Tricks Of The Trade: Precarious Light Placement

By B. Kevin Folsom, CEP
Published in the November/December 2014 issue

Q We have recently built two new buildings, and in both cases the architects decided to place pendant lights and can lights 30′ in the air above stairwells. This makes it impossible to get a one-man lift on the stair landings, and scaffolding is dangerous. Do architects consider who will have to work on these?

Our mechanics can barely reach to change the lightbulbs let alone replace the ballast. Not only is it dangerous; it is also time consuming. It takes three to four hours to change one ballast!

Have you dealt with this in your buildings? And what other lighting maintenance challenges have you encountered?

Robert Meason
Maintenance Engineer
Elmhurst College
Elmhurst, IL

All questions to Folsom have been submitted via the “Ask The Expert” link.

AAs our U.S. leader in the 1990s used to say… “I feel your pain…” Unfortunately, this type of situation happens often. Those in the maintenance department risk their lives to help keep the architects moving with forward thinking. While my statement is a bit facetious, the architect and facility manager do have a symbiotic relationship—at least they should.

Commercial facility design is extremely complex with many competing forces. Hiring architects to do this kind of work is extremely costly. The architect many times is limited with the amount of time they can spend on the design work, so while trying to drill down to as many of the people within the institution, the maintenance person is often overlooked to provide feedback on the maintainability of the design. This is not always the case though. As the adage goes, “hindsight is always 20/20.” If the maintenance department reviewed the drawings, could they have really seen the issue prior to the building being constructed?

While architects usually get the blame for this kind of thing, they have a keen understanding of facilities along with behavioral sciences for how the facility will be used. Work through your leadership to ensure you have a seat at the planning table, or at the least several reviews of the construction documents prior to completion. I must warn you, however, that construction documents can be several hundred pages of narratives and drawings.

And for those out of reach fixtures already installed, there are companies that design and build sophisticated and useful aerial lifts that come in handy to help us maintain these facilities… safely.

Folsom is the director of campus operations at Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, TX. Previously, he was director of facilities & plant operations, and energy procurement & efficiency at Dallas Theological Seminary in Dallas, TX, where he worked for 25 years. He is the recipient of numerous awards from the associations of Higher Education Facility Officers and Energy Engineers for facility and energy management practices, industry leadership and involvement, and writing.


  1. In your “Tricks of the Trade” column in the November/December issue of Today’s Facility Manager you responded to a question by Robert Meason, a Maintenance Engineer. He was lamenting the high location of pendant and can lights over stairs. I certainly understand that nobody has 30′ legs and ladders can be unreasonable on stairs.

    Your reply, admittedly facetious, concerned how maintenance personnel help keep architects moving forward in their thinking. I would like to think that architects are there to be the “hub of engineering services” so that equipment that cannot be maintained is avoided. However, it is really the responsibility of electrical engineers to assure that their perfect lighting solution does not violate behavioral realities.

    We need facility managers as part of the design and review team, but this too will take a change of behavior. Perhaps when we really begin to grow “Facility Executives” we will have their more proactive involvement in design. I welcome the insights of contractors, mechanics, and maintenance personnel in the design process.

    Renee Russell
    Norfolk Naval Shipyard
    Portsmouth VA

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