Building Operating Management

Bright Ideas for Better Upgrades

Selecting the right contractor is a crucial part of a lighting upgrade. Here’s a game plan to help get the project off to a good start

Upgrading lighting to cut operating costs is, in many areas, an economic no-brainer: rising electric rates and falling costs for energy-efficient lighting systems often yield rates-of-return better than firms see in their core businesses.

But many facility executives have been disappointed in the results of lighting upgrades, often citing reductions in lighting quality, savings that are small or hard to find, and chronic equipment problems, both during and after construction.

Getting the results you want — without those headaches — starts before choosing the lighting contractor, continues through the bidding and interview processes, and (during construction) involves enforcing your own specifications.

Many facility executives, short of time or an understanding of lighting quality, rush to issue a request for bids containing only a vague request to cut energy costs. Proposals arrive that may be difficult to compare because of varying assumptions for burn hours, light levels, electric rates, lighting controls, maintenance and other factors. With no way to make an apples-to-apples comparison, facility executives may choose the bid showing the best financial payback, irrespective of the proposed design. When the results are disappointing, facility executives blame the contractor or the upgrade process.

One of the quickest ways for a job to go awry is to think you’re the only one making the decisions, so don’t try to answer all the questions by yourself. Unless the job is limited to replacing lamps and ballasts, it’s likely that other issues, flicker, glare, light levels, future maintenance, for example, will need to be addressed. Because changes to lighting, unlike HVAC, are seen by occupants, sensitivity to aesthetics is also important. Consult with any departments that could later raise issues, such as the facility’s architect, the electrical shop, design and construction, engineering, environmental health and safety, inventory, maintenance, legal/contracts, purchasing, office administrators, and any existing contractors that may have an interest in or contracts for lighting-related services.

With the input or at least acquiescence of those parties, assemble the specifications, standards and design guides that contractor bids must follow. Providing a written specification as part of the bid document will yield more realistic pricing and results, while avoiding interruptions, change orders and disagreements. If you don’t have an in-house lighting spec, ask your facility’s engineering firm to produce a draft and get input from those same departments to complete it. Having such a specification will also help control future designs and installations, whether or not related to energy efficiency. By limiting the range and types of lamps that may be used (e.g., no odd lengths or colors), inventory and maintenance costs may be reduced.

Perform or separately contract for a limited audit of your lighting that counts fixtures by type, lamping, location, schedule and condition, but does not develop a new design. Assemble it into a spreadsheet and photo gallery, and use it as an independent check on counts supplied by all contractors — which should be part of their bids. Some contractors inflate savings calculations by assuming that all fixtures they count are consuming power, even where lamps or ballasts are burned out. Others may assume burn hours greater than actual, once again inflating savings calculations. Some may inadvertently assume lighting in some areas is turned off at night when it actually runs 24/7, thus underestimating energy and maintenance costs.

With the input of the engineering and accounting departments, establish how savings will be calculated and provide that method as part of the bid documents. Many contractors use oversimplified methods for determining energy and labor cost savings that may over- or underestimate them.

It is common, for example, for a lighting contractor to use an average price for electricity instead of differentiating between power pricing on and off-peak, or taking demand charges into account. Where lighting controls are to be installed, such pricing sophistication may be crucial: systems that turn off lighting at night may, for example, be saving power that costs only half of what it does during the day. Using an average price may undervalue options that cut daytime consumption, such as lamps and ballasts, while overvaluing options that turn off lighting at night and on weekends, such as sweep systems that automatically turn off whole floors.
The same issue applies to claims of labor cost savings resulting from reduced maintenance: If no in-house relampers will be laid off because of the upgrade, how can a reduction of their work result in actual dollar savings?

Finally, define or disallow how savings on HVAC costs because of lowered lighting wattage may be included. In some cases, no discernible HVAC savings will result. Where a building is electrically heated, for example, a reduction in lighting wattage may result in an increase in power for heating, thus reducing overall savings.

Develop weighting factors that score your desires and make them part of your bid evaluation process. If verifiable local installation experience is important, visit sites where the bidder has already upgraded lighting and make that characteristic worth 5 percent of a bidder’s score. If your facility is unusual, a prison or landmarked building for example, experience with comparable facilities should also be favored. Demonstrating professional lighting credentials may be worth another 3 percent, and so on. Bottom-line price should never be the sole criterion.

Create a template for how you want to receive bids so that they are easily compared later. Include pricing both for the entire job and for incremental pieces. It is likely to find fixtures during installation that were missed during the audit or that require extra attention — full replacement instead of mere alteration. Having a schedule of such incremental charges in the bid may save a lot of grief, and possibly avoid high charges, when such adjustments must be made. Such differentiation also opens the door to some old-fashioned horse trading during negotiation of pricing.

Service Counts, Too

When a service is included in a scope of work (see box below), be sure it is amply described so you’re on the same page with the contractor. Different levels of expertise or certification may also pertain and should be required of bidders. Here are some of the salient features of each.

Fixture cleaning. Light output drops as fixtures get dirty. To maintain light levels, fixtures and their lenses should be cleaned at regular intervals, depending on dirt conditions. Where smoking is prevalent or manufacturing processes exist, annual cleaning may be essential. In most smoke-free offices, however, cleaning may not be necessary more often than group relamping. For fluorescent fixtures, that may be every four to six years, depending on burn hours and start frequency.

Spot or group relamping. The rated lifetime of a lamp is the point at which 50 percent of them have burned out. Losing 50 percent of a room’s lighting would likely be disruptive, so many facilities find that group relamping — changing lamps whether or not they have burned out — at about 70 percent of rated life minimizes the need for spot relamping — replacing as they burn out, a rather inefficient process. Be careful, however, with calculations showing net savings based purely on reduced labor. Where electric rates are high and some burnouts may be tolerated, the reduced load that results should be considered in any savings analysis. Companies that specialize in such maintenance should have personnel holding a Certified Lighting Maintenance Contractor (CLMC) certification from the International Association of Lighting Management Companies (NALMCO) to indicate knowledge of these processes.

Ballast replacement. While this task may be part of routine lighting maintenance, it may also be performed purely to cut energy cost where new technology has made existing ballasts obsolete within their roughly 20-year lifetime. Because of improvement in ballast efficiency, especially when combined with some new types of lamps, lighting that was upgraded in the mid-1990s, for example, may now be ripe for reballasting, especially where electric rates are high. Unlike lamp replacement, which may be done by a custodian, ballast replacement usually requires use of a licensed electrician to avoid problems and liabilities.

Disposal of lamps and ballasts. Fluorescent lamps contain mercury and older magnetic ballasts contain PCBs, both of which are considered hazardous waste requiring special attention to dispose. (See related article on page 61.) A contractor should provide details on the method to be used (e.g., recycling, landfilling) and incremental costs for disposal as part of the bid, and indicate the holder of any licenses required to do so. Your environmental health and safety department should review that portion of the bid.

Auditing existing lighting. To determine the magnitude and cost of an upgrade accurately, it is usually necessary to count and describe lighting fixtures and their components. The methods and documentation used by a lighting contractor to audit lighting may indicate how well an upgrade will proceed: Sloppy auditing is often a cause of problems during installation. Such audits include a proposed upgrade design and its expected energy and cost savings. Many who perform such analyses hold the Certified Lighting Efficiency Professional (CLEP) designation from the Association of Energy Engineers.

Altering or replacing fixtures. Many technologies exist for cutting the energy use of a fixture. In many cases, changing lenses and reflectors, relocating lamp holders, and even adjusting mounting heights may improve light distribution, allowing lower wattage or fewer lamps to be used. While new fixtures are often the best answer, an experienced lighting contractor should be able to provide several options for achieving savings, rather than pushing a single solution.

Redesigning lighting. Where aesthetic demands must be met, or significant changes to lighting tasks have occurred — a cafeteria converted to a library, for example — it may be necessary to completely redesign an existing lighting system. A lighting contractor suggesting changes should have on staff or as a subcontractor a professional lighting designer, preferably one holding the Lighting Certified (LC) credential provided by the National Council on Qualifications for Lighting Professionals. When aesthetic considerations are involved, the price tag for an upgrade may rise significantly. In older buildings, issues of preservation, asbestos abatement, and fixture access may affect choices, demanding a high level of expertise on the part of the designer.

Adding or improving lighting controls. Maximizing the cost-cutting impact of a lighting upgrade may also call for new or altered controls. Motion sensors, switch timers, sweep systems, automated dimming and scene controllers are available in stand-alone packages under central or occupant control, or via software that resides on a building automation system. A contractor including controls in the design should demonstrate success with them at other customer facilities.

Training site personnel on the upgraded system. Changing a lighting system often necessitates that personnel from building maintenance, inventory and the electric shop be trained to keep a new system running properly, especially where lighting controls are involved. A good lighting upgrade includes written manuals, a small supply of spare components and a defined level of training for facility personnel.

Providing routine maintenance after installation. Some contractors will offer to maintain a system for a defined period to ensure that savings continue, either alongside existing personnel or in lieu of them. In some cases, existing spot relamping crews can be downsized sufficiently after an upgrade to allow the lighting maintenance function to be fully outsourced.

Securing grants or rebates for the project. Any lighting contractor should be experienced in securing government or utility funding that supports energy efficiency efforts. While you may pursue this task on your own, those with greater experience often know tricks to maximize such funding, making it worthwhile to outsource this function.

Financing the upgrade based on expected savings. Some lighting contractors act like energy service companies (ESCOs) that finance upgrades through performance contracts that ensure savings. This option provides a positive cash flow at all times when a portion of the energy cost savings pays for the installation.

Getting the Results You Want

Experience with lighting upgrades has shown that attention to detail helps the job go smoothly, while also assisting future maintenance and upgrades. Here’s a few tips to ensure that your contractor serves your needs.

  • Bidders should list all assumptions and show all formulae used in calculating savings; merely providing a spreadsheet based on software is insufficient.
  • All lighting audits and fixture counts must be provided in Excel format so they may be later used in a computerized lighting maintenance program.
  • Establish criteria for installation supervision, for example an English-speaking supervisor on site at all times, pre-installation meetings with occupants and office administrators, or acceptable work schedules.
  • Include a small (e.g., 1 percent) inventory of spare parts like electronic ballasts in the proposed budget so that early burnouts may be quickly addressed.
  • Define a maximum project duration for each building or major area or set a minimum installation rate (square feet per day, fixtures per day), to keep the project on schedule.
  • Bidders should reveal any commercial relationships they have with any suppliers or brands of equipment.
  • Success in obtaining grants or rebates should be quantified, along with the dates and types of programs involved.
  • The mechanics and costs of any contractor-supplied financing must be separated from the base bid so that the customer may easily “shop” that option elsewhere.

By enforcing such requirements as part of the bid process, you’ll find the right contractor to make your facility save and shine at the same time.

— Lindsay Audin

Selecting a Contractor

To select the right contractor, start by defining your goals, limits and

  • Are you sure the only goal is to cut energy cost? Or do you also need to adjust lighting levels to serve tasks (e.g., using computer monitors) that have changed since the existing lighting was installed? Must appearance be improved, or maintenance problems be resolved? Whose standards must be met in the process (e.g., state energy code or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council)?
  • What’s your budget, and whose rules must be followed (e.g., union labor, building architect)? Has a rate-of-return or payback limit been set? Are any lighting technologies unacceptable (e.g., high pressure sodium)?
  • If time, money, or other issues get in the way, what are the most important expectations to be met for the job to be considered a success (e.g., 3-year payback, no major occupant complaints)?

— Lindsay Audin

Menu of Services

When developing a scope of work, consider the whole spectrum of available options. Merely calling for more energy-efficient lighting technology is often the easiest part: Making its installation cost-effective, trouble-free and easy to maintain may involve additional services. All of the following may be part of a lighting upgrade:

  • Cleaning fixtures
  • Spot or group relamping
  • Ballast replacement
  • Disposal of lamps and ballasts
  • Auditing existing lighting
  • Altering, repairing or replacing fixtures
  • Redesigning lighting
  • Adding or improving lighting controls
  • Training site personnel on maintenance and operation of the upgraded system
  • Providing routine maintenance after the installation is complete
  • Securing grants or rebates for the project
  • Financing the upgrade based on expected savings

When choosing a lighting contractor, it is best that the firm be able to perform all of the above, with the possible exception of financing the upgrade. While the scope of work may not include some of these options, you may wish to add them during the upgrade process. It does not pay to choose a contractor lacking those capabilities unless good in-house capability already exists to perform them.

— Lindsay Audin

Lindsay Audin is president of EnergyWiz, an energy consulting firm based in Croton, N.Y. He is a contributing editor for Building Operating Management.

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  posted on 11/1/2006   Article Use Policy

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