How to get Security, Safety and Energy Savings through Better Parking Garage Lighting
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Most people don’t give a lot of thought to indoor parking garages or parking lots. It’s just a place to park your car and then get inside to your comfy condo and relax after a long day. Years ago, parking areas were not an area of concern about the potential liability they represent. In fact, it was a place where lights were often limited by the management to save money on maintenance and the electric bill.

Today, security and safety are paramount for your community and your peace of mind, and these days lighting is not just about putting in brighter lights.

Perfect lighting for your garage can be accomplished without breaking the bank. Replacing outdated, inefficient bulbs such as high-pressure sodium, metal halide or fluorescent bulbs with new energy efficient LED bulbs and fixtures, can make a dramatic difference in the appearance of a property while costing a fraction of the price to operate. LED bulbs are typically going to save from 25% to 75% of the current lighting costs on your electric bill, depending on the current

wattage and lighting that exists at your association.

In addition, quality LED bulbs also can last ten years or more compared to just a few years with the older technologies. The maintenance savings can also be significant when you look at the cost of the old replacement bulbs as well as the labor to install them.

Be forewarned – the best solution is not necessarily accepting the cheapest bid for your project. The lowest bid will often include what is called a “hybrid” or ballast- compatible LED for the fluorescent bulb’s replacement.  The contractor or maintenance person just pops in the hybrid bulb leaving the ballast in place. Some associations choose this option and just replace bulbs as they burn out. Unfortunately, making this choice usually means you won’t get any rebates from the utility. The old ballast also continues to use energy and when it burns out, the hybrid bulb no longer works.

One indoor parking garage company had replaced all of its old bulbs with ballast-compatible LEDs and then realized an annual expense of over $25,000 replacing old ballasts and the hybrid bulbs, as the ballasts burned out because they were at the end of life expectancy once the project was finished. Everything has now been corrected with a turnkey LED direct-wired bulb that even included removal of the old ballast.

Another underground parking garage in downtown Chicago put ballast-compatible bulbs in a sealed fixture and then had several fixtures catch on fire. It was found that the “tombstones” or lamp holders were not maintaining proper contact due to age, and the low bid contractor forgot to check whether the tombstones were shunted or non-shunted.

Knowing which sockets are present in linear lamps is very important because using the wrong type can cause an electrical short resulting in a fire hazard melting the sockets, tubes, or both. It can also void the UL listing and shorten the life of the lamp.

This problem has now been corrected by replacing all the old lamps with new LED fixtures. Since the property opted for new fixtures instead of retrofitting the old ones, a complete photometric study was executed to determine the proper light levels and uniformity of lighting coverage. Due to the study’s findings, some existing fixture locations were changed and an additional seven fixtures were added. This garage had a ribbed structural ceiling which brought another problem to the design and the original installation.

The original installer had located the lights so that they were below the rib, thinking that would make everything brighter. Unfortunately, the glare from the lights in that position had the potential of blinding a driver and causing an accident with a vehicle or pedestrian. The problem was solved by raising the fixtures 2-inches from the bottom of the rib in order to meet the specifications for safety.

Enclosed or underground parking garages have another safety challenge – proper ventilation. Exhaust fumes from both carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can build up to dangerous levels. Typically, the garages have fixed speed exhaust fans that keep the air fresh 24-hours a day. This can really run up the electric bill and it becomes an even bigger expense if venting air-conditioned or heated air to the outside.

However, new solutions are now available due to changes in regulations, technologies and environmental goals. The easiest solution is to install a VFD or variable frequency drive on your motor. This will allow for energy savings from 30% to 90% by adjusting the frequency of the electricity being supplied to the motor while still maintaining a constant air flow. Sensors for the carbon monoxide (the by-product of a car burning gasoline) and Nitrogen Dioxide (the by-product of burning diesel fuel) are located strategically throughout the garage and provide feedback to the energy management systems as to how hard the fan motors need to work to maintain a safe environment.

The following is your “must do” list when it comes to upgrading the lighting for your parking lot or indoor parking garage:

  • Installation must be done by a licensed electric contractor
  • Installation of LED bulbs must only be direct-wired and the old ballasts must be removed
  • There must be a proper review of existing equipment being retrofitted for safety and correct lighting levels
  • Have a photometric study done to verify that the desired coverage is being achieved
  • If an indoor parking garage is part of a new build, VFDs, controls and demand control ventilation must be designed to maximize energy savings and the safety and comfort of the residents
  • Take advantage of any rebates to help reduce the project cost

Many boards acknowledge that they would like to change their lighting and ventilation to new, energy efficient LED lighting, VFDs and Demand Control Ventilation, but delay the project because the considerable cost to complete the project is “Not in the budget this year.”

There are programs available today that can fund the lighting and other energy efficient technologies with zero debt and zero capital investment. The project is simply paid for out of the monthly savings. It’s called Energy Efficiency-as-a-Service (EEaaS), and its cash flow positive from day one; no money down or upfront. It’s similar to energy as a service from your electric utility but it also includes any maintenance and service.

Upgrading your parking area lighting can enhance the look of your property and deliver energy savings while increasing the safety and comfort of your residents. If the association can do it with no damage to the bottom line, what’s stopping you?

Bring parking into the 21st century and enhance safety, security and energy savings for the community with an investment in improved night vision.

About Onsite Utility Services Capital

Since 1993, OUS Capital has been dedicated to unlocking the power of energy efficiency for businesses and institutions nationwide by removing the CapEx and Debt barrier through our innovative Energy Savings-as-a-Service funding platform. They can be reached at

Fritz Kreiss
Onsite Utility Servies Capital, LLC
+1 262-248-0926

Written by Fritz Kreiss

January 7, 2020

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