November 3, 2021

Planning Guide to a Successful Parking Lot Lighting Upgrade

RAB Lighting – Type III Distribution Example on Bay Lighting's Maryland commercial lighting website

Parking lot lighting is critical for any commercial property. Adequate outdoor lighting can prevent accidents, injuries, and the occurrence of crime. As a commercial property owner, you want guests and employees to feel safe at all times on your property. Parking lot lights can be difficult to access should they fail or need servicing, so it’s important to use high-quality products. Lights must be placed thoughtfully in order to illuminate areas that receive the least natural light and the most traffic. Accordingly, parking lot lighting should be planned ahead of time and installed by a professional local lighting service. The following is Bay Lighting’s guide to a successful parking lot lighting upgrade.

Do Your Research

Before contacting a lighting consultant, take some time to research your options and consider your specific needs. There are most likely lots of light fixture companies and lighting suppliers in your area, so it is important to check reviews and find the best ones. Consider the following while researching options for your parking lot lighting installation:

  • Do they have experience with parking lot lights? It’s best to work with a service that has installed parking lot lighting fixtures before and has a list of properties that you can visit to see for yourself.
  • Are there case studies, reviews, galleries, and/or references on their website or on other websites? Testimonials and reviews from satisfied clients are a good sign.
  • Do they offer any specialized services? A lighting service should be able to help with energy analysis, lighting rebates, recycling, and warranties.
  • Will they conduct a site visit? It is important for a lighting technician to visit your commercial property in-person in order to sufficiently plan your parking lot lighting scheme.
  • With which manufacturers do they work, and which products do they recommend? You may want to do some research on products and manufacturers that are highly-rated and well-established like RAB Lighting, SATCO NUVO, and Cooper to name a few.
  • Do they have a bucket truck, or will there be additional costs associated with renting one? There are services that have bucket trucks, which are essential for installing parking lot lighting.

Evaluate Your Goals

Once you have decided to contact a lighting supplier, you may want to outline your parking lot lighting needs. It can be helpful to have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish or what challenges you are facing. Some questions to think about:

  • Are there specific dark areas I’d like to illuminate?
  • Are there existing exterior lights that may need to be upgraded or removed?
  • What kind of fixtures are currently in place, and what is the existing technology (LED, metal halide, compact fluorescents)?
  • How many pole lights are in the parking lot, and how tall are they?

Consider what you want to upgrade and what you want to remove completely. If you have a site plan drawing that includes existing pole placement in your parking lot, this could be helpful for planning purposes.

Your local lighting distributor can best assist you if you can communicate some things about your property on your initial conversation. You’ll want to make sure they understand your goals and motivations for upgrading your parking lot lighting. Common goals include visitor, tenant, and staff safety, as well as energy and maintenance savings. Steps can be taken to prioritize what’s most important to you. Communicate all of the aforementioned information about your existing space to the lighting specialist, so they can develop a comprehensive plan.

Build Your Team

Many busy commercial property owners prefer a turn-key solution that involves minimal work on their end. Others are more interested in a specifier and supplier. There are lots of services across different fields that can be considered. For example, architects are useful for their knowledge of planning a parking lot layout, and electricians have a wide range of capabilities. However, a lighting specialist has comprehensive knowledge of all of the things that go into a lighting installation job. For example, they can assist your designer and/or electrician with knowledge products, and availability, potential rebates, warranties, energy and maintenance savings, and IES standards. Enlisting the help of a lighting consultant, in addition to the rest of your team, is a great way to ensure a quality parking lot lighting scheme and a turn-key installation that requires minimal interruption to your schedule.

Professional Planning of Your Project

A quality lighting specialist will consider lots of factors, like which technology and wattage will be most suitable for your project. For example, better distribution of LED fixtures may solve your light level issues. Upgrading to LED is a great way to modernize older fixtures if retrofitting is the goal. Otherwise, they may include new poles, plan to make existing poles taller or utilize lights on the building or other available lights. They will also consider property location, how your exterior lights might affect neighboring buildings, and budgetary restrictions. A good lighting specialist will work with you to stay within budget while also supplying you with the best fixtures possible.

Common Exterior Lighting Misconceptions

  • Bullhorns can be added to existing poles in order to be able to direct light – This can work in some instances, depending on pole height. However, the pole must be tall enough for light to reach the dark areas.
  • Floodlights can be used to fill in dark areas – Typically, it’s more cost-effective to add a wall pack or floodlight instead of a pole light, but floodlights can create hot spots. From a distance, your parking lot will appear well-illuminated, but the lighting in the actual area may look worse. Variations in light levels will cause some areas to appear darker than others. It’s most important to achieve balanced, even illumination than to only have some well-lit areas so flood lights aren’t typically the solution to fill in the gaps.
  • Pole height is not an important factor – Similar pole heights can help achieve a balanced parking lot lighting scheme. A good rule of thumb to remember is that light distribution is 3x the mounting height of the pole, so pole height limits the light distribution. For example:

Pole Height = 12’
Base Height = 3’
Mounting Height = 15’ (Pole + Base = Mounting)
Distribution = 3x mounting height so 3 x 15’ or 45’

This equates to 45’ of light in front and on either side of the pole.

Getting Started

Once your lighting service has conducted a site visit, wheeled off and measured your parking lot, and completed a takeoff to establish pole locations, they will create a more sophisticated photometric drawing to serve as a guide. This drawing produced by specialized software to determine paths, light levels, and foot candle readings across the lot is the best path. Lighting is science and should be planned on a case by case basis.

Product recommendations should be based on real experiences. Light fixtures should be long-lasting and from a reputable manufacturer that has been in business for a long time. Fixture specifications including distribution type, wattage, lifetime rating, photocell options, and warranties should be reviewed. Utility company rebates may also factor into product choices, assuming lighting discounts are available in your area, and your specialist should communicate any ordering delays that might interfere with your deadlines.

When it comes to installation, the least invasive solution is typically recommended first. Your lighting specialist will usually try and use existing poles first. They may also decide to add another fixture head to existing poles or make use of supporting lights from nearby structures. Additional poles or taller poles might be added but these decisions are usually driven by the photometric drawing.

Contact Us

If you are interested in upgrading your parking lot lighting in Maryland, D.C., or Virginia, contact Bay Lighting today. Our lighting specialists can plan and install exterior lighting projects that accomplish your specific goals. We offer a range of specialized services, such as lamp recycling and energy analyses, in order to provide a turn-key lighting installation experience for our customers. Call 301-858-9494 to get started.

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