Safety & Savings: Parking Ramp Lighting Retrofits

Published April 2013

Parking ramp lighting and other exterior lighting applications are the latest frontier for energy-efficiency projects, and a lot of savings opportunities exist for building owners and managers in these projects.  Utility companies are even offering rebates for exterior lighting improvements, in some cases. Additionally, long-life lighting technology, like LED’s, and rugged fixture designs that perform well in varying weather are now available, making the feasibility and return on investment of these outdoor lighting projects even more appealing.

The importance of lighting design should take into consideration the function of a space, and this is true for parking garages and ramps, as well. For the tasks of driving and navigating a ramp as a pedestrian, fixture choice will influence the spread of the light and therefore the safety and security of the facility. Generally, these applications will shy away from a “cut off” fixture, which results in a cave effect, or dark ceiling which can strain the eyes and make it difficult to distinguish objects and shadows in an area. Not a great choice for place where people will be driving.

Instead, a better option would be semi-cut off or refractor, which will brighten the entire driving area, parking area and walls. Most parking ramp applications will want 5 foot candles per square foot as an appropriate amount of light for the basic tasks required in that space. With the semi-cut off or refractor style fixture, especially now with directional LED options, light can be directed to the places it is needed, without glare and without ‘spilling’ light beyond the intended area to create light pollution.

The Department of Energy offers this checklist to guide decision making for parking garage lighting, and recommends the following steps for a successful project:

1)  Conduct a complete inventory, including information on every fixture: wattage, burn hours, and existing light level.

2)  Decide whether to retrofit or install new fixtures is the best option. Consider fixture condition, and whether or not new lamp replacement options would fit into the existing fixture.

3)  Consider light quality and quantity. Be sure to take into account the importance of lighting design and the function of a space. Ask “what task must be lit?” and “where is it taking place?” In the case of a parking ramp or garage, the tasks will be driving, walking and identifying people and vehicles.

4)  Consider controls for transition areas. “Lighting Controls” can include daylight harvesting and occupancy sensors for dimming during no or low-traffic times.

5)   Take time to investigate utility incentives or rebate programs to help buy down the initial cost of the lighting products used in your energy-efficient retrofit project.

6)  Determine specifications for replacement or retrofit of the existing lighting system.

7)  Solicit bids.

8)  Create your life-cycle cost analysis, include your energy savings, cost reduction, simple payback and return on investment. What is important to you? A lower up front fixture cost, or the best long-term investment? Consider these when you create your life-cycle analysis.

9)  Purchase and install the new lighting system.

This reads like nine concise steps, but keep in mind that an entire industry exists to address your lighting needs. There really should be a funnier punch line to the joke, “how many lighting contractors does it take to change a light bulb?” – But in all honesty, every single lighting contractor you talk to will likely have a different answer for how to save energy and reduce your overhead. Most of them will probably be able to do that for you, but be sure the lighting products and installation configuration you choose is one that has your needs and lighting requirements at the forefront. Arm yourself with knowledge and the ability to choose the best project for you. Read the full DOE check list here.