The LED upgrade: Retrofit existing fixtures or install LED luminaires?

 In Design Build Construction, Facility Management, Linear Lighting, Pedestrian/Street Lighting, Step Lighting

Upgrading a legacy lighting system to LEDs is an effective way to improve light quality and trim costs at the same time. There are two ways to upgrade to LEDs: retrofit the luminaires you already have with LEDs or replace everything with LED fixtures. The best choice depends on your budget and application.

Let’s take a look at a few common scenarios for interior and exterior LED retrofits and see what would deliver the best results:

Scenario 1: Decorative post-top or tear-drop luminaires

Globe and “acorn” style street and pedestrian lighting is common in many downtown areas and historic communities. Towns with these kinds of fixtures—especially when the poles and fixtures are historic—are typically loath to scrap the fixtures when weighing an LED upgrade. These fixtures contribute to the communities’ aesthetic and may be part of the actual history of the town.

Assuming the fixtures are in acceptable condition, the ideal solution in this case is to retrofit the existing luminaires.

When the cities of Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, California wanted to upgrade their vintage downtown lighting, they were adamant about keeping their antique cast iron poles and unique fixtures. Thanks to Amerlux’s Avista LED light engine, they were able to save them, while slashing energy and maintenance costs in the process.

For more on this solution, read the full case studies detailing how Los Angeles cut power costs by 75 percent and Portland by 60 percent, while still preserving their historic hardware.

Scenario 2: Area or parking lot illumination

When the fixtures are not historically significant and more utilitarian than decorative, it’s typically better to replace the whole fixture. If the poles or wall mounts are in good shape, they can stay, or if they appear weather-worn, they can be replaced—it’s not critical either way.

When a New Jersey company upgraded its exterior and parking lot lighting, Amerlux replaced outdated bollards, wall packs, and “shoe box” style area lights with fresh LED fixtures. The existing poles were retained with new fixtures mounted to them. The result was a uniformly lit parking lot and energy savings of 67 percent.

Scenario 3: Recessed step and wall lighting

Recessed step and wall lighting is often mounted inside concrete or masonry. Replacing the fixture and backbox in this case would be prohibitively disruptive, so the ideal solution is an LED retrofit step light that can marry with the existing backbox. This avoids tearing up the concrete to install a new backbox, while delivering a more efficient lighting product.

Scenario 4: Interior linear lighting

Long the domain of fluorescent bulbs, LEDs have become the unrivaled champion of light quality and energy efficiency for linear lighting. There are two ways to upgrade linear lighting to LEDs: replace the fluorescent bulbs with tubular LEDs (TLEDs) or replace the fixtures all together with new ones.

Using TLEDs is the cheap way and you’ll get what you pay for. With this retrofit option, you’ll end up with poor quality lighting that’s less efficient than it could be. Also, any legacy dimming systems installed likely won’t work with the LEDs. Plus, TLEDs can be a fire hazard.

A better alternative is to install new luminaires designed for LEDs. Since they are engineered around LED capabilities, these fixtures offer better energy efficiency, improved thermal management and better light quality. A cold LED is a happy LED—since heat degrades LEDs and reduces their lifespan, inadequate thermal management is a serious concern for lighting upgrades.

Also, since LEDs emit light differently than fluorescent fixtures, an upgrade is the perfect time to revisit the overall lighting scheme. Simply retrofitting fluorescent fixtures with comparable LEDs is a recipe for over-lighting the space. When illuminated by LEDs, spaces often require fewer fixtures.

Finally, using new LED-only fixtures opens the opportunity to leverage a variety of modern dimmer and control systems. This is especially important for any kind of human-centric lighting installation and for maximizing energy efficiency.

Amerlux has been developing LED retrofit solutions ranging from rugged post-top pedestrian lighting to beautiful linear interior products. Schedule a free lighting consultation today and learn more.

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