Smart Strategies for Relamping and Beyond

10/01/2017 | By Janelle Penny

Weigh your building’s needs against potential cost savings to make the right lighting decisions

Saving money on lighting energy and labor doesn’t always require an expensive project. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of smarter maintenance and selective upgrades. 

Which fits your needs and budget best: relamping, retrofits, replacement or a redesign? Weigh the upfront costs and long-term prospects of each to find the best course of action for your facility.

Relamp the Right Way

Though relamping is a simple replacement of one lamp for another of the same type, there’s a significant cost savings to be found with relamping projects. The biggest of these is relamping in large groups, like a whole floor or even the whole building, rather than spot replacements of individual lamps as they burn out or depreciate.

“Replacing one lamp takes time for a worker to get up there, and depending on where the lamp is located, it could also require special equipment,” explains Chris Baird, Vice President of Marketing and Sales for manufacturer HyLite LED, LLC. “In some situations, building owners may have to rent a lift to relamp certain areas, and they especially would want to relamp in large groups so that they only have to rent a lift at that one point in time vs. every time a few lamps fail.” 

Group relamping also lets building owners take advantage of economies of scale by ordering more lamps at once and allowing crews to set up for one large project instead of multiple small ones. Replacing lamps before they fail may seem wasteful, but the lamps that still have some life left may come in handy, says Eric Strandberg, Senior Lighting Specialist for the Lighting Design Lab, a utility-funded energy efficiency education resource based in the Northwest.

“When you group relamp, you’re aiming to replace lamps at around 70 to 80% of rated lamp life. Hold back a few of the lamps that have some life still in them so that if any of the new lamps have premature failure, you have a used lamp that you can put in until the 70 to 80% mark rolls around again,” Strandberg recommends. “The lifetime you’ll use varies depending on the technology, the cost and how much risk the owner is willing to take. However, LED changes the equation – your typical maintenance cycle on traditional lamps might be 3 to 5 years, but with LEDs that theoretically last 12 to 15 years, you might be looking at 10-year maintenance cycles. Often in that time, something new has come along or the use of the space changes. You may have to fundamentally reevaluate the lighting system itself.”

Kits: Between Relamping and Retrofits

Snap-in kits and lamps made to fit into fixtures for older lamp types (for example, a CFL made to screw into the socket for an incandescent light bulb) technically qualify as retrofits, according to many utility incentive programs and technology certification bodies, but in practice they seem to occupy the gray area between relamping and a full-scale retrofit. 

“In terms of doing a retrofit, you have several options,” Baird explains. “Going with a new fixture is one solution, and if you’re looking for a more cost-effective strategy, there are tons of retrofit lamp options and kits that can fit into existing fixtures. The main benefit of those is a lower initial investment. If you’re looking at getting newer technology like LED lighting in place for cost and energy savings, a lower upfront investment translates into quicker payback and ROI.”

While kits and simple upgrades may feel more like a relamping job, Strandberg recommends treating them like a retrofit by doing the same review of changing loads, optics and other factors that you’d do for a retrofit with a full fixture replacement.

“You’re still going from one type of load to another, and that may have implications on your system, including controls. You may have dimming on an incandescent, for example, and now that you’ve put in an LED you may have to put in a different dimmer,” Strandberg says. “If everything works the way it’s supposed to, you shouldn’t have to change any of those systems, but you still need to look at them and make sure it is going to work.”

When Relamping Isn’t Enough

If the projected savings on group relamping or even a simple one-for-one replacement with a retrofit kit aren’t good enough, it may be time to invest in a more comprehensive retrofit or even a lighting redesign. Your building may be a good candidate for an upgrade if it needs better light quality or distribution or if your current lighting system just isn’t meeting your budgetary goals.

“The decision to relamp vs. performing a complete lighting retrofit depends on your energy and performance goals for the space, how the fixtures are currently controlled, time constraints and budget,” says Matt Ochs, Director of Product Management for manufacturer Lutron Electronics. “If you are looking to deliver high-performance lighting capability with reduced energy use and more flexible control, a lighting retrofit presents the perfect opportunity to install a flexible, digital lighting control solution. In the scope of a complete lighting retrofit, the addition of a control solution represents a relatively small percentage of cost while adding value and significantly improving the comfort of the space with dimming and other control strategies.”

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