Design and Tech Changes to Give ECs More Options

October 16, 2023

It hasn't been until recent years that a contractor who installs LEDs had no need to focus on the specifics of the design, including how the customer can expect the lighting to perform and whether or not it meets their expectations. But much like many other things in this world, electrical contractor roles have evolved in tandem with design-build projects pull in contractors into the layout and engineering of facility lighting. Simultaneously, additional technologies such as solar panels and controls are now being integrated into lighting systems.

What does this mean for customers and LED and control suppliers? Essentially, contractors now have the capability to serve as the main line of defense when it comes to ensuring lighting is correctly installed according the manufacturer specifications, all while remaining balanced within the space they are being used. Either way you look at it, technology needs limitations and a solid budget. 

Achieving the customer's goals is obviously top priority, but getting there is hardly as straightforward as lighting installations have been in years past. While LED lighting can have a life of several thousand hours, there are many factors that can potentially compromise the lighting's overall performance years down the road, or sometimes even immediately. 

These days, many companies are incorporating LED luminaries and sensors into their jobs. This can include just the basics, such as motion sensors, as well as sensors that serve as detection in hazardous environments. Although the stages of development are still in their early stages, we can expect to notice sensor technologies becoming more prevalent as time goes on.

It's critical that contractors be able to overcome installation challenges as these changes take place and the systems become more sophisticated. Start with the basics. Installers should understand the wiring between the fixtures and controls and also be prepared for problems to arise in the installation process.

Another challenge the installers face is setting realistic expectations. For example, if the installer is replacing a fluorescent system with LED lighting, the LED system is going to perform differently than their prior lighting system. This includes ability to adjust to low lighting and dimming capabilities. LEDs are overall a brighter light source. These are things the customer needs to be aware of.

Ensuring the correct color temperature is another key element in installation. Generally, incandescent or fluorescent lighting provides 3,000 kelvin (K), which on the color spectrum, lands on the warmer end. On the other hand, LEDs average closer to 5,000K; this is the range of cooler colors, which is bluish white. Customers need to be informed about these differences so they can reach an agreement on the color temperature and brightness before the installation begins. 

Formerly, these contractors didn't have to concern themselves with these details; they were simply able to focus on figuring out wiring and changing out the ballasts. With LED lighting, the control variations that involve brightness and color temperature creates a new set of considerations that take up a bigger portion of the project.

Due to the amount of variables, it's wise to have some sort of design-assist team with local representation so contractors are able to receive support during all stages of an installation. This should be good news for contractors. All of these changes in lighting and their respective challenges are basically offering a different market. The additional support poises them to work closely with customers, partner with electrical engineers, and serve as efficient designers for for all kinds of LED installations.

We can expect that the LED industry will migrate more toward granular controls with individual fixtures, each with their own intelligence. Each of these fixtures can have wireless connections to an outside network, eliminating the need to wire them together. Moving forward, GCs should expect more intelligent light figures that run more independently and include sensors to measure data on measures such as how many people are in a room, some as specific as how many people are seated at a conference table.

With such features are reduced labor costs and simple programming, wireless solutions also lend themselves to simplifying and speeding up wireless solution installations. Wireless solutions excel at working with a building's existing wiring, allowing contractors to add sensor capabilities and additional points of control without the need to install additional wiring. Many of these solutions can be programmed from any smartphone alongside coordinating system apps. 

Solar Options

When it comes to modern-day lighting applications, LEDs are mostly powered through solar panels. At times, solar lighting comes with unique advantages and challenges. Some lighting companies provide lighting that is completely wire-free and runs on self-contained, intelligent solar bollards and luminaires, including lithium-ion batteries, solar panels, efficient LED lighting engines, and intelligent controllers. Solar fixtures such as these can provide constant lighting all night, every night and eliminate the need to have cabled power installations and trenching.

As you'll find with any solar-powered system, traditional solar lighting requires separate solar panels be mounted to a pole and wired to a battery box and light fixture. Application of cabinets, mounting brackets, and equipment such as cranes and bucket trucks to actually lift the installer during installation may also be necessary. Some companies offer a more straightforward power installation with self-contained solar lights. This means that the LED, battery, solar module, and intelligent controller are directly built into the light fixture. Options such as these facilitate a simpler installation with products that provide more user control. These are options to keep in mind.

However, design and installation of this equipment is hardly a no-brainer. There tends to be quite a disconnect between those that are making the specifications and the installers.

Using solar power for lighting means a new level of considerations have to come into play. This includes understanding a solar unit's reaction in its given environment and ensuring the units have enough power through adequate mid-day sun. Units need to be placed so that they are not in the shade or under trees so they can receive sufficient energy to be usable. Some solar panels require as little to two or three hours of mid-day direct sun per day to function properly.

Before the lights are even installed, engineers and electrical contractors must consider the required light distribution. Selecting the correct optical distribution allows the optimal amount of light to be focused where it's most needed.

When installing a system, installers should take into account the existing light levels and how that lighting may interfere with a solar lighting system. For example, will the sensors be convinced that it's still daylight and therefore fail to switch on when necessary? Bollards can sometimes cause this issue since they're installed a few feet off the ground. On the other hand, modern self-contained lighting are equipped with wireless connectivity, which enables field adjustments if needed.

The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) has established standards for lighting installations through the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) protocol. Looking for guidelines for lighting deployments? The IES has produced a variety of handbooks to aid in this regard. Especially helpful is the Recommended Practices, which list guidelines for proper light levels for various applications. An example would be the recommended lighting levels for pedestrian use, such as parks, bike paths, and sidewalks, are considerably lower than those for street lights. 

Many times, offering education to the users of the lighting is the first good sign that the job will be successful. Any time a contractor is speaking with a customer, the contractors should ensure that the customer can balance their illumination expectations with their budget. They need to understand the cost and the performance before the system goes live.

If you're installing an outdoor area with self-contained solar lights, the good news is this system typically costs half as much as a wired lighting system. No electrical design, trenching, cabling, or connection to an electrical grid is required with wireless solar lights. Some systems are able to be taken out of the box and installed within 15 minutes with minimal equipment required. When compared to a traditional solar powered lighting that can take 3 to 4 hours per light, cranes, and bucket trucks to install correctly, this is a considerable difference.

Have more questions? Charter Estimating is proud to have over 300 combined years of experience. Get in touch with us today!

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