• Good outdoor lighting design can improve security and make your business stand out.
  • Available lamp options vary in light output, color quality and lighting efficiency.
  • Both the architectural style and the needs of the facility should be considered.

Businesses are always looking for ways to make their facilities stand out. In addition to added security, a well-designed outdoor lighting system can help you outshine the competition. If you are not certain about the power of good outdoor lighting, consider your own impression when you see a business that is poorly lit. A careful design with well-chosen lamps and fixtures can create an outdoor lighting system that minimizes energy costs while enhancing your facility.

Design considerations

Lighting affects human perception. An effective design will draw the eye toward a defined area and may increase foot traffic to a location. General considerations for outdoor lighting design include the following:

  • Illumination levels should assure safety and security.
  • Avoid designs that create bright spots surrounded by dark areas to ensure lighting uniformity.
  • Exterior lighting should be architecturally integrated with the building’s style, material and color.
  • Lighting intensities should be controlled to reduce excessive light spillage and glare that might impact neighboring areas and motorists.
  • When illuminating a building, light direction is important; down lighting or low-angle lighting can be attractive when it is incorporated into the architectural design.
  • Pedestrian-level fixtures are encouraged in all walking areas.

While these guidelines are helpful, they should not be applied to specific designs. The type of fixture, lamp, mounting height and spacing are likely to vary with each application.

Lamp options in outdoor applications

A variety of lamp options are available, each with advantages and disadvantages when it comes to efficiency and performance. Choose lamp types that complement your facility and design needs.

For example, while high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps are very efficient, retail or food service facilities may require higher quality lighting. Color rendering index (CRI) is the industry standard for evaluating lighting quality and is represented on a scale of 0 to 100. Incandescent lights have a CRI of 100 but are highly inefficient. Fluorescent lighting systems are widely used because of their good CRI, low unit brightness per linear foot and quick restart capabilities. Metal halide (MH) lamps also have good color rendering and are more tolerant of cold temperatures. Light-emitting diodes (LED) are a newer outdoor lighting technology. They offer energy efficiency, good color quality and long life. Their limited light output and directional nature make them unsuitable for lighting applications in certain areas, however.

Facility managers must balance energy efficiency with other performance factors to determine which technology is appropriate for their needs. The following table compares commonly used lamp types.

Lamp Efficacy (lumens/watt) Color Rendering Start Time Light Output (lumens) Service Life (hours)
Incandescent 8 to 25 100 None 60 to 6,000 750 to 4,000
Incandescent 30 to 95 60 to 95 Split-second 600 to16,000 7,000 to 36,000
HPS 50 to 150 20 to 85 5 to 10 minutes 2,500 to 100,000 10,000 to 30,000
MH 70 to 130 60 to 70 2 to 12 minutes 4,000 to 200,000 5,000 to 20,000
LED 35 to 100 70 to 90 None 60 to 12,000 50,000

Fixture types and applications

In addition to lamps, there are various types of light fixtures to consider.

  • Cobrahead fixtures—commonly used in area lighting
  • Post-top fixtures—come in a variety of aesthetic and beam shape choices; acorn shapes and traditional lamps are often used in historic areas and for lighting walkways
  • Shoebox fixtures—this common design incorporates a rectangular “box” shape around the lamp. They are available in many classifications, including short and medium cutoff
  • Floodlights—often used in large, outdoor areas, including industrial grounds, building facades and sports complexes. Typically, they are not a good choice for parking lots
  • Wall-mounted fixtures—are typically used to light adjacent areas for security reasons. Common types include wall packs, security lights and decorative wall wash fixtures.

Traditional pole-mounted floodlights are the most common choice because their mounting height and design spread the light across a wide area. Some fixtures can be mounted on the sides of buildings, making them a good choice for illuminating access doors or highlighting decorative foliage.

Many local governments have ordinances and building codes that define lighting levels and types. Consult with your local building inspector or a lighting design expert before mapping an outdoor lighting project.

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