5 Tips for a Hassle-Free Lighting Upgrade

May 26, 2015

Avoid potential snares with retrofit projects.

You know it and we know it – lighting efficiency is one of the easiest ways to slash your utility bills. Not to mention that better illumination can increase safety, improve productivity, and lower maintenance costs. But sometimes lighting retrofits get pushed back when there are major capital improvements afoot.

Show your leadership that it doesn’t pay to wait when an upgrade can immediately start saving money. Use these five tips to show how replacing those outdated fixtures will improve your operations.

1) Investigate All Options
Your first priority is to establish what your lighting goals are. Are you simply looking to decrease energy costs or does the project need to satisfy functional improvements as well, such as dimming, even distribution, or branding? Knowing the answer will help you weed out options that won’t fulfill your needs.

To extend your system’s performance, you should also explore control options, says Mick Wilcox, vice president of controls strategy for Acuity Brands. You could recoup additional savings if an occupancy sensor can turn off lights as well as set back the thermostat when a room is empty.

The capability to sequence controls is easiest to coordinate at the onset of a project rather than after the installation is in place, notes Andy Wakefield, director of building solutions and services with Lutron. If controls aren’t in the cards now, make sure the fixtures have scalability that you can tap into down the road, he adds.

While LEDs remain at the forefront of lighting technology, don’t automatically assume they’ll be the answer to your lighting needs – evaluate all source types to make sure you have the right fit.

“While LEDs are becoming more prevalent and cost effective, traditional lighting technologies such as metal halide have also improved their performance so they can continue to compete,” explains Will Teichman, director of sustainability at Kimco Properties.

Also try to project your illumination needs in the future. As workplace layouts become more dynamic, your lighting should be able to keep pace. You want the flexibility to reconfigure a space and adjust the fixtures accordingly, notes Wilcox.

2) Measure Light Levels
It’s best to quantitatively measure illumination rather than make decisions based on what looks pleasing to the human eye.

“We put all of our properties through a rigorous lighting assessment that is professionally administered by a third party,” notes Teichman. “To objectively evaluate safety and appearance, we go out at night and map a grid of measurement points in the parking field by taking actual light measurements on the ground.”

For outdoor fixtures, make sure replacements provide even coverage without high contrast areas or dark spots. For interior lighting, carefully consider how footcandles, lumen output, wattage, and color rendering will affect the look of a space.

3) Anticipate Operational Costs
Your utility bill doesn’t tell the whole story – lifecycle costs can get buried in other departmental expenditures. Calculate the total cost of ownership by forecasting what to expect for labor and replacement parts.


A helpful reference is to have two years of energy and maintenance costs available for your old fixtures, says Teichman. Rather than a modeled estimate, these numbers will help you project a true payback and validate manufacturer performance claims once the installation is complete.

When considering your budget, also make sure to compare initial vs. lifecycle costs. It’s tempting to go for the lowest upfront price, but it may not yield the savings you’re looking for in the long run, cautions Wilcox.

“A solution with a slightly higher upfront cost will often be the lowest cost solution over the product’s lifecycle,” adds Eric Snyder, marketing manager for Eaton.

You should also consider options that will make it easier and faster for your crew to reach fixtures for repairs, cleaning, and inspections. Ask your lighting vendor about service packages that can save money in the long run, Wakefield advises.

For multitenant properties, confirm which party owns which light fixtures and how costs are divided between the tenants and owners.

“Large anchor tenants, for example, may be responsible for the lighting outside of their storefront. But as businesses change over the years, the responsibility for ownership and maintenance can get lost,” Teichman says. “Building owners may be inadvertently maintaining certain poles and shouldering those costs when in fact they don’t own all of the fixtures.”

4) Read the Fine Print
While energy and maintenance are key considerations, keep an eye out for variations in housing, installation, and listings and standards.

“When comparing two products, key differences can be buried in the specifications,” Snyder emphasizes. “Don’t overlook details such as surge protection, vibration ratings, lumen maintenance, and warranty coverage.”

No matter how long your warranty period is, make sure to inspect fixtures after installation to verify that their performance is on track.

“Most LED failures tend to happen within the first month of installation so make sure that you go back to confirm everything is still working,” Teichman stresses.

5) Try It Before You Buy It
There’s no reason you can’t retrofit a smaller area before committing to a solution for the entire installation, says Wakefield.

“If you have a large project, you could be buying dozens, if not hundreds, of replacement fixtures. Buy a couple first and see how they look once they’re in place,” Teichman recommends. “Try out a handful of the new lights to confirm there’s an improvement in illumination, uniformity, and aesthetic presentation.”

This wait-and-see approach allows you to tweak the design if necessary and iron out any other performance problems. You might, for example, find compatibility issues between older components and the replacement parts or run into communication challenges between controls, says Wilcox.

Don’t be shy about asking your manufacturer about installations you can visit in person either, notes Snyder. It’s helpful to see real applications before partnering with a vendor, particularly for large renovations.

Jennie Morton [email protected] is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

About the Author

Jennie Morton

A former BUILDINGS editor, Jennie Morton is a freelance writer specializing in commercial architecture, IoT and proptech.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Buildings, create an account today!

Sponsored Recommendations

Decarbonization 2024: How Digital Tools Minimize Your Carbon Footprint

Discover the untapped potential of digital electricity infrastructure in revolutionizing building electrification and decarbonization, unlocking a sustainable future while reducing...

Building Security & Technology Series: Webinar 3 - Proptech

This event was originally held on May 22, 2024and is now available for on demand viewing.Duration: 1 Hour eachGold Sponsors: Genetec, ISS, PrometheusSilver Sponsors: Eagle Eye...

Building Security & Technology Series: Webinar 4 - Lessons Learned

Date: May 29, 2024Time: 1:00 PM EDT / 12:00 PM CDT / 10:00 AM PDT / 5:00 PM GMTDuration: 1 Hour eachGold Sponsors: Genetec, ISS, PrometheusSilver Sponsors: Eagle Eye Networks,...