Planned Maintenance Integral to the Long Term Benefits of LED Lighting Systems

An easily overlooked factor to consider when making lighting decisions for commercial installations is maintenance. Most decisions focus on the lighting technology – T8 fluorescent vs T8 LED or occupancy sensors vs timer controls for example. Equally important is thinking through new maintenance protocols or staff training that may be called for when installing new lighting systems – particularly LED.

While sellers of LED lighting often promote the savings benefits of reduced maintenance because of the long life of LED light sources, this can obscure the fact that maintenance remains a key function for the successful operation of LED systems.

Maintenance of lighting systems has always included re-lamping, power supply management, controls optimization and fixture cleaning. LED systems are no different, even if the specific tasks are not the same.

Whether maintenance is performed by a lighting maintenance company or by facility staff, the ability to effectively maintain the system can significantly affect the performance and occupant satisfaction of the LED lighting installation.

This post will touch on several of the key maintenance requirements for LED lighting systems.

Monitoring Lumen Depreciation For End of Life

It’s critically important for building owners and facility staff to understand that end of life for LED lamps does not mean when the bulbs go dark like most traditional light sources. Effective end-of-life for LED is when the lumen output dims to 70% of the initial lumens. This is the point where the illumination level has dimmed enough to impact the productivity, performance and attitude of the occupants of the space. Note: 70% lumen depreciation is often the metric LED manufacturers use for “rated life” of their products.

A light meter is an essential tool for facility staff. Ideally the light level is measured at the initial installation and then periodically over time to track the decline in light output – lumen depreciation. By committing to this relatively simple procedure, facility staff can identify potential problems and anticipate the need to re-lamp or replace the fixtures.

Because LED rated life can be 25,000 hours on up to 100,000 hours, the lumen depreciation time frame is measured in years. Nevertheless, a simple annual tracking of light output with a light meter is a prudent maintenance procedure.

Troubleshooting LED System Controls For Effective Operation

More and more controls are being installed for LED lighting systems, both new and retrofit. Controls add a new level of complexity as well as additional maintenance skill sets. Whether it is lighting maintenance company staff or facility managers, in many cases LED controls may require training to understand, troubleshoot and program the occupancy sensors, daylight sensors and dimming systems being installed.

Controls require more attention than LED lamps. Periodic checking of controls devices to determine they are working as intended – and the ability to troubleshoot – add to the maintenance requirements.

For new, large and expensive LED installations, building owners should hire a commissioning firm to test the lighting system and controls before the space is occupied.

Similarly, for LED retrofits, commissioning the system at the outset is ideal. The lamp retrofit may be into a traditional lighting system equipped with controls. Those controls, whether dimmers, occupancy sensors or photocontrols may not operate the LED lamps as intended – if at all. For smaller projects, maintenance staff can perform the initial system commissioning, or, if the facility staff needs training on how the components of the lighting system work and how they should be monitored (especially the controls) that can happen during commissioning by an outside contractor.

Cleaning LED Fixtures For Optimum Performance

A significant selling point of LED for commercial customers focuses on lower maintenance costs because of longer lamp life and significantly reduced re-lamping requirements. This is a valid and important savings when calculating return on investment for LED lighting system. While re-lamping may be years away, the fixture itself has shorter term maintenance requirements.

Traditional light sources required re-lamping often enough that fixture cleaning could take place at the same time. Dirty lenses and diffusers impact fixture lumen output. With LED, the much longer lamp life means much less opportunity to clean the fixtures, assuming that task is linked to re-lamping.

The importance of fixture cleaning depends on the occupancy type, but LED fixtures, no different than traditional light source fixtures, require periodic cleaning. Facilities staff may want to consider adding fixture cleaning as a discrete, scheduled task for LED systems.

Staff Training and Planned Maintenance Critical for Optimum LED Lighting Performance

The significant benefits of LED lighting for commercial buildings do not preclude maintenance, even if a primary selling point is savings on staff time related to re-lamping. Lighting maintenance involves more than changing lamps. Fixture cleaning, control optimization and lumen output monitoring all are fundamental to the long term performance of any lighting system – including LED.

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Dave Burtner

Dave has been active in the lighting industry since 1994. Formerly a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and certified by the National Council On Qualifications for Lighting Professionals, Dave now writes blog posts, lighting tips and provides lighting product assistance for the Topbulb website.
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