How To Rescue A Parking Garage Lighting Refit Gone Wrong
Even in a technological industry, sometimes technology just isn’t enough. Intangible values like trust, reputation, reliability, and willingness—these things are worth more than gold.
The best business is not the one that has never had a project go wrong, assuming that such a business even exists. Rather, it’s the one that can innovate and cooperate to create a solution that satisfies the client, even after it seems like everything has fallen apart.
This is exactly what happened to Lighting Efficiency & Design (l.e.d.) on what should have been a straightforward parking garage lighting upgrade for the PH&L Home Owner’s Association (HOA) in Warner Center in Woodland Hills. Installation of energy efficient fluorescent lights in the vehicle area of this four-story structure went smoothly, but the recessed cup lighting in the exterior accessways presented some unexpected challenges in what should have been a simple lamp swap.
For the vehicle area, l.e.d. used the same cost-effective replacement strategy as it had on a LEED-designed parking garage. They performed a full lamp and ballast replacement of 394 two-tube, 32 W T8 fluorescent fixtures with ultra-high-efficiency 25 W fluorescent fixtures. The new lamps are, in practice, comparable in brightness and require far less maintenance, having almost four times the lifespan of the old ones (46,000 hours versus 12,000).
On top of the cost savings from reduced power demand, both the lamps and the ballasts qualified for rebates from the HOA’s utility provider, and the work and parts are covered by l.e.d.’s five-year warranty. In fact, the tubes shouldn’t require replacement before the warranty runs out. Considering that these parking garage lights run 24 hours day, seven days a week, that’s a pretty good deal. (More details can be found in the LEED garage case study. [LINK})
It was the next part of the project that went sideways: The upgrade of the exterior accessways from 42 W compact fluorescent parking garage lighting (CFL) bulbs to 13 W LED bulbs
This part was expected to be a very simple bulb-for-bulb switch resulting in a huge energy reduction, especially for the time and effort required, thanks to cutting-edge technology from Lunera Lighting in Santa Clara (http://lunera.com). Lunera specializes in plug-and-play LED replacement bulbs for CFL, metal halide, and high-pressure sodium lamps. Their bulbs use a novel design that works with legacy ballasts in existing fixtures. The plan was to plug their 13 W LED bulbs into the HOA’s recessed can CFL fixtures.
It should have been exactly as uncomplicated as changing a light bulb. There was no LED trim kit required. The problem was that Murphy’s Law went into effect as soon as the first box of bulbs was opened.
Here is how l.e.d. and Lunera teamed up to defeat Murphy, to make the parking garage lighting work as advertised for the HOA:
Problem: Solution: Corollary Problem: Problem: Solution: Problem: Not all CFL ballasts are created equal. Some models of ballast are better at communicating with Lunera’s LED bulbs than others. The existing fixtures used a mixture of ballasts, yielding very mixed results. Solution: Bottom Line: Working with people who will stand behind their products is vital, according to l.e.d. president to Chris Fall:“Making sure that we’re using reputable manufacturers who are going to step up to the plate, meet us on a job site, and troubleshoot, is important to us.” You never know when Murphy is going to show up.
There was no installation documentation in the box. It’s a plug-and-play device, though, so how could this process possibly go wrong? As it turned out, more easily than you might think. “Plug-and-play” describes the product itself, not of the conditions and caveats of installation, much like USB devices in the computer world. For these parking garage lights, the power is supposed to be off during plugin, which is not obvious, hence it was not done. This created flickering issues with some the LEDs.
Lunera replaced the bulbs under warranty, and l.e.d. installed them, this time with the power off. Installation guides are now on Lunera’s website.
The building has a backup battery in case of electrical failure, so the power can never truly be shut off. Murphy was working overtime on this one. Thankfully, there have been no significant difficulties caused by this.
The old CFL bulbs were longer than the LEDs, allowing them to extend farther down the recessed cup (that is, to reach closer to the rim of the cup). The walls of the cup reflected more light from the CFLs than the LEDs. Less reflection means less efficient lighting in parking garages.
l.e.d. created an adapter to allow the LED bulbs to sit farther down the socket, adjusting the reflective length within the cup to the right amount. Lunera took this idea to the next level by redesigning their product to have a longer neck, so their current (second generation) bulbs match the CFL length.
The problematic ballasts in the mix were old ones, so l.e.d. worked with the HOA to replace them with new ballasts. Going forward, the HOA is purchasing any new ballasts it needs from l.e.d., to ensure that they will work properly with the LED lights
Not all CFL ballasts are created equal. Some models of ballast are better at communicating with Lunera’s LED bulbs than others. The existing fixtures used a mixture of ballasts, yielding very mixed results.
Working with people who will stand behind their products is vital, according to l.e.d. president to Chris Fall:“Making sure that we’re using reputable manufacturers who are going to step up to the plate, meet us on a job site, and troubleshoot, is important to us.” You never know when Murphy is going to show up.