Services & Maintenance: Lighting The Way From Good To Great

By Howard P. Lewis

Published in the August 2009 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

To say that facility managers (fms) strictly “manage facilities” mischaracterizes their responsibilities. What they really do—if they’re good fms—is facilitate the outcomes their buildings were established to achieve. And, if they’re great fms, they optimize these outcomes in a highly cost-effective manner.

Because just about all of those outcomes depend upon the performance or satisfaction of the people inside the facilities—clerical staff, factory workers, students, diners, or shoppers, for instance—the aspects of a facility that affect human performance are generally the most important. Yes, budgets have to be met, and expenses must be held in check, but, especially when the facility is owner occupied, it doesn’t make much sense to reduce costs at the expense of maintenance energy security

When it comes to human performance, the lighting system in a facility has a high impact. Nonetheless, fms may take lighting for granted. If the lighting system works and consumes a reasonable amount of energy, an fm may rationalize all is fine. But that’s not necessarily the case, and fms who don’t understand why will be unable to move from “good” to “great.”

Importance Of Light

In a hypothetical facility without illumination, so called “seeing tasks” would be far more difficult (if not, in some cases, impossible) to perform. People would need much more time to get things done and perhaps make many more mistakes than usual. For example, when lighting is limited (such as at dusk or dawn), reading is possible, but slow. Even a task as simple as walking from one place to another inside an office, factory, school, or warehouse takes far more time when the ability to see is restricted; additionally, safety is compromised, given the heightened potential for slips or trips. As for security without lighting…no way.

In a facility where some lighting is present, how much is enough for optimal task performance? 20%? 30%? Neither. While 20% or 30% may be better than nothing, more is needed to optimize people’s performance of tasks that depend on visual acuity. Will 100% (in other words, the electric illumination system that is installed right now in a hypothetical facility) achieve optimal outcomes? Does it provide just the right kind and amount of lighting for the spaces, tasks, and people involved? Or is it more or less “one size fits all,” where the optimal lighting for a warehouse is not that much different from the lighting used on a showroom floor?

Great fms know that what is optimal for one space/task/worker combination is not usually optimal for another. The amount of light delivered to the task, the angle at which the light arrives, and the age and viewing angle of the person who is performing the task all need to be considered in the design in order to optimize indoor productivity, error reduction, and accident prevention. These factors also need to be considered to optimize outdoor aesthetics, direction, security, safety, and visual integration into the overall facility.

Weighing “Cost/Benefit”

As for the bottom line, great fms know that optimal is the only way to achieve what the National Lighting Bureau calls High-Benefit Lighting® (i.e., lighting that optimizes the bottom line benefits). Improved productivity is often the number one benefit of High-Benefit Lighting.

In a hypothetical scenario, 250 people are employed in a facility that operates 40 hours each week. These workers are paid $15 per hour, a number that increases to $20 per hour to include benefits. Payroll for the year totals $10,400,000.

The cost for the electricity consumed by the lighting these workers need to perform their jobs comes in at $20,000 per year. The existing lighting provides optimal seeing conditions, but, because of the cost to operate the system, the fm then decides to institute retrofits. These retrofits reduce existing energy consumption by 25%, saving the facility $5,000 annually. But the new lighting isn’t quite optimal, and worker productivity falls 2%.

The net result: Efforts to save $5,000 per year cost the facility $208,000 per year, assuming overtime is not required to make up for lost output. If overtime is required, premium pay becomes an issue, as does additional building use and energy consumption.

Many (probably most) existing lighting systems provide conditions far less than optimal. Often, this is partly due to workstation rearrangement or task changes that occur over time. And if an electric illumination system is more than six or seven years old, chances are it could be modified or replaced entirely to lower energy consumption considerably—by more than 25% in some cases.

For fms who “know what they don’t know,” one resource is an experienced lighting systems designer to evaluate lighting systems with an eye toward upgrading the lighting to maximize task performance and minimize energy waste. The ripple effects can be tremendous.

Additional productivity can mean less overtime to meet output requirements as well as less overall facility use, saving energy along with wear and tear. Improved safety indoors and outdoors means fewer accidents, less paperwork, higher morale, and lower insurance premiums (especially when fms call the insurers’ attention to the reduced risk created by better illumination).

Better lighting encourages vandals and thieves to go elsewhere to commit crimes, because it denies those up to no good many places to hide. In parking lots, better lighting can reduce accidents, break ins, and vandalism, and it can also create a greater sense of security for employees, shoppers, and visitors. Overall, when those benefits are achieved, the resale value of the facility improves.

The bottom line? Lighting is for people. The greater the compatibility between the lighting and the task for which it is needed, the better people can perform. And that can have a huge impact on costs and savings.

In some cases, achieving optimal lighting for a space means incorporating a lighting approach that uses more energy rather than less. This is because the additional energy buys optimal productivity, and optimal productivity leads to less building use and energy consumption overall. Or maybe the additional energy means better lighting in a parking lot, and that leads to the optimal conditions that permit a smaller security force, fewer security patrols, and reduced gasoline consumption.

Getting the job done also means focusing on maintenance, because once new lighting is installed via upgrade or replacement, keeping the lighting “just so” requires maintaining that condition. Group relamping is a principal means of high quality maintenance. When lamps and fixtures are clean, lighting quality and quantity remain uncompromised. By replacing lamps as their light output (but not their energy consumption) begins to decline rather than waiting for them to fail, fms have a system with more illuminance on average, meaning that fewer lamps and fixtures are needed to maintain conditions for the spaces/tasks/workers involved.

Great fms know these concepts. And they also know there’s a lot more to optimal lighting than low energy bills. They understand that what really counts is not how much energy a lighting system consumes, but how much energy it puts to good use.

Still, it’s often the desire to reduce energy consumption and waste that gets a lighting retrofit or replacement project going. But that’s not where it should end. The more fms know about lighting, the better their buildings perform. And that’s what it takes to be great.

Lewis is the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America’s (IES’) representative to the National Lighting Bureau, for which he serves as secretary/treasurer. NLB is an independent source of lighting guidance sponsored by industry, trade associations, professional societies, utilities, and agencies of the U.S. government. Lewis is president of Lighting Alternatives in Cherry Hill, NJ.

In addition to the NLB as a resource, fms can turn to enLIGHTen America, a campaign sponsored by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA).