Services & Maintenance: Planning The Next Lighting Upgrade

By Craig DiLouie
Published in the August 2010 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

Between 2005 and 2009, fluorescent ballast regulations imposed by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) became effective in phases, limiting availability of T12 magnetic ballasts in new fixtures. In July 2010, the final phase of these regulations went into effect, virtually eliminating fluorescent F40T12, F96T12 and F96T12HO magnetic ballasts from the market. This includes both full wattage and energy saving versions (e.g., ballasts for 34W T12 lamps) as well as replacement ballasts—with few exceptions.
lighting energy regulations maintenance
According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), about seven percent of the fluorescent ballast market is magnetic ballasts. This is an indicator that this type of ballast is no longer popular in new construction, but they continue to be purchased to service existing installations. As facility managers (fms) and distributors deplete their inventories of these ballasts, they will have to make the switch to more efficient lighting systems.

The final nail, however, is coming in 2012. In that year, new DOE fluorescent lamp regulations will take effect, strengthening standards for lamp types covered by previous regulation while also covering 8′ T8, 4′ T5, along with more wattages of 4′ T8 and T12 lamps. The net result, with few exceptions, is that a majority of 4′ linear and 2′ U-shaped T12, many 8′ T12 and T12HO, and some low color rendering 4′ T8 lamps will be eliminated.

According to NEMA, about 30% of fluorescent 4′ lamps sold each year are T12. As with magnetic ballasts, they are not popular in new construction, but there are millions installed in existing buildings. In 2012, fms will have no choice but to upgrade.

Scheduling The Changes

A basic choice will be whether to replace an existing T12 lighting system all at once in a planned upgrade or to replace individual components as they fail. Replacing the entire system may seem challenging because of the upfront cost for equipment and installation labor; in addition, fms must accept the idea of disposing of ballasts that may still be providing reliable operation.

However, having maintenance staff replace individual components as they fail presents severe disadvantages. First, with T12 lamps being phased out soon, it makes little sense to buy electronic T12 ballasts, so the next basic option is an electronic ballasted T8 system. Since a T8 ballast must operate a compatible T8 lamp, a maintenance department would have to replace the ballast plus the lamps that the ballast operates.

This would result in a mix of T12 and T8 ballasts and lamps in inventory ad also in the general lighting system, which could cause confusion, risk performance problems due to incompatibilities, potentially have a negative impact on lighting conditions and appearance, and deny opportunities to reevaluate the lighting system and take advantage of good lighting practices and volume purchasing.

Fms are seizing these opportunities. According to a survey conducted in February 2010 by Today’s Facility Manager (TFM) and NEMA EnLIGHTen America, 54% of responding fms plan to conduct lighting upgrades within the next three years. (The TFM April 2010 article reporting on the results of this lighting survey can be found here.)

Once a decision is made to upgrade the lighting system, the fm has taken control of the situation and can work to maximize the impact of new lighting. A major benefit is energy costs savings. In this regard, substantial opportunities can be found in buildings that use older technologies (such as T12 systems), that have very high utility costs, and where lighting is uncontrolled and left on all night. T12 systems, for example, can be upgraded to realize energy savings as high as 50% or more in offices, classrooms, and other applications.

The next basic choice facing the fm is whether to retrofit or redesign a lighting system. In a retrofit, new lamps and ballasts are installed in existing fixtures and existing controls replaced. In a redesign, the fixtures themselves may be replaced or moved.

While energy is important, productivity is also very important to businesses. Studies show that large numbers of people are unsatisfied with the lighting in their workspaces. According to a 1999 office lighting study conducted by Steelcase, 38% of workers said the lighting in their workspaces was either too dim or too bright. Further, three out of four workers said better lighting would improve their efficiency and productivity, and two out of three said they would be more fixtures illumination quality

Fms who are interested in an energy saving retrofit, therefore, may instead actually need a redesign that not only reduces energy consumption, but that also improves lighting quality. According to the TFM/NEMA EnLIGHTen America survey, all respondents consider improving occupant satisfaction with the facility, and the organization overall, as an important goal of a lighting upgrade project.

Good lighting quality, according to the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES), accounts for factors such as visual comfort, glare, uniformity, color rendering, lighting on walls and ceilings, and harsh patterns, shadows, and flicker. If a facility’s primary spaces have been retasked for new purposes for which the existing lighting system provides insufficient lighting conditions (or uniformity is poor, there is little light on walls and ceilings, or there are obvious, unaddressed sources of glare), and if occupants are unhappy with their lighting, then a redesign may provide the most benefit.

Executing The Project

Once these decisions are made, what follows is a normal retrofit or renovation. Energy efficient lighting technologies have been undergoing development for decades, and there are many reliable solutions now available from manufacturers. Regarding lamps and ballasts, fms can consider T8 systems. There are now 23W, 25W, 28W, 32W (normal output), and 32W (high output, or “Super T8”) T8 lamps available, which offer a choice of power and light output.

There are also electronic ballasts available with a range of efficiencies and ballast factors, enabling further tuning of light output. The most efficient ballasts carry the NEMA Premium mark on the ballast label.

Regarding fixtures, fms can consider T5 systems, direct/indirect lighting, and, if recessed, volumetric-distribution fixtures that place some light on walls to eliminate the “cave effect” common with some parabolic fixtures.

Meanwhile, LED lighting offers opportunities to improve efficiency dramatically. Still, the overall technology remains relatively new, and fms should proceed with caution, particularly hen confronted by options such as LED T8 lamp replacements, which have not fared well in independent product testing at the DOE. (For results from past DOE testing of LED lighting, visit this DOE Website.)

Respondents of the survey conducted by TFM/EnLIGHTen America earlier this year weighed in on their current and potential use of LED lighting, with 42% stating they do not currently use this type of lighting in their facilities. Meanwhile, 36.8% said LEDs are used in signage and displays at their facilities, followed by other space types (lobbies, 13.8%; exteriors, 9.9%; desktops, 5.7%; and general office, 5.2%).

Lighting Controls

When upgrading their lighting systems, fms should keep in mind the benefit that can be gleaned from controls. As such, they will want to consider including lighting controls as part of the project. According to the New Buildings Institute, advanced lighting controls—which are mandatory in new construction due to energy codes—can reduce lighting energy consumption by up to 50% in existing buildings.

At first, adding controls may seem daunting because pulling low-voltage communicating wiring connecting the devices adds cost to the project. For this reason, the easiest way controls can be included in a lighting upgrade is to choose solutions that involve the least amount of rewiring or by swapping out older ballasts and controls with newer equipment. Upgrade options include occupancy sensors, low voltage relay panels, line voltage dimming ballasts, and wireless controls.

Beyond voluntary moves toward increased energy efficiency, the regulatory mandates from the DOE and building codes at all levels are affecting the work of fms. Planning for lighting system upgrades and other changes now will help to ease the transition to better lit, less energy consuming facilities that also satisfy mandates.

DiLouie, a journalist, educator, and marketing consultant serving the lighting industry, is principal of ZING Communications, Inc. and education director of the Lighting Controls Association.

Have you begun making lighting changes in response to the DOE regulations on ballasts and fluorescent lamps? Share your thoughts by sending an e-mail to