05/01/2009

Prevent 17 Common Lighting Mistakes

When a lighting retrofit is done right, you’ll see dramatic savings, quick payback, enhanced lighting quality, visual comfort, reduced maintenance, etc. – as long as you don’t make these 17 mistakes

By David R. Laybourn

 

Don’t underestimate the importance of an energy audit. It’s the basis for everything from evaluating the project’s financial worth to manufacturing and ordering parts.

Energy-efficient lighting retrofits offer an extraordinary chance to cut operating costs and improve lighting quality. But, along with the opportunity for improvement comes the opportunity for mistakes.

Some of the most inherent dangers in lighting projects are outlined here. If you follow the guidelines here and avoid these 17 slip-ups, you’ll be pleased with your lighting retrofit project.

1. Choosing the Wrong Team
Energy efficiency is more than the pursuit of energy savings. People are your most important and productive asset, so work-environment quality is critical. A gain in energy savings can be offset by a loss in productivity if quality isn’t part of the evaluation.

A good partner is just as much an experienced consultant as a provider of equipment and installation services. Beware of “instant experience” in energy efficiency. If you choose a quality partner, you’ll go a long way toward avoiding the 16 other costly mistakes.

2. Conflicting Chain of Command
Retrofits involve decisions with multiple objectives, and typically impact various departments. The best projects come from exchange of information among members of a project team taking direction from a project manager with the authority to negotiate from start to finish. If the final decision is made by the purchasing department without an understanding of your objectives, the system you want won’t be the system you’ll get.

3. Neglecting Frontline People
Sure, savings are important, but tenants and occupants will work in the new environment for years to come; if they don’t like it, someone’s going to hear about it. The best way to avoid complaints is to involve your associates from the start. Solicit ideas from experts and others who have completed similar projects. Keep maintenance personnel in consideration, think about replacement of wearable parts down the road, and be sure to include ease of maintenance in all specifications.

4. Calling in Experts Too Late
Before committing to a project, call in the experts. View your energy-services vendor as a partner, not just a supplier. Be sure your partner can stand behind every statement and warranty. When it comes to project management, you should expect these things from a true energy-services partner:

  • Establishment of goals for savings and facility comfort and quality.
  • Identification of project requirements.
  • A comprehensive audit (see No. 5).
  • Proposal development and opportunity to redesign.
  • Testing and evaluation.
  • Implementation.
  • Be sure you clearly outline to all prospective vendors that this is what you want, and be sure you get it.


Energy Use in Commercial Buildings: End-Use Breakdown
If you know how energy use breaks out, you’ll be able to identify opportunities to save energy in your buildings. SOURCE: EIA

5. Underestimating the Importance of an Audit
A retrofit isn’t like a new construction project – there’s no set of blueprints to start from, and usually no pressing construction schedule to keep. It’s the building audit or survey that establishes the foundation for all work to be performed. The audit is the basis for everything from evaluating the project’s financial worth to manufacturing and ordering parts.

Where can things go wrong? There’s the potential for mistakes in identifying existing equipment, its location, and the recommended replacement. There’s the potential to transpose numbers and make errors in tabulation of inventory and scheduling. At LIME Energy, factory-trained technicians use hand-held computers to identify fixtures and equipment by building, floor, room, and suite. Special codes spell out everything, including restricted access, time limitations, special working conditions, and other vital information used by project personnel. This becomes the blueprint for equipment selection, installation, verification, and billing.

6. Using the Wrong Approach
Manufacturers want you to buy their products – even if they portray them as “generic” as part of an overall installed solution. The trick is to get lighting, HVAC, motors, drives, and other energy-using equipment to work together. When you use a systems approach, you can achieve maximum savings and improve quality.

First, establish your objectives for light level, temperature, airflow, and hours of operation, and don’t assume that anything you have must stay the same. For example, most overhead lighting creates unacceptable glare on computer screens, and most desk work can be done with task lighting; a redesign of the entire lighting system may save much more energy than simply changing the existing equipment to the most efficient.

The only way you know you’re making the best choices for energy efficiency is to look at the entire building as a system.

7. Buying Based on Price
Energy-saving retrofit projects bought on price alone are usually a false economy. The few pennies saved upfront can cost thousands in lost savings, increased maintenance costs, and losses in worker productivity. Since the energy savings are paying for the project, why not choose higher quality and avoid risky situations, even if it means adding a few months to the payback?

Ask a qualified contractor to quote the steps of analyzing, designing, and installing a retrofit project, and you’ll know the fair market value for these services. Beware of the company that undercuts the going market price; it’s easy for vendors to cut price if they know how. They can:

  • Use untrained labor.
  • Substitute lower-grade material or use less material.
  • Bid unreliable or untested technology.
  • Supply discontinued products from vendors.
  • Use a commodity design instead of a custom product.
  • Cut corners on installation.
  • Skip permits.
  • Fail to pay suppliers.
  • Ignore UL requirements.

To an untrained observer, these tactics may go unnoticed, so establish criteria for product quality, and the quality of the installation work and crews, and communicate this to potential vendors before sending out for quotations.

8. No “What-If” Planning
A retrofit project impacts almost everyone, so consider the “what ifs.” It’s easy to identify and plan for anything if you take advantage of the expertise that a qualified company offers.

Take light-level readings and measure space temperatures before and after throughout your facility without telling anyone. That way, you’re prepared for the occasional troublemaker who insists that he or she can’t work because of unacceptable changes to the way things were before. Nothing resolves a dispute better than facts.

Prepare a project book that documents your work before and after. Senior management can’t help but be proud of you … the new corporate hero who saved them lots of money.

9. Not Testing Thoroughly
The greatest part of a lighting retrofit is that it lends itself to verification. Take readings before and after in the same locations, and gather information over time. Use the same metering equipment and account for cleaning, age, and sunlight location when making comparisons. Gathering information will enable you to verify the potential of a retrofit project every time.

10. Botching Up Installation
After a proposed design has been evaluated, you must develop an installation plan of action. Lacking coordination, installation can become a nightmare. Everyone needs to be informed and ready to cooperate. Communication should be in writing; otherwise, you’ll find yourself arguing with an associate or vendor about who ordered the wrong part or model. (You’ll also argue about who’s going to pay for the mistakes.)

Make sure your contractor has successfully worked in an environment similar to yours. Just as important, your vendor should be willing to provide an installation checklist that spells out every step, from security access and clean-up to special equipment needs.

11. Falling for “Bargain” Products
Ask for a warranty. Then, read between the lines. Does the warranty cover what it would take to replace a product in the event of a failure? Be sure to get a performance warranty that covers material, design, and installation.

Next, check your vendor’s financial net worth. There’s no value in a warranty if the company offering it has no assets. Taking the time to carefully evaluate technologies and vendors will pay handsome dividends in savings and improved building comfort and operations. Regardless of the price, it’s no bargain if it doesn’t work.

12. Failing to Scrutinize Proposals
Go back and look carefully at the proposals you’ve received. Check facts and figures; then, double check.

Most of the information you’ll need to make a decision is contained within the audit report: one more reason you can’t underestimate the value of the comprehensive audit and the complete, clear design proposal.

Another important point: Choosing a company without adequate financial resources can be dangerous. Invariably, there are always some adjustments to be made on a retrofit project. Your energy-services project provider must be able to absorb those costs and deliver as promised. An inability to pay suppliers, limited credit lines, or cash-flow problems can lead to delays and liens. If there are major problems, the customer becomes the natural focus for legal recourse.

13. Celebrating Too Soon
Sometimes, a retrofit test can fool you. The light-level readings you obtain today may not stay within an acceptable range over time. Depending on the lamp selected, different lumen maintenance curves apply. Over time, lamps will lose their brightness, shown on the lamp lumen depreciation curve. Also, dirt and dust accumulation must be factored into the equation. Always evaluate your proposals based on light-level readings that will be maintained over time.

14. Holding Back Too Long
There are two main reasons why companies hold back. One reason is corporate inertia. After all, the building is usually comfortable, and the lights still work; no one is complaining. With constant on-the-job pressures, who has the time for anything but today’s most urgent crisis? The other reason for delay is to wait for a new rate schedule, rebate, or technology.

But, the truth is, the savings you gain from a properly planned lighting retrofit almost always outweigh other considerations. Take advantage of energy savings now. Delaying a decision in anticipation of any future possibility means you’ll miss out on immediate savings.

15. Using “Average” Electricity Rates to Calculate Savings
While your average electricity rates can provide a quick feel for a project’s potential, actual electricity bills should be used to determine your savings. A common mistake is overlooking the rate structure that applies to your business.

Check with your utility to make sure the savings assumptions in the proposal are based on the correct rate structure.

16. Falling in Love with the Hardware
Sometimes, in the excitement of evaluating new technology, we lose sight of original objectives. For example, sophisticated control features can be appealing, but are often difficult to justify in terms of cost. You don’t want to pay for features you won’t use, or that are unnecessary.

It’s one thing to understand how technology works – what’s more important is how it’s applied.

17. Overlooking Opportunities
It’s a big mistake to believe that installing new equipment to save energy is “not in the budget.” That’s like saying you can’t afford to save money. The mere act of paying your electricity bill means there’s cash waiting to work for you.

To begin with, financial programs are available that will create positive cash flow from the start. In turn, a properly designed program virtually guarantees that your monthly savings will exceed your monthly payment.

If you’re a real estate developer or a building owner, make your space more competitive by upgrading to improved air-conditioning with better controls and better-looking light fixtures with appropriate light levels. An attractive, efficient building is one more step toward higher tenant retention.

Mistakes happen. Keep in mind that an energy-efficiency retrofit is more than the sum of component parts. These retrofit projects, by their very nature, require an educated buyer to sort through competing claims and ensure that quality and service are part of the evaluation process.

David R. Laybourn is director of marketing and sales at LIME Energy in Glendora, CA.

 

 
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