Although there are almost always relamping efficiencies that can be found, fluorescent and high intensity discharge lamp and ballast systems need constant attention to operate at top efficiency. Their efficiency normally and inevitably decreases as systems get older. Maintenance issues with these products revolve around:• Lamps losing delivered light as they get old, as much as 25 to 40 percent (lumen depreciation).• Fixtures getting dirty, resulting in as much as a 40- to 50-percent loss (luminaire dirt depreciation).• Electrical problems (hard starting lamps, low ballast secondary voltage, socket and capacitor problems, etc.).A regular maintenance program can substantially improve the quality of the light throughout the facility, cut down on unscheduled maintenance calls, and cut electricity costs by migrating to more efficient components.Put a Professional on the JobIf lighting is a significant part of your energy costs – and it generally is – then it makes sense to invest in a professional to oversee the entire system. This can drastically reduce your electricity, manpower, and inventory costs. There have been specialists who have been providing comprehensive lighting services for over 50 years. These services include consultation, system design, installation, planned maintenance, group relamping, and lighting retrofits. By using these services, building managers can provide occupants with quality illumination and maximize the company’s return on its lighting dollars. Many of these specialists are members of the interNational Association of Lighting Maintenance Contractors (NALMCO) (www.nalmco.org). Many are also members of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA), (www.iesna.org).Outsourcing will enable you to:• Get lighting expertise. You will save significant operating costs, because the professional lighting maintenance contractor knows what makes the system run optimally.• Free up manpower to perform other important facilities tasks.• Get all the light you are buying.• Reduce your relamping costs through volume buying and more efficient inventory management.• Prevent most unexpected surprises and reduce the high costs of rush or emergency service through a planned maintenance program.• Avoid most lighting electrical problems by planning in advance and following through with proper inspections and maintenance.In order to get the most from such a relationship, look for a lighting contractor that will provide turnkey, or soup-to-nuts, service. The relationship should start with a comprehensive lighting system analysis that results in specific written proposals that cover all aspects of lighting – indoor, area, outdoor, and signage. The plan should detail planned group relamping and fixture cleaning programs, as well as on-call or emergency services and response commitments. Beyond maintenance, the lighting contractor can become a partner by offering ongoing consultation and lighting advice to improve the overall lighting quality while driving down costs.Lighting – design, electricity, relamping, maintenance, retrofitting – are costs that are not going to go away. However, there is plenty of opportunity, through effective management and the use of professional resources, to constantly improve not only the quality of light but also the cost of light. If you haven’t done a thorough audit and developed a lighting plan, now is the time to do it. You’ll quickly be able to see the difference.Gary McGregor is based out of Toronto, Ontario and is national lighting manager for Newton, MA-based UNICCO Service Co. (www.unicco.com).