Switching to LEDs Without Leaving the Past Behind

by | Oct 26, 2016

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historic-buildingThe change to LEDs is perhaps the lowest hanging fruit in the battle to become more energy efficient and environmentally sound. The only step that seems close is solar energy, but that transition demands non-trivial infrastructure and procedural changes. The move to LEDs is far simpler. After all, it generally only requires a new fixture.

Not always, however. In some cases, building management has great interest in saving the original fixture while changing from legacy lighting to LEDs. In some cases employees are comfortable with the old style and find it more conducive to their business, which makes them more productive. It also may be required in buildings that are deemed by official proclamation to be historic sites.

The bottom line is that people don’t want these fixtures, many of which are beautiful, to fade away. That may not seem to be important in a business setting. However, anything that drives productivity — even subtly — must be paid attention to. “A lot of older government-type buildings or universities like traditionally designed lights such as acorn types, some with a lot of metal scroll work and so forth,” said Chad Randall, the Vice President of Sales and marketing for ActiveLED.

ActiveLED, which is a product line offered by Ringdale, offers a way to move to the new age without leaving the past behind. The company hollows out existing fixtures and installs today’s LEDs. The “new” luminaires generally have a ten year warranty.

The job is not always easy. The key is finding extra space for the heat sink where none was designed in. “The biggest challenge is keep core temperate of LED at 80 degrees Celsius,” Randall said. “If we can keep there, the LED can last fifteen to eighteen years.”

Randall said that LEDs with sub-optimal heat sinks can be sold, but the buyer must agree to a reduced or voided warranty. The only style that the company has not been able to fit an LED into with an adequate heat sink, Randall said, is standard highway “cobrahead” lights.

The other option for organizations attempting to maintain the look of their lights while switching to LEDs is simply to build completely new luminaires based on the old designs. This is more expensive than using the old housing.

Lighting is an underestimated key to productivity. Randall points to studies that look at the impact of the color temperature, which is measured in Kelvin degrees, as the key. It is a subtle thing: For instance, studies show that a color temperature of 4,000 K is good for keeping people alert and listening, while a 5,000 K color temperature is optimal for testing students. But, he said, it is not a good idea to keep it at that level, “because the kids would be bouncing off the walls.”

Lighting is a vital element of any retrofit project. More broadly, conducting energy efficiency upgrades and retrofits to old buildings is a delicate process. It is even more sensitive if the building has been deemed an historic site and special levels of permission must be obtained to make changes that would be done without a second thought in other buildings.

It is relatively easy to assess hard numbers on the increases in efficiency or money saved when moving from one technology to another or adding features that control energy use in existing equipment. The value of maintaining the comfort and feel of an environment workers like is more subtle and harder to quantify.

Schneider Electric is working on an upgrades and capital improvements to Elmore County buildings in Wetumpka, AL. Todd Smith, the account executive working on the project, says that several things distinguish these from other projects.

Smith said that those who use the buildings are protective of them and reluctant to change. At the same time, older structures generally are in greater need of repair. Finally, these buildings weren’t designed and built with modern requirements in mind. Thus, workarounds and more structural changes may be necessary. For instance, duct work may have insufficient capacity for modern telecommunications cabling.

The popularity of ActiveLED’s luminaire retrofits are a microcosm of what Smith found in Wetumpka. Those planning LED change outs in historically sensitive or protected buildings must keep in mind that people like new technology — but they also are attached to the familiar.


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