A global movement is on to replace conventional parking garage and lot lighting with LEDs. LEDs save energy and provide better “visual acuity” than other light sources because their color properties can be selected to maximize the spectral sensitivity of the human visual system. Lighting your parking lot is also essential in providing safety for your employees or customers. Having a dark parking lot is likely to increase car accidents and acts of vandalism.
Nevertheless, questions abound on how to choose the best LED lighting for parking facilities, whether garage or lot lighting. Can LEDs meet standard lighting requirements and provide light levels and distribution similar to conventional lighting? Will they last as long or longer? Will they save energy? How does the life cycle cost compare? Some LED systems are not realistically able to meet the requirements of good parking garage or canopy lighting. There are now methods to evaluate and compare the performance of parking facility lighting systems before selection and installation.
Before purchasing a new system, which can be a large investment, it is important to understand what makes a good LED solution and thus a safe investment. Here are the important facts you should know, and important questions to ask when choosing the best LED lighting solution for your parking facility.
The benefits of finding the perfect LED solution are:
• Better visibility and safety
• Substantial reduction in maintenance costs
• Lower carbon emissions
• Better energy management
1. Lighting Distribution Control
It is always important to be able to control the distribution of light from a fixture, but especially important for parking applications. A good LED lighting supply company will run a free advanced photometric analysis of the site to perfectly tune the LED lighting system to your needs and requirements. Viewing the analysis, you will be able to see the light distribution they can deliver before investing a dime. Be sure to look at the smoothness of the light levels (foot-candles) on the ground and where the cutoff is, to be sure they will be able to deliver the lighting you need. Do not let a lighting company feed you jargon about not needing as high of foot-candles, for any reason, with the new LED lights. This usually this means they are underselling you on light output. New LED lighting systems should be able to control the light distribution better, with minimal glare, at the same time as increasing the light levels on the ground.
A bulb’s capacity for producing correct-looking colors is measured by its score on the color-rendering index. This figure, usually referred to as the CRI number, is a score out of 100 that actually averages several scores together, each one for a different color. A high CRI number is like a high grade point average for color quality. Before you purchase, ask for the CRI of the lamp you are considering. Good LED’s score around the 80’s.
3. Long Life
How many workers does it take to change a light bulb? None if it hasn’t burnt out yet. LED lights have the ability to last more than 50,000 hours, or about eleven years. When investing in an LED lighting system, you will want to make sure that it has the longest lifespan possible to maximize return on your investment and reduce lighting maintenance as much as possible. The main enemy of an LED chip’s lifespan is heat. The hotter they run, the sooner they will die. The best heat management systems on the market are active heat sinking systems. These units have built in fans to help dissipate heat faster; extending the life of the module and increasing light output. Modern fans used for this application run for over 100,000 hours and are IP67 rated (extremely water and dust resistant), so it is not a failure point of the system, as many passively cooled manufacturers will tell you. Ask if the system employs active cooling, what the lifespan is of the company’s fans, and the standard operating temperature with the fan.
4. Control Systems
Can the light be controlled with existing control systems? Will a new system be required? Good LED products will be compatible with a wide range of control systems on the market and most likely the system you already have in place. High quality systems are compatible with any “0-10 volt” control systems. Zero-10V control systems range from basic style dimmers and switches to the most advanced networked control systems with real time reporting and scheduling abilities. Ask if the LED lighting system can be controlled with your system in place or if a new system is required. A new system could increase the conversion cost considerably and extend the time it takes for the lighting system to pay for itself.
5. Quality and Warranty
Every product has a failure rate in the field. Ask what the product’s failure rate is (during the expected life of the system, not while under warranty). You want to be able to trust that the lighting systems will last as long as they state they will. Most good LED Lighting systems are below 1% failure rate. The best products report a fraction of that. Ask where the product is made. There are many horror stories of LED products produced in China failing after a year or two. The good news is you can easily pick out the bad products by the length of their warranty. The best LED products on the market right now are produced in the USA and come with a 10-year warranty. LED products with a warranty like this will ensure a safe investment and will still be under warranty well after the units have paid for themselves.
6. Return on Investment
Generally saving at least 70% on cost of lighting compared to traditional HID lamps and requiring little to no maintenance, good LED systems should pay for themselves in a parking facility application within 2 to 3 years, or sooner. Ask what your return will be.
7. Retrofit vs New Fixture
Many companies will recommend a brand new LED fixture, when the condition of the existing fixtures are fine. Audit your current fixture housings. Chances are, they are in fine operating condition. Find a good LED retrofit manufacturer. They may be able to swap out the internal components of your existing fixture with brand new LED modules. The quality of the light and distribution will be the same as with an expensive new fixture, and the retrofit will cost less, making your return on investment quicker. A good retrofit manufacturer will be able to retrofit any type of fixture and have just as good of a warranty on their retrofits as they do on new fixtures, so no risk taken.
8. Ask for a Sample
Tell the lighting company you want to try their lights out before investing. They should have no problem with this. If they want your business, they will get in there, convert a pole or two and let you test them for a month.