrical plan is, this can be a helpful tool in auditing the space. If electrical plans are not available, obtain a copy of the evacuation route in a building. It can help keep you on track identifying the areas you’ve already audited and what you have left.

Take control.

Establish a lighting controls baseline. Are there currently any controls in place? Are they working? Do they meet the needs of the facility? Do they meet current energy codes? Once these questions are answered, you can identify opportunities to use controls to save energy, meet the codes and provide value. For example, the simple addition of an occupancy sensor to a high bay fixture in a storage area can have a huge impact on energy use and maintenance.

Lighting fixtures that are off or dimmed not only consume less energy, they reduce the hours a fixture is on thereby increasing the time interval between re-lamping or additional required service. And don’t overlook the potential for controls to tune your lighting system. Controls allow for the user to lower the output/energy used by the fixture when full output is either not desired or required.

There are a few simple, strategic tips you can use. First, look for opportunities to automatically turn off lighting when not needed (occupancy sensor and time based scheduling). Secondly, look for opportunities to use natural light to either reduce the need for artificial lighting or completely eliminate it during daylight hours. Finally, tune your lighting system. Make adjustments to ensure you are only using the light you need, and reduce output and energy consumption wherever possible. If you are about to make a significant investment in a lighting retrofit, relight or redesign, performing your due diligence will help you develop the right lighting solutions that will ensure you achieve your lighting and financial goals.

About the Author
Summer Albergotti is a technical training specialist with Hubbell’s Lighting Solutions Center. She can be reached at salbergotti@hubbell.com. If you are considering a lighting upgrade, you can find Hubbell’s audit worksheet at http://www.hubbelllighting.com/solutions/retrofit/tools/audit-design/.