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4 Things You Should Know Before Upgrading Your Parking Lot Lighting

Parking lots are boring. Right?

Wrong. If you want a business that’s inviting, feels safe, and looks good, well-lit parking lots are crucial. That means you have to stay on top of your parking lot’s lighting situation.

New car dealerships tend to be ahead of the game when it comes to illuminating their parking lots. Their investment in the lights means that potential customers can safely browse their inventory after dark, and their cars and trucks are more secure from criminal activity.

Honda Image

Source: FSG

But grabbing a ladder, climbing up, and changing out old bulbs isn’t exactly your specialty. Nor should it be. There’s more going on with your parking lot lights than you might realize. We’re here to give you the scoop on those lights, and what you need to know about them.

Why Upgrade to LED Parking Lot Lighting?

Many property owners and managers have already decided to upgrade their exterior lights and they have good reasons to do so.

But we wanted to ask FSG Indy’s Hunter Kasten to answer this question based on what he is seeing and hearing from customers. Here was his response:

“For me, the first is safety and security. These are imperative to all operations.  A well-lit parking lot is a safer and more secure environment for employees and customers.

Hunter Kasten, FSG Indianapolis

The second is energy reduction. This is a driving factor amongst lighting repair and upgrade decisions surrounding us today. Technology advances continue and have created greater opportunities for improved ROI scenarios resulting in lower operating costs.

Lastly, maintenance savings are commonly overlooked.  Businesses may or may not budget for annual parking lot repairs. This results in the concept of no longer incurring the costs harder to realize and quantify.  The truth of the matter is choosing the right partner to specify the correct product for your application will yield in longer product life and overall customer satisfaction.”

Safety is only one of several reasons to improve lighting in parking lots. But the safety of employees and customers is enough. A major study in New York City found that improved outdoor lighting reduced crime by 39%. Other studies show that due to low activity in a large-scale area, violent crime is more likely to occur in a parking lot facility than in a commercial facility.

In addition, approximately 7.3% of violent property crimes happen in parking garages or lots. 12.1% of parking lot crimes occurred at commercial business locations.

NYPD Parking Lot Lighting

Source: iStock

How to Design Parking Lot Lighting

Design? For a parking lot’s lights? Absolutely.

In this case, the design doesn’t just mean what color the lights should be, or where you want to put the fixtures. Here, design means everything from planning and preparation, to advanced measures designed to save you money.

First of all, you’ve got to have a plan. Start by taking a complete inventory of the lot and adjoining areas. The number of lights, type(s) of lamps, and height of the fixtures is all the items you need to know. When you’re counting lights, be sure you’re taking careful note of what kinds of lights are used in different places. Lights near lot entrances and doors might be different from those mounted further out in the lot itself.

Next, as you’re surveying the lot, keep in mind what kind of facility or business uses the parking lot. Remember that more lighting does not always equal better. If your facility is in a business district, identify any trends in that area.

“More light doesn’t always mean better. Too much light or badly distributed lighting can cause light pollution or problems with glare.”

Scott Davis, FSG Denver

Are other parking lots in the area well-lit? If so, how is their lighting distributed? For a parking lot the same size as yours, how many light poles are installed and how are they positioned? When thinking about a well-executed design, lighting distribution is key.

Know the approximate square feet of your parking lot as well as the lumens output per fixture. There are typically standards for total lumens, depending on the location of your business. Lumens, not wattage, are an indicator of the brightness of your lights.

Finally, the design phase is the best time you might want to consider advanced lighting controls. Most parking lots are lit for about 12 hours or more. Control systems will automatically turn lights on and off according to a schedule, letting you set up the timers and walk away.

You can also use controls to reduce certain luminaires that are furthest from the facility. Controlled lighting allows business and property owners to reduce energy usage during daylight hours when lighting is not needed.

Energy is power multiplied by time; controls can either reduce the time or power components of the equation. Ideally, it is best to install controls at the same time as installing any new or replacement equipment because the electrician is already on site.

Energy.gov

In this Parking Lot Lighting Guide for Federal agencies, Energy.gov provides a lot of helpful information that also translates to businesses who are considering an LED lighting upgrade:

https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/2014/02/f7/parking_lots_guide.pdf

If you need to design the lighting for a brand new facility, most reputable lighting contractors will help with the design phase of the project. Design is something you want to get right on your parking lot lighting.

Are there Municipal Standards for Parking Lot Lighting?

There are several reasons why businesses upgrade their parking lot lighting. But unfortunately, it’s just not as simple as buying some bulbs and hopping up a ladder. You’ve got to make sure your replacement lights are in line with municipal standards and guidelines.

Municipalities around the United States have varying standards for parking lot lighting written into their municipal codes. These standards cover everything from the height of the fixtures themselves, to how bright they are, to rules about their usage.

Some areas require that buildings and businesses dim their lights after closing time. Others require that the light from the lot not interfere with passing traffic or adjacent properties. Virtually all codes call for a minimum foot-candle measurement. (We’ll get to that one in just a minute.)

You can start by contacting the municipal office closest to the location of your parking lot. Usually, there will be a division that manages current building codes and standards. Let them know that you are planning to upgrade the lighting in your parking lot, and would like to get the current municipal standards on parking lot lighting.

The municipality typically has a review board that will approve your lighting plan. They will advise on what is needed for the lighting review. Some of the items they will likely ask for are the type and number of fixtures, type of lamp, lumens output for each fixture, square feet of property, and foot-candle distribution.

AEPA lighting purchasing

These codes are obscure and often unintuitive. It’s a real headache to interpret the code and make sure your new lights meet all the requirements. That’s where professional lighting contractors come into play.

For expert lighting contractors, no municipal code is too difficult to find or hard to read. A very good contractor already knows all of the pertinent rules surrounding the lights in your lot and will design your new system accordingly. If they do not have the guidelines on hand, your lighting contractor will take care of obtaining the current standards on your behalf.

Be sure to ask your contractor about these codes, and make sure they’re on the right side of them. You don’t want to execute a big retrofit only to have to immediately make changes in order to avoid fines from the local government.

What are Foot-Candles and How Do They Affect Parking Lot Lighting?

Foot-candles. What, exactly, is a foot-candle? The technical definition says that one foot-candle is equivalent to “the illuminance cast on a surface by a one-candela source one foot away.”

In more simple terms, foot-candles are the standard (United States) unit used to measure how much light is actually being put down on a surface.

Foot-candles are extremely important. As we said above, there are virtually always rules and regulations that govern the minimum number of foot-candles your parking lot lights must put out. And for good reason.

Installation and upgrading of parking lot lights are two of the most important, yet easiest to overlook elements of a building or business’s security. 

You don’t need much imagination to conjure up nightmares of what could be going on in your parking lots at night if the lights are too dim (or not working at all). Employees and customers would dread walking through the lot to their cars, and pretty soon they’d start staying far away from your business.

Parking garage lighting

Source: iStock

Once again, a good lighting contractor will be a huge help when trying to make sure you’ve got your foot-candles accounted for. Professionals have tools to measure the light from a source in all sorts of different ways, with footcandles being one of the measurements they produce. They call this science “photometry,” and it’s vital that you make use of these experts (and their tools) during any parking lot lighting project.

Not only will you be keeping yourself in line with local codes, but you’ll be providing a much safer and more welcoming environment for everyone. And that’s always good for business.

Let us know if you have any questions about your parking lot lighting. Our lighting team can take care of the design, municipal guidelines, and handle the entire project turn-key while you focus on the day-to-day business. Contact our team today at 1 (512) 886-1258.

Lighting Guide

For more Video and PDF case studies about our Parking Lot Lighting Projects, click here.

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