Facilities Management (Managing Assets)

Consider Your Outside Lighting

Many times as I’m on a plane crossing over a city, I am struck by how much exterior lighting exists in some areas, and how little has been provided in others. Inadvertently, I hunt for lights that appear to be missing, either actually or because they’re nonfunctional. On rare occasions, I might be lucky to glide above a college campus. There also I might notice dark areas in stark contrast to obviously over-illuminated pockets of light. It quickly becomes clear to me that often too much energy is wasted lighting the sky and undersides of trees than is directed toward the ground, where lighting is intended to provide safety and security to all who pass.

I have written previously about how those involved with construction projects appear to pay less attention to outside details than they do inside stuff. FMers may have the same set of priorities. After all, the majority of FM employees work in the daytime. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Is exterior lighting any exception?

I’ve learned that there are at least three facets to providing effective outside lighting.

Is There Enough?

First, is the provided amount of lumens appropriate to the type of space being serviced? Case in point: When we were building a substantial new student learning-living complex 15 years ago, the project designers were pressured beyond resistance by the student housing administrators to double up on code and existing standards, convinced that if a little is good, much more is exponentially better. They won. Later, when student residents moved into those new buildings, two complaints arose almost immediately. First, residents complained that they couldn’t sleep because it was too bright, like daylight, outside their windows — and in their rooms. Second, people smarter than us (obviously) on security/safety issues potentially associated with the 2002 Winter Olympic Games convinced all of us that too much light actually made the environment more hazardous. The excessive lighting was almost blinding, making the dark spots even darker because of the contrast. We removed nearly half the light poles, drastically reducing the number of complaints and making the general area safer. Problem solved, but money wasted.

Can They Be Easily Maintained?

Second, are the luminaires and fixtures easily accessible, and is there an effective maintenance program?

Parked cars, each of which might be there for long periods of time, may consistently block light poles in parking lots. If hinged, do the poles collapse away from those cars? Is a bucket truck required? Is there a clear method of identifying nonfunctional lights? Do maintenance personnel wait until there are a certain percentage of lights burned out in order to control labor costs (usually the most expensive aspect of a lighting maintenance program)? Are those bulbs, tubes, etc., in stock or do they need to be ordered? Are the luminaires cleaned periodically? If not, how effective is the lighting when compared with new installations? Are tree umbrellas blocking some of the light? Is attention paid to replacing older bulbs, known to lose a substantial part of their lumen output at 70-80 percent of their respective life expectancies?

Is there a “walk after dark” program on campus? Are students, maintenance staff, administrators and lighting experts involved? If the answer is no to any of these questions, there may be an issue.

Are They Efficient?

Finally, is energy efficiency a concern? Until recently, the types of lighting provided for exterior lighting purposes were not very energy efficient. More recently, some institutions started to replace traditional incandescents with CFLs. These are more energy efficient and have a longer life expectancy than filament-based lights. They have a downside: they don’t work very well when it is cold outside. Is that acceptable? Even more recently, some of us have started installing LEDs in our exterior lighting. Those represent a promising technology, one that is constantly evolving and improving. They use 80 percent+ less energy, and last many times longer. Except if the LED installed is not of a good quality, or the drivers installed are not the right ones or if they are installed in areas known for hot summer days and nights. LEDs don’t like being hot, and regularly require a heat sink.

Conclusion: exterior lighting is expensive — both in first-time and ongoing costs. Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of liability associated with lighting. Without the right kind in the right places, you have one problem. If you have lights and they are ineffective or not working, you have a much bigger problem. They should never be an afterthought.

This article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

Pete van der Have is a retired facilities management professional and is currently teaching university-level FM classes as well as doing independent consulting. He can be reached at petevanderhave@msn.com.

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