By Gary McGregor
Few managers ever have the opportunity to specify and design facility lighting from the start. So, we are faced with having to manage pre-existing lighting systems that may be outdated or poorly designed. Given this situation, the ideal would be to do a complete retrofit – but even that is not an option for most managers. Consequently, you are faced with managing your existing system and making the best of it day in and day out.
For many facilities professionals, lighting is an irritant. It can’t be ignored and it takes staff time. Essentially, the commercial, industrial, or institutional lighting buyer is primarily concerned with controlling the variable that is the most obvious and easiest to manage by buying supplies at the best price: keeping the lights on, so to speak, and then addressing problems later on as they arise – which they inevitably do.
This is because companies normally take their lighting system for granted as long as people can see and don’t complain. Buyers generally have a contract with a regular lamp and ballast supplier that meets their requirements on an as-needed basis. When employees or tenants notice that a lamp is out, replacements are brought up from stock and installed by a maintenance person.
Hard-to-reach fixtures that require a special service call are often ignored until enough units have malfunctioned to warrant the maintenance expense. No one gives it a thought, and no one truly looks at lighting in its entirety to analyze if it is managed most cost effectively and if it is adding to the productivity or the ambience of a facility.
Cost of Light
Many building managers are not aware of the financial impacts and proven positive effects of cost-effective, quality lighting on people, productivity, and profits. They are typically unaware of the cost of light and the factors that affect getting full value for their lighting dollar.
Typically, the lamps and ballasts, the cost components that managers concentrate on the most – and on which they spend most of their time and effort to get the best deal – represent only 4 to 6 percent of the annual cost of operating a lighting system. The maintenance costs to change and clean lamps and ballasts (another area over which managers have some control) usually represent only from 8 to12 percent of annual lighting costs.
This means that the bulk of the cost of light is the cost of electricity to operate the system – usually 82 to 88 percent of annual costs. This is precisely the area that most building managers see as a fixed cost. Short of turning off lights or retrofitting fixtures to fundamentally change their lighting system, they don’t see much that they can do.
That’s true, up to a point. Once you recognize what the true cost of light involves, your lighting maintenance contractor can recommend updated and upgraded systems that may cut the energy portion of the annual costs as much as 45 to 50 percent.
Yet, retrofits aren’t the only way to go.