When to Make the Switch to LED Lighting

Recent upgrades to these lights make them appropriate for many campus exterior applications.

Ten years ago the world of exterior lighting was simple. It consisted of two primary concerns: Adopt an all white standard and choose lighting that uses the least electricity per lumen. Ten years ago the best practice was to use metal halide exterior lights.

If you haven’t looked around lately, however, lighting is undergoing a revolution. The new kid on the block is LED, standing for Light Emitting Diodes. Exterior fixtures utilizing this technology incorporate multiple tiny LED bulbs into a single fixture. In many fixtures, these bulbs (point light sources) can be individually adjusted to provide variation in coverage patterns.

There are many reasons why LEDs will light the way to a bright new future:

  1. LED lights provide the best lighting uniformity of all exterior fixtures
  2. They offer the best and simplest light pattern adjustability
  3. They last up to four times longer than metal halide lights
  4. They are the most efficient
  5. They are non-toxic and require no special disposal 

Improved features include:

  1. Light pattern adjustability: Some are adjustable only at the factory while others can be adjusted in the field
  2. Heat sink features are improving, which extends operational life in hot climates
  3. Lighting ballasts were replaced by drivers that allow light levels to be increased or decreased. This feature can be used with motion sensors to increase light levels when activity is present—a good crime prevention feature.
  4. LED fixtures also have the ability to adjust color, which could be used in conjunction with systems like call boxes. During emergencies, this feature could direct first responders to problem sites.

 LED technology is so new and so flexible that cost and applications have not settled out. What has been developed shows great promise for things to come. 

 Only one question remains: Is this a good time to convert? The answer is a definite maybe. LED lighting is still undergoing rapid technological change. Brightness and features are improving, while costs are going down. Manufacturing methods and costs vary greatly. Exterior parking lot fixtures can vary in price from $600 to more than $2,000. This means you really have to do some comparison shopping.

Here are a few guidelines for deciding if it is the right time to buy:

  1. If you are planning a new parking lot with new fixtures, this would be a good time to buy
  2. If you are looking at replacing existing pole mount light fixtures, consider letting the market stabilize to find the right lighting option at the best price. It will require staying on top of a rapidly changing market.
  3. Changing from yellow cast, high-pressure sodium light sources can be handled in the short term with a bulb replacement to metal halide. Specialty bulbs are available that will not require ballast replacement.
  4. For simple wall pack lighting, compact fluorescent lighting is still a good deal. LED wall packs might be considered where complex lighting patterns are required. Watch this application: the prices should continue to drop.

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Tagged with: Lighting

About the Author


Jim Grayson is a senior security consultant. His career spans more than 35 years in law enforcement and security consulting. He worked for UCLA on a workplace violence study involving hospitals, schools and small retail environments and consulted with NIOSH on a retail violence prevention study.Grayson’s diverse project experience includes schools, universities, hospitals, municipal buildings, high-rise structures and downtown revitalization projects. He holds a degree in criminal justice and a CPP security management credential from ASIS. He is a nationally recognized speaker and trainer on a wide range of security topics.He can be reached at jimgrayson@mindspring.com. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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