5 Tips for LED Retrofits and 3 Real Examples

March 29, 2018

At a certain point, outdated, underperforming lighting is no longer worth the time, expense and hassle of constant replacements and maintenance. Find these smart lighting solutions from three real projects. 

At a certain point, outdated, underperforming lighting is no longer worth the time, expense and hassle of constant replacements and maintenance. When that day comes, it may be worth looking into an upgrade to LED technology.

“Typically, the installed cost of a retrofit is 50 to 75% cheaper than installing a new fixture,” explains Bob Ostrander, Vice President and Co-Founder of Tri-State LED. “In a retrofit, the work is also being completed underneath the ceiling – all you’re doing is opening the cover of the fixture and converting it to LED. When you’re installing new fixtures, you’re disturbing the ceiling, so if the building has asbestos and that can of worms is opened up, you can lose a lot of money on abatement.”

Converting to LED solved long-standing problems for the three following projects. Here are five ways the project teams created retrofits that were affordable, effective, and most importantly, resolved the issues caused by outdated lighting.

1) Understand Unique Requirements

Each space that will be included in your retrofit project will have its own requirements based on the type of work done in that space, access to or lack of natural light, the existing type and number of lamps, and other factors.

Parsippany-Troy Hills, a K-12 public school system in New Jersey, opted for a wide-ranging retrofit across its portfolio’s classrooms, administrative, service and support areas to upgrade from antiquated T8 and T12 fluorescents to LED tubes.

The project focused on boosting energy efficiency and enhancing light quality in a way that supported productivity and learning for students and faculty. Ultimately, the T8 LED tubes the district chose reduced energy use by roughly 60% over the previous lighting technology, saving about $400,000 annually.

“The two most important things in a school for a facility manager are air quality and lighting quality,” Ostrander explains. “With the right amount of light hitting the school desk, there are studies that show that the students are more alert – they don’t have a flickering light like fluorescent has once in a while when a lamp or ballast is dying. Not only are they saving a lot of power with an LED upgrade, but they’re providing a better learning environment.”

Related: New LED Lighting is a Touchdown for Packers Stadium

For the Hyatt Regency O’Hare near Chicago, an even distribution of light across all of the parking areas was at the top of the list. The iconic hotel needed a solution that would push uniform light into the darkest areas and make the hotel look more inviting to people passing by, and the existing metal halide lamps weren’t delivering.

The Hyatt is also the home base for the annual Parking Industry Exhibition, underscoring the importance of having all of the parking areas in optimal shape. LED replacements with carefully chosen optics ensured that the light was distributed evenly.

Even light distribution was also a major concern for manufacturing and freight transportation services company Greenbrier’s Gunderson facility in Portland, OR. The plant’s lighting conditions had deteriorated until light levels ranged from 13-36 footcandles, posing a hazard to the nearly 1,400 employees who are on the floor during peak production times.

With a significant number of burned-out fixtures and a mix of yellow and white metal halide and high pressure sodium lamps, it’s no wonder that employees complained about shadows that made work difficult.

The plant needed 50 footcandles with even, uniform light to keep employees safe and happy. But in large, open spaces with high ceilings, swapping out lamps and fixtures is frequently a logistical challenge. The plant’s ownership ultimately opted for LED highbays with a projected 60,000-hour life to deliver an even 50 footcandles around the clock.

2) Get Creative with Existing Infrastructure

Even with a one-to-one lighting replacement, you still may need to change how your new lighting type works with the infrastructure that’s already in place. LEDs, for example, are much more directional than many other light sources, so you may need to try different optics to achieve the right spread of light.

“It’s not just about knocking down the power consumption and saving 75% on the energy bill. It’s about the property or client being able to start over,” says Jeff Gatzow, vice president of Optec LED Lighting. “We can’t start from scratch with new poles or relocate poles to where we’d want them today, but we can at least work with different optical choices and patterns to dial in the light levels to where we need them.”

However, being limited to the use of existing infrastructure doesn’t mean you can’t explore creative options to push light where it needs to go. At the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, some of the poles on the north side of one parking area were too short to deliver the spread or distance that the project team wanted, so instead they opted to mount the lights to the wall of a nearby parking deck to light the same spot.

“We eliminated some short poles that weren’t getting the job done and took advantage of what was already there,” Gatzow explains. “That surface allowed us to raise the height of the fixture to get more distance. It made a huge improvement on the north parking deck.”

Tony Fiore, the hotel’s director of engineering, says the pre-project planning on recommended color temperatures and other specifications resulted in a parking lot with outstanding coverage.

“The metal halide lighting was yellow and ugly and didn’t have the coverage in the parking lot, so there were a lot of dark spots,” Fiore adds. “The retrofit solved all of that, and our guests expect that. We also have security consultants come by once a year for a survey and we’ve had no issues in the parking area at all.”

3) Explore Incentives

Once you know what you need and how to meet your site’s lighting requirements, look into rebates, discounts, low-interest loans and other incentives to defray the cost. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency is a great place to find state- and federal-level funding, and your local utility and city government may also offer incentives.

The Gunderson plant received a rebate from its utility that covered half of the lighting upgrade, which reduced the payback period on the project to just 1.7 years.

Depending on your utility, you may be limited to fixtures that meet a certain standard or deliver a certain level of efficiency. The products used at the Gunderson plant qualified because they were DesignLights Consortium certified, while the new lighting for the Hyatt Regency O’Hare had to prove that the fixtures the project team chose would deliver the right level of savings.

“Get the energy incentives secured before you do the work,” Gatzow recommends. “The Hyatt’s utility requires a preliminary filing, and then you get approval from them. Other energy incentive programs are going to have different rules and procedures. The other notable thing is that we had to make sure we did things in the proper order to make sure the Hyatt obtained their energy incentive dollars.”

4) Bundle Projects

Need to make other improvements? Ostrander recommends looking at whether you can either bundle multiple projects together or use the savings from the lighting project to pay for additional work. If you can make a compelling enough case to get the project started, you stand to reap considerable rewards.

“A lot of times, board members get stuck on the look and people don’t want to make a decision, so they’re floating along. Facilities managers’ jobs are to continually look for ways to improve their buildings and reduce the amount of maintenance that will be needed down the road,” Ostrander says. “Visualize your conference room table with a stack of money and just putting lighter fluid on it and setting it on fire. Every single month that goes by with a location that’s not converting to LED lighting is overpaying significantly for power.”

5) Plan for Replacements

No matter the rated lifetime on your new lighting, you’ll still have to replace it at some point. The lifetime refers to how long it will take the lighting to degrade by 30%, a level that building occupants may not even notice.

“The actual life expectancy is typically dictated by the client. It’s a matter of measuring the light and saying, ‘OK, it has dropped to a point where we feel the light level has gone too far down, so we’d like to replace them,’” Gatzow explains. “We like to define that as useful life, and we feel that the useful life is 80,000 to 100,000 hours.”

The most likely scenario is that some replaceable components will fail before the actual lamps, so it’s important to budget for replacement parts and labor, Gatzow adds. This doesn’t mean that upgrading your lighting isn’t still a good idea – it just means that the lighting isn’t really “maintenance-free” like it’s often described.

“It doesn’t matter what manufacturer it is. All LED light fixtures, if they’re going to have a useful life of 80,000 to 100,000 hours, will have to have the power supply replaced at least once. It’s entirely possible that there will be two replacements in that LED’s lifecycle,” Gatzow says. “However, the power supplies are still going to give the client anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 hours of life. With a metal halide you’re doing lighting maintenance on a monthly basis and you’d be replacing the power supplies every two or three years, so you’re still touching the fixture much less often with LEDs.”

Hyatt Regency O’Hare

Rosemont, IL

The parking area at the iconic Hyatt Regency O’Hare was plagued with uneven metal halide lighting with poor color rendering. Guests expect a well-lit parking area, and the hotel hosts a parking industry convention every year, underscoring the need for adequate parking lighting.

The unique shape of the lot posed a challenge during the LED retrofit, so the project team explored different optics until the proper light spread and uniformity was achieved.

(Photos: Parking at Hyatt Regency OHare before and after LED retrofit. Credit: Optec LED Lighting)

“Metal halide didn’t deliver the right coverage in the parking lot, so there were a lot of dark spots,” says Tony Fiore, director of engineering at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare. “Now the parking lot is lit up so well and evenly, you wouldn’t even know it’s nighttime. The coverage is outstanding, the light level and color rendering are very good, and everything works like a clock.”

Parsippany-Troy Hills Public School District

Parsippany, NJ

This K-12 public school system upgraded antiquated T8 and T12 fluorescents across its portfolio – including classrooms and administrative, service and support areas – to single-end-power LED T8s. The phased retrofit is projected to reduce energy use by 60%, resulting in an annual savings of $400,000 and delivering a three-year payback. (Photo: Parsippany, NJ K-12 school system library. Credit: Tri-State LED)
(Photo: Parsippany, NJ K-12 school system gym. Credit: Tri-State LED)

Gunderson Plant

Portland, OR

Gunderson, a subsidiary of Greenbrier Companies, operates its flagship manufacturing facility in Portland, OR. The 58-acre plant includes more than 875,000 feet of workspace under multiple roofs and hosts nearly 1,400 employees at its peak. (Photo: Gunderson - Credit: Hubbell Lighting)

The lighting needs to remain at 50 footcandles 24/7 for safety and efficiency, but the previous lighting technology had deteriorated so badly that the light levels ranged from 13-36 footcandles. Some employees had even taken to using additional light sources to get the job done.

(Photo: Gunderson - LED lighting retrofit. Credit: Hubbell Lighting)

A one-to-one retrofit with LED highbays delivered the right level of light all over the plant, and using DesignLights Consortium qualified lighting helped Gunderson qualify for a 50% rebate from the local utility. The rebate reduced the payback period to 1.7 years, and the plant is also saving 1.65 million kWh each year by using more efficient lighting, which means an annual energy savings of about $130,000.

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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