Rapid growth in LED technology has brought good news for energy managers in industrial facilities, as they have more options than ever before in planning facility retrofits. Finding high-quality fixtures that reduce energy consumption and cut maintenance costs is easier today than it was several years ago.
The bad news is that this relatively young market leaves project managers sifting through proposals from unfamiliar companies for projects they haven’t specified before. In an effort to save money, a manager can easily waste valuable time trying to apply old ideas about lighting projects to new technology.
A LED retrofit is a long-term investment. Typical high-quality fixtures are rated for 150,000 hours, or 17 years of round-the-clock use. A retrofit, done well, should last for well more than a decade, and its cost benefit is partially calculated on the fact that LEDs require little to no maintenance. That’s why the quality of your site visit, layout recommendation, installation and customer service plan are more significant than they would be for metal halides or fluorescent fixtures, which require maintenance every two to three years. To maximize your project’s return on investment, calculate the cost of ownership over time, rather than just the up-front cost of fixtures and installation.
LED Retrofits: When to Pull the Trigger
The first step in calculating your ROI is to examine your existing lighting. It might be strange to hear this from a company that manufactures LED fixtures, but the technology is not the right fit for every facility and budget — at least not yet. Project managers should be wary of any company or salesperson that tries to claim otherwise.
The next decade will likely bring new capabilities and cheaper technology. If you have a facility full of modern fluorescents that are well-placed, you may be wise to switch to LED fixtures in phases. Begin with the areas where LED light can have the biggest impact, like high-volume production lines, warehouse aisles, cold storage and cranes. These areas can suffer significant productivity losses when lighting goes out and stopping production during normal shifts is not an option.
The best results from a full LED retrofit will be seen in facilities still using metal halides or other high-intensity discharge lamps, as LEDs have the potential to cut lighting-related energy expenses in half and decrease energy overall energy use by up to 50 percent.
The Site Visit: They Should Come To You
Once you’ve decided on an LED retrofit, the first step is a site visit. There is no universal standard or equivalency formula that ensures quality coverage when switching out metal halides, fluorescents and LED fixtures. Each type of fixture distributes light differently, so a 1-to-1 fixture swap rarely produces the ideal coverage. Because of that, any responsible lighting project design should begin with an in-person inspection.
Light levels are impacted by a variety of factors including placement, obstructions, wall colors and the amount of dirt and dust present. The same plan won’t work for a cold storage facility in Houston that works for a manufacturing plant in Kansas, even in a building with the same square footage.
If companies offer over-the-phone or over-the-Internet quotes based on the idea of equivalencies, they are offering rough estimates, not guarantees. On the other end of the spectrum, specialty firms also charge exorbitant fees for engineer-designed layouts. Good project management includes a no- or low-cost site visit in your scope of work and a specialized layout that is part of a larger project management cost.
A Good Quote: It’s a Workhorse, Not a Unicorn
There are three key elements to project management: quality, service and price. Every manager wants the unicorn — a company that delivers high-end products for a low price with services like installation and rebates. But that’s not a sustainable business plan. If companies promise you the impossible, or even just a high-end fixture at a bargain price, they’re probably stretching the truth to make the sale. Be leery.
Instead, a good quote offers expert advice, outlining how you should devote your project resources to maximize your ROI. If your budget is limited, or allocated over a five-year period, then a strong quote will include installation in phases. The quote is your blueprint, so it should focus on your goals and resources instead of offering canned options or simply replacing halides or fluorescents.
A well-designed LED layout will account for changes in light distribution because LED output is more focused horizontally and vertically than light from older technologies. You’ll likely need grid adjustments involving electricians and other contractors. Aside from seeing your goals and having a clearly articulated implementation plan, a strong project proposal should also spell out who will take responsibility for everything from electricians to contractors to scheduling. If the contract is unclear or the sales reps sidestep the issue — walk away from the deal. It’s more valuable to pay for good service than to pay twice for bad service.
Installation Done Right: Avoid Costly Disruptions
The most important question to ask a potential project management coordinator is “can you guarantee installation that minimizes work interruptions?” Paying for project management is valuable, but only if the project management works. Demand a single point of contact, accessibility during installation and confirm a clear plan of responsibility for potential delays.
Installation is one of the hidden costs of retrofit projects. On paper, coordinating your own retrofit installation reduces the project costs, sometimes significantly. In practice, your own lack of expertise can cause hiccups in the process that can cost valuable production time and staff time, and reduce the overall quality of your LED investment.
It’s essential your project manager understands local, statewide and national energy codes. This is a key detail that may help you weed out the light bulb salesmen from the lighting experts. If no one is talking codes, then you’re more likely to be left with a liability than an upgrade.
Closeout Procedure: Don’t Walk Away Before You Measure
Before you end the project, the company you hire should come in with reliable technology and measure the new light output in your space. If you don’t hit your foot candle goals or if the occupancy sensors aren’t working properly, your point of contact should make it right, at no additional cost.
The final step in the close-out procedure — the rebate — should also be free of charge. Rebates can cover up to 50 percent of your total project costs when switching from an older or inefficient system. Push back if your project manager asks for rebate fees or guarantees a rebate as part of a price reduction plan.
A rebate is an estimate and it’s critical to understand that rebates are not guaranteed. Local and state rebates can depend on the money available to the issuing agencies or factors outside the scope of your project. Utility providers qualify the availability of funds only at the start of projects and typically must visit your facility to validate the existing system compared to the LED system being installed. Relying on remaining available rebate dollars that may be exhausted prior to your approval and start date may leave you frustrated with your project.
You Can Get It: Satisfaction
The best way to feel good about your LED investment when the project ends is to set high expectations and communicate them to every company that bids on your project. Don’t let the shine of a new technology blind you to a common-sense approach.
Service is only a smart investment if you get what you paid for. When you’re planning your LED retrofit, remember to consider the key elements of quality project management: a site visit, an honest quote, comprehensive installation, rebate administration and a clear close-out procedure. When you estimate the total project costs, rather than comparing fixtures or contractors, the value of an upgrade may surprise you.
Mike Robinson is director of sales for Big Ass Solutions, the parent company of Big Ass Fans and Big Ass Light. The company manufactures, sells and installs commercial and industrial overhead fans and LED fixtures.