Exterior Lighting and Controls: Problems and Solutions

March 26, 2014
Whether architectural or security lighting, these systems can provide visual oomph and a safety boost.

Making light of exterior lighting and controls is a mistake. This vital aspect of facilities management is essential to providing a secure and inviting building. Due diligence helps you select a proper system that can include architectural and security lighting and a bevy of controls.

“The needs of an office building, a car dealership, and a public monument differ drastically,” says Shanna Olson, senior lighting designer at international engineering consulting firm KJWW. Applications vary based on aesthetics, objectives, maintenance, and energy savings.

Consider your motivation for providing exterior lighting. Do you want to make the parking lot safer for occupants? Do you want your building to pop against a mundane cityscape? Let your goals guide you to the appropriate technologies.

Your building’s exterior is its face. Hit it with a spotlight.

The Influence of Security
There are a couple different reasons for lighting an outdoor area. The first splinters into safety and security.

How Many Footcandles Should Your Parking Lot Provide?

Parking lot lighting differs depending on traffic. Recommended illumination levels are provided by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES). Follow its suggestions to ensure you’re providing a safe and secure property.

High Traffic
Major athletic events, major cultural or civic centers,
regional shopping centers, and fast food facilities
Medium Traffic
Community shopping centers, recreational events,
offices, airports, residential complexes, and hospitals
Low Traffic
Neighborhood shopping, industrial plants, educational
facilities, and churches

“These two ideas should be addressed individually, because they’re actually quite different,” says Eric Gibson, value stream manager of outdoor area lighting products at manufacturer Lithonia Lighting. “Safety means being safe from walking into a tree or tripping over a curb. The levels of light required for that are actually very low. You can see pretty well in moonlight, for example, and that’s about 0.02 footcandles.”

Security, explains Gibson, is protection from people or threats. Providing a sense of security at your property requires boosting artificial lighting.

“If you’re in a parking lot or garage, you need to know if a guy walking toward you is making a beeline to mug you. You need facial recognition to decide between fight or flight,” Gibson adds. “To pick up visual cues, you need about 3 footcandles.”

For Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) recommendations on what kind of light levels your parking lot should provide, see sidebar below. Guidelines differ depending on traffic and surrounding brightness.

“With any building, there is a minimum requirement related to safety, security, and the movement of people walking onto and off of the property,” explains Bob Ponzini, business development manager at manufacturer Osram Sylvania.

Consider a recent project at Humility of Mary Health Partners (HMHP) in Youngstown, OH. The hospital upgraded the lighting in its emergency room parking lot because the existing system was inadequate and reaching the end of its usable life. For more details about this project, see Case Study #2 on page 45.

“A safe environment is extremely important to our organization,” says Wayne Tennant, vice president of support services at HMHP. “While the initial intent of installation was to reduce energy costs, the more important benefit has been the improved nighttime appearance of the campus with increased light levels.”PageBreak

The Impact of Aesthetics
The other significant reason for enhancing exterior lighting is aesthetics. Lighting is an important part of attracting tenants to your property, and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

“You want to make sure your building appears open and inviting, like a community beacon,” says Ponzini.

If you’re trying to light an object with flood lighting, like a sign or flag, the amount of light you put on it has a nearly direct effect on how much attention it gets. You should look to provide a 10-to-1 ratio between how much light is on the sign vs. the surrounding area.

“At that relationship, it will definitely stand out and jump at you,” explains Gibson. “Anything less than that will hardly look like it’s lit higher.”

Lighting design doesn’t only have to be functional. Certain monuments and museums just want to add extra oomph to their facade. The Castle Museum in Saginaw, MI, recently installed exterior lighting because it previously had none, preventing it from attracting evening foot traffic. For more information on this project, see the case study at right.

“Our goal was not to update or modernize the look of the castle. We wanted to create awareness of the castle’s classic aesthetic,” says Ken Santa, president and CEO of the museum. “The lighting enhances the historic architecture and made it possible to view the building 24 hours a day.”

Think of this kind of exterior lighting as painting with light, says Gibson. You can make certain parts of your site pop.

“All skyline buildings try to accent certain pieces,” he explains. “If you highlight specific areas, it makes the visual experience much more rewarding than just having a flat floodlight blasting the whole building.”

The Importance of Controls
Don’t think of controls as another bothersome wrinkle in your system. They make your life easier by removing the guesswork of when to reduce and how much.

Light Pollution Crash Course

Chances are if you’re stargazing in a big city, a gray haze will prevent you from glimpsing Orion’s Belt. The following fact sheet sheds light on light pollution.

  • Light pollution comes in many forms. Glare is excessive brightness causing visual comfort. Light trespass refers to light falling where it isn’t intended, needed, or wanted. Urban sky glow is the brightening of the night sky over inhabited areas. Clutter means bright, confusing, and excessive groupings of light sources.
  • If you shirk your impact on light pollution, you’re throwing a LEED point out the window – literally. The Light Pollution Reduction point – SS Credit 8 – provides guidelines for reducing interior and exterior lighting levels.
  • Suppliers should be able to provide cutoff or shielded light fixtures to limit excessive, misdirected, or invasive light. The IDA estimates 30% of all outdoor light is wasted, which amounts to 22 billion kWh per year, equivalent to 3.6 million tons of coal and 12.9 million barrels of oil.
  • Light levels at the property line should not exceed 0.1 footcandles adjacent to business properties and 0.05 at residential property boundaries.
  • Humans shouldn’t be night owls. Like plants and wildlife, we require regular circadian rhythms. When our day to night cycle is out of balance, melatonin levels drop, resulting in several disorders. The American Medical Association backs efforts to reduce light pollution.
  • Many states have implemented lighting ordinances, including Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Make sure you’re in compliance.
  • Worried that your new products will produce light pollution? Look for the IDA Fixture Seal of Approval, an evaluation and certification program that ensures lights are fully shielded and cannot emit any luminous output above 90 degrees in the vertical place, among other criteria.
  • For reports, brochures, and newsletters about the detrimental effects of light pollution, visit the IDA website at www.darksky.org.

“Controls are becoming more prevalent. You can mistakenly think that they’re only feasible indoors, but they’re necessary for outdoors,” explains Ponzini. “In the past it was just dusk to dawn photo sensors and on or off, but it doesn’t have to literally be black or white. Sensors can respond and alter light levels based on time of day and motion.”

This often forgotten aspect yields several benefits, so it shouldn’t be dismissed or overlooked.

“With the burgeoning legislation requirements of energy savings and light pollution, the ability to control outdoor lighting is becoming a very important issue,” says Gibson. “You need to consider some type of sensor or timer.”

Because your system runs the risk of impeding on neighboring properties, you’ll want to include the ability to alter light levels manually. Many states have already enacted ordinances to combat light pollution.

To learn more about how you can reduce your light trespass, visit the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) website at www.darksky.org.PageBreak

The Influx of LEDs
As controls have become commonplace, the use of LEDs for exterior applications has increased due to their controllability, among other factors.

“LEDs’ abilities to instantly illuminate or dim, function well in cold climates, and last for a long service life have made them a prime contender,” says Olson. “Their cost may be restrictive, but end users should look for rebate programs for retrofits or new installations.”

As research and development into LEDs have surged, paybacks are getting shorter – down to two years, explains Gibson. More than half of new products are now LED, and that number will only grow, he says.

“Lighting began as gas and oil lanterns in the 1600s, and then the Edison incandescent lamp came along in the 1880s. Going back to the 1960s, high pressure sodium and metal halide HID lamps have been the only choices for exterior lighting,” Gibson explains. “But after 50 years of stagnation, LEDs are the next lighting revolution.”


Name: Riverside City Hall
Location: Riverside, CA

Situated in a community about one hour east of Los Angeles, the building is a red brick structure that incorporates distinctive architectural arches.

Because the building is a focal point in Riverside, City Hall wanted to light the facility’s unique facade with upgraded lighting. The city needed a controls system that would allow its employees flexibility and customization.

New fixtures would have to be inaccessible to the public to prevent tampering, and they also needed to illuminate the facade cleanly and evenly with little light trespass. The light must also be available in a wide range of colors and levels with controls hardware and software that are intuitive and user-friendly.

LEDs replaced the existing metal halide lamps. They required custom brackets placed strategically on the exterior and around the property. A simple central control system allows city employees to alter colors, patterns, levels, and timing.

Return on Investment
In addition to their resistance to outdoor wear and tear and their favorable impact on maintenance, the LEDs also reduced annual energy use by 73,088 kWh, representing cost savings of $16,810. They also avert 40,818 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.

Photo Credit: LITHONIA

Name: Humility of Mary Health Partners
Location: Youngstown, OH

As the only Level 1 trauma center between Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the Humility of Mary Health Partners (HMHP) annually treats 70,000 patients, most of whom rely on the facility’s 135-space ER lot for round-the-clock parking.

Although the parking lot was illuminated by twin 400W high pressure sodium luminaires mounted on poles spaced 65 feet on center, hospital administrators were concerned about overall visibility and visitor safety. They wanted to increase light levels while reducing operation and maintenance costs.

Due to the limited service life of high pressure sodium lamps, HMHP was forced to regularly replace failed lamps. Replacement entailed significant cost and required a bucket truck and electrical team. HMHP also wanted the new system to be compatible with the existing steel poles.

Over 60 LED luminaires were installed in the parking lot, increasing the sense of security for patients, visitors, and staff. Light levels now average 18-20 footcandles in the ER lot, roughly twice as much light as before.

Return on Investment
Virtually maintenance-free while offering an expected service life of more than 20 years, the luminaires are expected to save HMHP about $8,400 in annual maintenance costs.

Photo Credit: LITHONIA

Name: Castle Museum
Location: Saginaw, MI

Constructed in French Renaissance Revival style in the late 19th century, the Castle Museum was once a U.S. post office but was converted in 1979 and now houses exhibits and artifacts.

The museum’s unique architecture draws many locals and tourists. Although it has a distinct daytime presence, its lack of exterior lighting inhibited it from hosting nighttime events, thereby missing ideal opportunities to attract occupants.

The museum wanted an efficient solution that would keep costs down and require minimal maintenance. It also needed luminaires that would accentuate the museum’s architecture without drawing attention to themselves.

Nineteen LED floodlights were installed around the building’s exterior, enhancing its historic architecture and making it visible all hours of the day and night. Photocells shift at dusk and dawn and can also be controlled with a timer, providing energy savings.

Return on investment
Using only 41 watts per fixture, the building’s outdoor lighting uses less than 780 watts. The museum can be illuminated for approximately $341 annually, less than a single dollar per night.

Chris Curtland is assistant editor of BUILDINGS.

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