In Lexington, Kentucky, the city fire department’s maintenance facility is housed in a building that dates to the 1920s.
Though a venerable old structure, its age and design presented problems for the maintenance crew staffed there. A big part of its problem could be traced to the metal halide lights that had been in place for 30 years.
When the old building was constructed nearly 100 years ago, 21st-century technology and the requirements of modern fire apparatus were far from anyone’s mind. The ceilings weren’t built very high, so the large profile of metal halides left technicians with barely enough clearance to do their job, requiring creative parking to find the space needed to raise the cabs to get access to the engines.
The old lighting created other problems, too. Metal halide bulbs rapidly dimmed as they aged and constantly needed to be replaced. Even when new bulbs were still at full brightness, there was significant warm-up time. It could take as long as 20 minutes for the fixtures to reach full brightness. And, then there was the issue of energy costs-anyone who’s paid the electric bill on a facility with metal halides knows the significant amount of energy the lights use.
|1 The direct light from an overhead LED fixture creates a brighter, more easily visible work area that is especially useful for sight-sensitive tasks such as engine repair and body work, reducing the need for flashlights and numerous portable task lights. (Photos courtesy of Big Ass Light.)|
When the battalion chief got the opportunity to replace the metal halides, he knew he wanted to upgrade to energy-efficient LEDs. Additionally, the department needed not only brighter light but more effective placement. Nearly 30 high-bay 26,000-lumen LED fixtures from vendor Big Ass Light were positioned throughout the maintenance facility, and several 14,000-lumen fixtures were placed above the parts department.
The change was dramatic. “Everything is much brighter,” says Battalion Chief Phil Buettner. “Now the lights shine directly over the apparatus bay.” The chief compared it to having a task light for the entire garage. And, the LEDs’ lower profile means they don’t get in the way, so there’s better clearance for engine maintenance. “Before, my mechanics had to use stick lights to see the engines. Now, with the cab raised and purposely placed lights, they can see clearly, with the LED shining down where they need it,” Buettner says.
The maintenance crew also appreciates that the new LEDs don’t require any warmup; the instant-on means less time is wasted. And, the brighter space is a safer place, with no dim corners or shadows and no more fumbling with a flashlight when turning a wrench or hunting down a part in the crowded garage.
The LEDs’ built-in longevity guarantees years of maintenance-free use. And though it’s too soon to calculate and compare energy use, even with the greater number of fixtures, the savings are expected to be significant as the LEDs draw about half the power of the metal halides.
LEDs: A Long-Term Investment
Whether they’re serving large metropolitan cities or small communities, fire departments everywhere face the same challenge: stretching a budget that can seem to shrink with each passing year. Because many stations were built decades or even a century or more ago, lighting maintenance and repairs can take a lot of staffing and too big a chunk of the budget. When the light fixtures in use are metal halides, the problem is not just high power bills but maintenance costs as well. Despite higher upfront costs than older lighting fixtures, LEDs can drastically reduce both those expenses and provide a wealth of other benefits. Realizing the full range of advantages requires understanding how LEDs differ from older lighting technology.
LEDs are hardly new-for half a century, they have been used for small indicator lights in consumer electronics like computer keyboards and telephones. Thanks to their low heat production, negligible energy use, long life, and durability, they were prized for enclosed devices that weren’t intended to be opened up and tinkered with. Only in the past decade or so has LED technology advanced to the point where it can efficiently produce bright, white light ideal for large spaces such as fleet buildings in an affordable way.
|2 The manufacturer of the LEDs installed by the Lexington (KY) Fire Department tested the lights’ durability by driving a truck over them. While such sturdiness isn’t needed in most facilities, the low-ceilinged fleet maintenance building was one place where the fixtures could potentially be hit by the raised cab of a truck or a tool.|
In most workplace environments, but particularly those where detailed mechanical work is done, LEDs offer numerous advantages over their predecessors. Unlike metal halides, which create a hot electric arc, LEDs create light by passing electrons over a tiny flat semiconductor. That means LEDs produce much less waste heat, which equals less wasted energy. Metal halide bulbs can reach a temperature of 300°F, compared to about 120°F for LEDs.
LEDs also have a much longer life than metal halides, as well as other common lighting such as incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent. High-end LEDs have an L70 rating-defined as how long they maintain more than 70 percent of their initial brightness on average-of up to 150,000 hours, which equates to 17 years of 24-hour use or 70 years at six hours per day.
On the productivity front, LEDs also require no warmup period to achieve full brightness. At the Lexington maintenance facility, in the event someone accidentally turned off the metal halides before the workday was done or there was a power surge, the halides had to cool down for 20 minutes before they could be turned back on. LEDs completely eliminate light-related downtime.
Light Quality and DurabIlity
When it comes to tangible benefits for the average worker, brightness is the main improvement people notice when they upgrade. The increase in light quality and reduced shadowing are because LEDs are a directional light source, meaning 100 percent of the light they produce is focused in one direction-in a 15- to 115-degree spread. In contrast, metal halide, incandescent, and fluorescent bulbs radiate light in all directions, so much of the light they produce bounces off the ceiling and walls, creating shadowing or simply dissipating before reaching the work floor.
The direct light from an overhead LED fixture creates a brighter, more easily visible work area that is especially useful for sight-sensitive tasks such as engine repair and body work. Reducing the need for flashlights and numerous portable task lights frees up hands, saves time, and improves safety.
The manufacturer of the LEDs installed by the Lexington Fire Department tested the lights’ durability by www.youtube.com/watch?v=6k0GUC-epsY“>driving a truck over them. While such sturdiness isn’t needed in most facilities, the low-ceilinged fleet maintenance building was one place where the fixtures could potentially be hit by the raised cab of a truck or a tool. However, the low profile of the fixture-which is about five inches tall compared to more than a foot for metal halides-reduces the likelihood of such an impact.
Best of all for fire departments under increasing pressure to trim their budgets are the energy savings produced by LEDs. Generally speaking, LEDs use half the power of metal halides while producing the same amount of usable light. That means that despite LEDs’ higher initial cost, large facilities can see a return on investment anywhere from a few months to a couple of years by switching to LEDs-especially if they can find reduced-cost demo units, like the Lexington facility did.
For firehouses in need of better lighting, upgrading to LEDs is a decision that makes sense in myriad ways and delivers major savings in the long run.
All LEDs are not created equal. To get the most out of your lighting upgrade, seek out fixtures and companies that offer the following:
- Diode Protection: LED fixtures should be equipped with covers that protect the diodes and circuit boards. The covers should also be easy to remove and clean to prevent dust buildup that can reduce visible light output.
- Color Temperature and Color Rendering Index (CRI): For the best visibility, search for fixtures with a color temperature of 5,000K to 6,000K and a CRI of 70 or more. Color temperature measures the color of the light, which is yellow-tinted on the low end and bluish on the high end. A color temperature of 5,000K is similar to natural light produced by the sun. CRI is simply the ability of a light to accurately render colors, imperative for bodywork.
- Multiple Mounting Options: Overhead high-bay or low-bay fixtures are ideal for body and engine work, but they won’t help technicians see underneath a fire truck. Lighting upgrades should include a variety of options, including wall mounts, column mounts, and portable stands.
- Durability: If the ceiling height is 15 feet or lower, consider investing in fixtures that can stand to get hit by a truck every now and then. While LEDs are generally more shock-resistant than glass bulbs, many LED fixtures are made of sheet metal. Look for aluminum fixtures that offer maximum protection.
- Heat Removal: The better the fixture dissipates heat, the longer the LEDs will last. Search for fixtures with large heat sinks and compare the average rated life of fixtures. Fixtures with effective heat sinks are much more likely to reach the industry maximum rated life of 150,000 hours.
- Occupancy Sensors: Occupancy sensors guarantee the lights only operate when they’re needed, which will save energy without negatively affecting productivity or fixture life.
- Rebates: Energy rebates can cover from 10 to 50 percent of a project’s costs when switching from an older or inefficient system. To maximize the investment and lower the upfront cost, search for a lighting company that offers free rebate administration. But, keep in mind that rebates aren’t always guaranteed.
- Custom Recommendations: To maximize their investment, fire departments should consult with lighting companies that have well-educated sales personnel, engineers, and installers on staff who treat each facility as unique. Each building is different, and each requires a custom lighting layout.