Building owners and operators are always looking for ways to maintain and upgrade their properties and save money at the same time. That's why many BOMA members have chosen the most energy efficient emergency lighting and exit sign products for their commercial, industrial and institutional properties.
Building owners and operators who have chosen this route to save maintenance costs and increase the quality of their emergency lighting equipment are looking at even greater economies. This time with the advent and popularity of LED Exit Signs, the latest in exit sign technology that offers unprecedented opportunity to building owners.
LED technology has progressed dramatically during the past few years. Today, LED (light emitting diode) exit signs lead the way because of several important advantages:
Indeed, these advantages make LED exit signs a fine choice for building owners and operators. Let's consider each of these advantages:
Energy savings is undoubtedly the most important reason to install LED exits. Traditionally, exit signs have two incandescent or fluorescent lamps—usually two 12-watt T6 incandescent lamps, or two 20 watt T6 1/2 incandescent lamps, or two 5 or two 7-watt compact fluorescent lamps. Some LED exits utilize just one or two watts per face—as compared with up to 10 times as much power for conventional exit signs.
Indeed, LED lamps can offer substantial savings over traditional exit lighting methods. The small premium being paid for LED lamps is returned quickly, typically, within 12 months, and then savings to the end user can be realized over the remainder of the lamp's 20-year expected life.
LED lamps offer long life, which eliminates the relamping expenses associated with incandescent and fluorescent exit signs. While incandescent and fluorescent lamps have typical lamp lives of 7 to 14 months, respectively, LED lamps can have an average life of more than 20 years normal operating conditions.
A variety of lamp types and light sources are used in exit signs. Improvements in lamp technologies have added significantly to performance, useful life and energy efficiency. Incandescent lamps have been most commonly used in exit signs because of their low cost, wattage, flexibility and availability. But even illumination is difficult with incandescent lamps and their continuous operation results in frequent lamp replacements.
Fluorescent lamps offer longer life and higher efficiency than incandescent. In exit signs, the most common compact fluorescent lamps used are compact 5 and 7 watt twin tube lamps with an expected life of 14 months. Total energy consumption (including the transformer/ballast) is typically 10-20 watts, and exit signs with these lamps qualify for utility rebates in some parts of the country.
A public school system in New York recently replaced its old exit signs with LED models. The old units consumed 40 watts each, as compared with just two watts for each new LED exit sign installed. It's always a good idea to take advantage of wiring already in place. There are no additional maintenance costs and the labor savings is substantial when all of the work is done at the same time.
It would appear that LED exit signs are an easy sell. However, this is not always so. That's because many manufacturers have introduced fluorescent and LED retrofit kits to replace incandescent lamps in certain types of exit signs. As a result, some end users believe that they can use a retrofit kit and enjoy the advantages of new LED exit signs at a fraction of the price. This is not the case. This purchasing decision is a critical one that could jeopardize the safety of building occupants.
What appears to be a simple solution is actually a complicated project that requires careful consideration. Any mistakes could be costly ones. After all, we are dealing with life safety.
At first glance, retrofit kits offer important advantages, such as energy savings, possible energy rebates from utility companies, longer lamp life and light output often comparable to higher wattage incandescent lamps, resulting in lower operational costs.
However, it is critical that BOMA members and their emergency lighting service companies be familiar with state and local codes, and use caution to carefully evaluate the potential benefits of LED and fluorescent retrofit kits versus the expense of meeting certain criteria. There are many conditions of acceptability which could easily negate any advantages to retrofit kits. Therefore, without caution, installers could jeopardize safety in the pursuit of potential energy savings.
In addition, be sure to follow instructions. Ballasts must be properly grounded, wiring must be routed outside of the exit legend and volt amperes should not exceed the original lamp rating.
There are many more instances in which retrofit kits cannot be used effectively. Building owners and their emergency lighting service companies must take care to check with the local authority having jurisdiction to be sure that retrofit kits are suitable for use in that jurisdiction. Remember, even when U.L. Listed, kits may not be acceptable.
In short, the purchase of exit sign retrofit kits is not as simple as it appears. Replacing an incandescent lamp with a fluorescent or LED lamp may have merit in some instances, but any replacement must be compatible with the existing installation. Without proper investigation, the chances of going astray are great. For BOMA members, the bottom line is clear when updating their existing exit signs with a more energy efficient product, they and their emergency lighting service specialists would do well to study the installation, the age and condition of existing exit signs and choose new LED exits. Keep in mind:
Rebates for exit signs normally fall into the following ranges:
Many power companies standardize programs and eliminate the wide variety of offerings. Although significant progress has been made, programs still vary widely, depending on the utility and location. Most rebate programs cover new construction as well as retrofit installations, although some vary and offer programs specific to applications.
Another reason why LED exit signs have gained popularity is because many model offer greater aesthetic appeal with uniform illumination across the exit lettering. Hot spots are eliminated. Some exits utilize a diffused, digital design stencil plate designed to focus and concentrate LED light output. The result is an exit legend that is bright and easy to read over a wide viewing angle. LED exit signs with digital lettering provide a contemporary look the was not available in the earlier LED exit signs. You may find exits with digital design more appealing.
There are many reasons to choose LED exit signs over other exits or retrofit kits. While the initial cost may be higher than that of other exit products, the quality is higher and the pay-back is quick in terms of energy savings, long lamp life and maintenance savings which reduce operating expenses. Cost compliance is assured and LED signs provide aesthetic appeal.
What does this mean to you? LED exit signs add up to increased savings for every building owner.
Article written by Dean P. Marchetti, Manager of Authorized Service Centers for Dual-Lite, Emergency Lighting Division in Newtown, CT.