LED lighting offers so many advantages over other technologies that it can be hard to decide which of them presents the best reason for a business owner to upgrade his or her lighting system. Is it lower electric bills or the quality of the light color? Could it be the long life of the bulbs or the flexibility of design features? You get the picture – when something has as many positives going for it as LEDs, choosing the best reason to upgrade your business’ lighting can be a challenge. The good news, of course, is that you don’t have to choose – with LED lighting, you get them all. But if someone were to pin us down on that question, we’d make the case that reduced and deferred maintenance costs is the best of the best. If you’d like to know our thinking, read on.
The main reason that LED lighting costs so much less to maintain than fluorescents or incandescents (if anyone even still uses incandescents) is that LEDs have to be replaced far less often than those other types of lighting. LEDs will typically last for about 50,000 hours, although some manufacturers now claim that their products will last up to twice as long (we’ll have to wait a few more years to see if those claims are true). Even at 50,000 hours, though, LEDs will keep on shining more than 20 times longer than a typical incandescent bulb and three to five times longer than fluorescent tubes or compact fluorescent bulbs. Translating these lifespans into more practical terms, a business that operates 24/7 and keeps its lights on round-the-clock would be able to run for six or seven years before having to replace its LED lighting, compared to having to replace its fluorescents at least every two years. If your business runs on a more conventional schedule – let’s say the lights are on for 10 to 12 hours a day – a baby who is born today will be starting high school before you’ll have to replace your LEDs. The lifespan of an LED also won’t be affected by the number of times you turn it on and off, as is the case with other types of lighting. In fact, turning your LEDs on and off frequently actually lengthens their useful life because the time they’re off doesn’t count against the hours of light they’ll be expected to give you.
In addition to a longer life span for the bulbs, LEDs also require less maintenance over time because the drivers that regulate the power delivery last much longer than the ballasts that perform a similar function for fluorescents. A well-designed driver should operate for as long as the LED itself and shouldn’t have to be replaced before the end of the system’s lifetime. In contrast, the replacement of magnetic ballasts in fluorescent lighting systems can be difficult and expensive, especially if you own a large commercial or industrial facility that may have hundreds of fixtures. Magnetic ballasts can wear out faster when they’re exposed to the elements, so if you’re using them with your exterior lighting (which we’ll discuss in detail a bit later), you can expect to replace them even more often.
When you think about replacing bulbs and the other components of a lighting system, the first thing that comes to mind is the cost of the equipment itself. But equipment costs are only half of the equation. You’ve heard the variations of “How many (fill in the blank) does it take to change a light bulb?”. Well, the bottom line for business owners can be a lot less funny than the punch line of the joke. Although component costs are fairly predictable based on the market price of lighting equipment, labor costs associated with lighting maintenance can vary dramatically. If a lighting system is complicated or difficult to access, more time is needed to do the necessary work, resulting in higher labor costs. The design of the current generation of LED fixtures allows for quicker and easier repairs that can often be completed with few or no tools. In addition, modular LED systems allow you to repair or replace a single fixture in a lighting array without affecting the other fixtures.
Labor is an expensive line item for any business, and having your employees doing lighting maintenance work diverts them from doing other tasks more directly related to your core operations. Depending on the location of your lighting, your employees may also be exposing themselves to the risk of injury – like falling off a ladder – that may lead to worker compensation claims and lost time on the job. Of course, you could hire a lighting contractor to do the work, but the labor costs of an outside vendor will be even greater than those of your own employees.
Some business owners may not want lighting maintenance done during the hours that their business is operating because of the disruptive effect the work can have for employees and customers. As a result, the work then must be done during the business’ off-hours, generating even higher labor costs because of the need to pay overtime.
In addition to equipment and labor, one more cost to consider in lighting maintenance is disposal. Since LEDs don’t contain any unsafe or toxic elements, their disposal at the end of their long lifespan is a fairly simple matter. In fact, LEDs can be easily recycled because they’re free of the harmful chemicals often found in other kinds of light bulbs. Fluorescents, for example, contain mercury that requires special handling and environmentally-acceptable disposal. The additional disposal costs of fluorescents – and the frequency with which they’re incurred – is another advantage of the low maintenance features of LEDs.
Businesses with large amounts of outdoor lighting can benefit even more from the deferred maintenance advantage of LEDs than those which have only interior lighting. That’s because outdoor lighting – especially if it involves large signage or parking lot illumination – is usually high in the air and can only be accessed with the use of lifts, bucket trucks or other equipment. That kind of equipment must be rented, along with the skilled workers needed to operate it. The frequent maintenance of exterior and parking lot lighting also carries the disadvantage of having to close off areas around your building or sections of the parking lot for safety reasons while the work is going on. That can be disruptive for customers and employees of your business and can hamper access to your building. The same logic holds true for municipal governments that are responsible for street lighting in their communities. The sodium vapor streetlights that were so popular not so long ago are being replaced by LEDs, saving tax dollars on maintenance costs and limiting the disruption of traffic caused by frequent streetlight change-outs.
Another reason LEDs create maintenance savings in outdoor uses is that they stand up much better to the elements than other types of lighting. LED bulbs are sealed to prevent dust and moisture penetration that can shorten a bulb’s life or affect its performance. LEDs also operate very effectively at cooler temperatures. Since LEDs don’t emit heat, coolness is their natural state. Their lack of heat also makes LEDs better equipped to withstand sudden changes in outdoor temperatures. Because they’re made of plastic, there’s no danger of LED bulbs bursting due to sudden temperature swings, as there may be with traditional glass bulbs.
So, there you have it. With all the benefits of LED lighting – the greater efficiency, the lower utility bills, the superior light quality – have we convinced you that lower maintenance is the best reason to upgrade your lighting? Great! Now let’s go upgrade that lighting!