Top 10 Avoidable Lighting Mistakes

April 23, 2013
Guard against expense, hassle, and dissatisfaction with these tips.

Is your lighting really performing at its maximum capability? These lighting mistakes and myths are more common than you might think.

If any of these sound familiar, don’t fret. It’s not too late to improve your lighting quality and building performance. Consider these 10 tips as a launch pad to more efficient energy use.

1) I can’t afford to improve the lighting.
With the economy still in recovery mode, it’s easy to fall victim to this misconception, especially if your definition of improvement involves a deep retrofit building-wide.

However, savings are possible with easier, more affordable retrofits that don’t involve tearing out the old lighting system piece by piece.

“You can achieve savings while also increasing illumination,” notes Chuck Kanupke, general manager for the U.S. headquarters of Retrofit Ltd, a lighting and reflector designer. “There’s a focus on retrofits, but you can create an increase in luminance with reflector technology.”

Still not convinced? Talk to your local utility and go online to see what kinds of rebates, grants, and assistance your facility can obtain. Try checking out, a searchable database of incentives.

2) This luminaire is too expensive.
Even if you’ve already decided to take on a retrofit, it can be easy to fall victim to this way of thinking, says Craig Marquardt, director of optical engineering for Acuity Brands Lighting.

“People look at the cost for a traditional light source, then look at an LED luminaire, and compare them side by side,” Marquardt explains. “You need to take the extra step and compare your entire project. If you have a big parking lot with a couple hundred light fixtures, don’t compare just one fixture, compare the entire project – including the maintenance costs.”

3) More light is the answer to dark shelves.
Overlighting is common in big box stores with high ceilings, Kanupke explains. In many cases, the stores were designed before energy rates began to increase dramatically, so project engineers would put in a surplus of lamps to ensure proper illumination.

“Stores will have this high population of fixture devices, but they don’t have the ability to redirect the lighting and use all of the wasted lumens above the fixture,” Kanupke says. “They’re looking for ways to improve the footcandle coverage in a particular area so it becomes more appealing.”

4) Too much light? Take out a few lamps.
This problem can stem from energy management mistakes or building occupants trying to reduce the light in an overlit space. Neither contributes to a high-performance building.

The occupants with too much light may benefit from more granular personal lighting control, while the solution for energy concerns likely involves an energy efficiency upgrade.

“Typically, when you go into a store that has just detubed to use fewer lamps, it’s noticeably dark and there isn’t as much excitement,” Kanupke explains. “You save energy, but you lose a lot by not having the brightness your customers need.”

5) We need to save money – let’s relamp.
As the discontinued T12 tubes disappear from the market, it’s increasingly common for organizations to relamp with energy-efficient T8s, notes Mark Havira, senior consultant for Efficient Lighting Consultants. However, it’s easy to overlook key differences – namely that T12s have magnetic ballasts and T8s have electronic ones. Not changing the ballast along with the lamp causes early burnout, wasting money and maintenance time.

“What happens is that somebody on the board says ‘We need to save money or energy, so let’s relamp the facility,’” Havira says. “The guy who changes the lamps isn’t an electrician; he just knows that these new lamps use less energy. There’s a lot more involved than that in order for lamps to fire properly.” PageBreak

6) This sounds too good to be true.
Believe it or not, sometimes you really can cut your costs drastically while maintaining the same level of light. It’s all about using real-world data to make decisions.

“A lot of people are reluctant to believe that you could reduce your wattage 30 to 60% using reflectors and technology and still have the same amount of light you did before,” Havira explains. “Skepticism is the biggest hurdle, even when you can look at a list of literally 1,000 companies that have obtained the same savings.”

7) Dueling mistakes: Overanalysis vs. underanalysis.
Many companies make one of two costly mistakes when reviewing potential solutions, Havira says – researching their options to death (a phenomenon Havira refers to as “paralysis from overanalysis”) or not researching enough. Both can derail your cost-cutting plans.

One foundry decided to retrofit their 320W metal halide lighting with pulse start products, saving about 100 watts per fixture, Havira explains. The problem: the lamps’ lenses were acrylic, not glass, and no one had realized this would backfire.

“Near the ceiling of this particular foundry, it’s 170-plus degrees F.,” Havira says. “The acrylic was melting off the screws holding the lens in place and falling on the employees. Know your environment.”

This applies to the entire installation, not just the fixtures and lamps, Havira adds.

“As a less common example, one facility went from metal halide to a T5 in over 1,000 fixtures. That’s normally a great retrofit option, except that this particular facility did a lot of acid washing in a corrosive environment,” Havira explains. “They hung it with aircraft cable, which is a very thin wire, and the cable just corroded. I don’t know what they were thinking. Those are things you have to be conscious of.”

8) We’ll lose this funding if we don’t use it now.
Institutional applications often suffer from budgetary restraints beyond the need to do more with less. The year-to-year structure of budgeting for schools and municipalities can lead to poor choices out of seeming necessity.

“They’ll fit whatever is in the budget to their parameters. It’s not necessarily the smartest decision, but if they don’t use that funding, they will lose it,” Havira says. “If they had waited a year or two to do the lighting properly, they could have saved more money – but the better option was more expensive and budgeting didn’t allow that to happen.”

9) If I can’t upgrade to X, forget it.
Don’t get too hung up on a state-of-the-art upgrade, says Eric Lind, vice president of global specifications for Lutron. The point is to have energy-efficient lighting that illuminates your facility well.

“People become so caught up in new technology that they’ve lost sight of the fact that there are a number of fluorescent products that last 50 to 60,000 hours,” Lind explains. “There are other sources beyond LEDs that last a long time, and people often discount how consistent some of these staid and true options are.”

10) I’m pretty sure we’re saving money.
To manage your energy consumption properly, you need hard data collected regularly, not assumptions based on design, Lind says.

The cost of the metering equipment is justified by the potential savings.

“Putting in meters does cost some additional money,” he adds, “but the meters provide the mechanism to help these buildings perform more efficiently.”

Remember that meters aren’t a cure-all either, Lind adds. Even the simplest plug-and-play technology should still be calibrated and tested routinely to ensure maximum savings.

“Often sensors are installed and the building is occupied, but the sensors don’t operate properly so people are bypassing the system manually,” Lind explains. “You may very well have a system that isn’t saving energy – that inconsistent performance led to the building owner bypassing it.”

Janelle Penny [email protected] is associate editor of BUILDINGS.

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.

Voice your opinion!

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

Sponsored Recommendations

Building Better Schools

Download this digital resource to better understand the challenges and opportunities in designing and operating educational facilities for safety, sustainability, and performance...

Tips to Keep Facility Management on Track

How do you plan to fill the knowledge gap as seasoned facility managers retire or leave for new opportunities? Learn about the latest strategies including FM tech innovations ...

The Beauty & Benefits of Biophilic Design in the Built Environment

Biophilic design is a hot trend in design, but what is it and how can building professionals incorporate these strategies for the benefits of occupants? This eHandbook offers ...

The Benefits of Migrating from Analog to DMR Two-Way Radios

Are you still using analog two-way radios? Download this white paper and discover the simple and cost-effective migration path to digital DMR radios that deliver improved audio...