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Common Issues with Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lights (also known as High Intensity Discharge, HID, or arc light) are a specific type of gas-charged luminaire that produce light through a chemical reaction that involves gases and mercury vapor interacting to produce UV light inside of a glass tube. The UV light illuminates a phosphor coating on the inside of the glass tube, emitting a white “fluorescent” light.

Using Fluorescent Lighting

In the past, fluorescent lights required a “warm up” period in-order to evaporate the gases into plasma. Several near-instantaneous starting technologies have since been developed, including “quick start,” “instant start,” and “rapid start.”

As fluorescent lights heat up, more voltage is required for them to operate. The voltage requirement is controlled by a ballast—a magnetic device that regulates voltage, current, etc.—which is necessary for a fluorescent bulb to light. As a fluorescent light ages, and becomes less and less efficient over time, it requires more and more voltage to produce the same amount of light, until the voltage eventually exceeds the capability of the ballast and the light fails.

Fluorescent Tubes vs Compact Fluorescents

The primary difference between the two is size and application. Most CFLs come in special shapes that allow them to fit in standard household light sockets. Linear fluorescent tubes also require an independent ballast that is separate from the bulb, whereas most compact fluorescent light bulbs have an integral ballast built into the base.

Both linear and compact fluorescent bulbs produce artificial light using the same technology. Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) still use tubes but, as the name implies, are much smaller than linear fluorescent tubes. CLFs were designed to replace standard applications for incandescent bulbs, and are simply enhancements to linear fluorescent technology, by having a longer lifespan and being more efficient.

Drawbacks of Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting has been around over 100 years and remains an inexpensive option for retrofitting old light fixtures. Fluorescents are typically a highly-efficient way to provide lighting over a large area, and are more efficient, and last longer than incandescent bulbs; however, it still has its drawbacks.

1. Fluorescent lamps contain toxic materials. The mercury, as well as the phosphorus, inside fluorescent bulbs is hazardous. If a fluorescent lamp is broken, a very small amount of toxic mercury can be released as a gas and contaminate the surrounding environment. The rest is contained in the phosphor on the glass itself, which is often considered a greater hazard than the spilled mercury.

When cleaning a fluorescent tube break, the EPA recommends airing out the location of the break and using wet paper towels to pick up the broken glass and other fine particles. Disposed glass and used towels should be placed in a sealed plastic bag. Avoid using vacuum cleaners as they can cause the particles to become airborne.

2. Frequent switching results in early failure. Fluorescent lamps age significantly if they’re installed in an area where they are frequently turned on and off. Extreme conditions can cause the lifespan of a fluorescent lamp to be much shorter than that of a cheap incandescent. Be that as it may, the life of a fluorescent lamp can be extended if left on continuously for long periods of time.

The aspect of early failure rates is something to consider if you are using fluorescent lights in conjunction with lighting controls, like motion sensors, that will activate frequently and time out.

3. Light from fluorescent bulbs in omnidirectional. Light that comes from fluorescent bulbs is omnidirectional. When a fluorescent bulb is lit, it scatters light in every direction, or 360 degrees around the bulb. This is grossly inefficient because only about 60-70% of the light given off by the lamp is being used and the rest is wasted. Certain areas tend to become overlit from the wasted light, especially in office buildings, and may require additional accessories in the light fixture itself in order to properly direct the output of the bulb.

4. Fluorescent lights emit trace amounts of ultraviolet light. In a 1993 study, researchers found that UV exposure from sitting under fluorescent lights for eight hours is equivalent to one minute of sun exposure. Health problems relating to light sensitivity may become aggravated by the artificial light in sensitive individuals.

Ultraviolet light can also affect valuable artwork like watercolors and textiles. Artwork must be protected by the use of additional glass or transparent acrylic sheets placed between the source of light and the painting.

5. Older fluorescents suffer brief warm-up period. You typically have to wait anywhere between 10-30 seconds for older fluorescents to reach their full brightness. Many newer models now utilize “rapid” start or similar technology, like that mentioned above.

6. Ballast or Buzz. Magnetic ballasts are required to operate fluorescent lights. Electromagnetic ballasts with a minor flaw can produce an audible humming or buzzing noise, however, the hum can be eliminated by using lamps with high-frequency ballasts.

7. Environmental impact and cost of recycling. As mentioned earlier, disposing of the phosphor, and more importantly, the toxic mercury in fluorescent lamps is an environmental issue. Regulations imposed by the government require special disposal of fluorescent lamps separate from general and household waste.

Most of the time, the energy savings outweigh the cost of recycling, but recycling remains an additional expense to ensure the bulbs are properly disposed of.  In some cases, if the disposal of lamps is too expensive, people are no longer encouraged to recycle them.

If you have questions or would like additional information on whether fluorescent lighting is right for your business, call our office at 1-608-661-5555 to speak with Lighting Certified expert at Energy Performance Lighting.

Guide to Energy Efficient Lighting Incentives and Rebates

The staff at Energy Performance Lighting can provide a laundry list of benefits for an energy efficient lighting system, but when contemplating a lighting retrofit project, typically the first thing that comes to mind is project cost. Expenses for lighting retrofits can vary wildly depending on the size and scope of work for the project; however, on top of appreciating the huge energy savings you’ll experience after making the switch, you’ll be happy to learn that there’s even more money you can save by taking advantage of energy efficient lighting rebates and energy efficient grants.

Many of the products used by EPL are eligible for rebates from utility companies, including basic LED lighting rebates and government rebates for commercial LED lighting. The best part is that it’s just as good as it sounds – your utility company wants to give you money to save electricity, and we want to help you as much as we can in that process.

Rebates for Upgrading to Energy Efficient Lighting

Curious if your project qualifies for a rebate? There are many factors that can depend on. The first step is to talk with your local electric utility company to see what they can offer for your lighting retrofit or other energy efficient project. The rebates they provide can influence your purchasing decisions, so it’s important to know early in the process what kind of savings are available to you. One added bonus, is utilities’ incentive programs are somewhat insulated from politics and are less likely to change with an election.

The Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency is an online resource with comprehensive information on incentives and policies that support energy efficient upgrades in the United States.

Some of the lighting certifications that often qualify for rebates are Design Light Consortium (DLC) and Energy Star products. Purchasing products with those certifications should be seen as a great first step, and can help you get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which is a good way to access even more lighting rebate programs in the future.

Energy Star, which is a government program managed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy, also offers a Rebate Finder that allows you to search for incentives by zip code and product type. As an additional resource, the U.S. Department of Energy maintains a list of tax credits, rebates, and other savings available for a variety of green technologies, including an extensive list for LED lighting projects.

If the rebate process has you confused, don’t worry. The Energy Performance Lighting team of certified lighting efficiency professionals is available to provide advice on your rebate over the phone from 8AM-4PM CST, Monday-Friday at 1-608-661-5555. Or, feel free to tell us about your lighting project via email and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

In the meantime, feel free to review more information about the different types of energy efficient lighting rebates currently available on the market.

What is a Prescriptive Lighting Rebate?

Prescriptive rebates help businesses reduce their payback period by offering a predetermined dollar amount for a specific type of fixture that you’re planning to install from the utility company. The great thing about a prescriptive lighting rebate is that it has wider availability. This type of rebate is very explicit, straightforward, and is easy to apply for. On top of fixture incentives, some prescriptive lighting programs will offer labor incentives as well. When use together, these rebates can save your organization a ton of money, boosting the project’s ROI. Some refer to prescriptive lighting rebates as “instant rebates,” however, incentives are paid out based on the parameters relating to the item sold, and are typically not claimed instantly.

What is a Custom Lighting Rebate?

Custom lighting rebate programs offer incentives for lighting projects which do not meet the requirements of existing instant or prescriptive rebate programs. In essence, you are proposing your own specific rebate to an electric company. This can be especially true for large projects with many various types of light fixtures and that doesn’t fit any current rebate on the market.

In the scenario, you will want to submit a proposal and have an auditor from the electric utility visit your facility to assess the energy savings. Once you have your energy efficient lighting system installed, the auditor will return for a final inspection before approving the funds earned in the rebate. The good thing about custom lighting rebates is that they offer more profitable incentives on the same application, but the bad thing is that there is typically a lot of complexities to sort through to get the larger incentives for your project.

Reasons to Invest in Energy Efficient Lighting

Energy efficiency is one of the best investments any business can make because it’s the easiest way to affect your bottom-line without the trouble of having to increase top-line operation costs. Slashing energy use by 20% is equivalent to boosting your bottom line by 5%. According to a study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), for every dollar invested in energy efficient measures yields up to $4 in benefits over the life of the project.

Lighting retrofits can reduce your environmental impact as technological advances continue to improve the energy efficiency of many building systems by as much as 30%-60%. This results in lower utility bills and a reduced carbon footprint—often without sacrificing quality or comfort. Using less energy reduces the emissions of carbon dioxide, air-borne mercury, and other harmful pollutants released from power plants which burn less fossil fuels to meet the lower energy demand.

Keep pace with your competition—if your peers are going green, why aren’t you? More than 100 leading industrial firms, from 3M to Whirlpool, have committed to reduce their energy intensity by 25% over the next decade, because they know it’s the best way to save money, reduce risk, and maintain their competitive edge, even in the most challenging economic environments.

Energy efficient lighting can also increase the productivity of your employees. People prefer working in energy-efficient buildings because they’re designed to provide fresh air, daylight, and a great sense of control over their environment. A Cornell University study shows productivity increases by 3%-5% and sick days decrease by 20%-25% when the proper lighting programs are implemented. Even the smallest improvements in employee health and productivity can have a substantial financial impact, potentially much larger than the operational energy savings from lighting retrofits.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, we’re able to see that there are multiple types of rebates and incentives available for lighting retrofit projects. Finding the right rebate for your project is critical to ensuring a proper ROI. To learn more about what a lighting retrofit project might look for your company, please reach out to us at Energy Performance Lighting by phone at 1-608-661-5555, visiting our website, or click here to email us. We look forward to hearing from you and helping you save money with energy efficient lighting!

7 Ways to Spot a Crooked Contractor

Hiring a good lighting contractor is not an easy task. There can be dozens - or even hundreds of options out there - and every person you ask has different advice and recommends a different company to work with. There should be no rush when choosing a contractor, because making the wrong choice can have big consequences.

When upgrading an essential utility—like your commercial lighting system—you should know that working with a qualified, reputable contractor is crucial to project success, length of payback and the project’s ROI (return on investment). Working with a crooked contractor will not only waste your time and money, but can put the entire project at risk.

Energy Performance Lighting researched the biggest industries—including commercial, healthcare, government, and education—to determine the top warning signs to use when weeding out contractors who may not live up to your standards:

1. Contract Complications

You should be very wary of any lighting contractor who wants you to sign-off on a vague contract or attempts to reach a “verbal” agreement; a proper contract protects both you and the contractor. You should have all the information, such as payment details, product info, schedule, and the scope of work involved with the project before agreeing to commit. Make sure to look over the contract carefully so you understand exactly what you’re agreeing to. Each part of the project that’s been established should be included in writing at the time of the contract signing.

Blank lines, cryptic language, and vague wording are red flags you should question before signing any contracts. If a contractor is hesitant to include what you agreed upon in writing, there’s a big chance they won’t stay true to their word. Without a proper contract in place, some negative situations that can arise are:

  • The contractor does a poor job, but you have no record to prove the quality of work for the project.
  • The contractor runs away with your money before finishing the project. Without a contract to prove they were supposed to do the work, you could be out-of-luck.

2. No Permanent Business Address

Although this doesn't necessarily represent a bad contractor (as most contractors do their business on-site), the person or company you’re doing business with should have a local business office. Without a local office, there isn’t much stopping the contractor—or company—from walking off with your payment. Contractors without a permanent address for their business also run the risk of being unlicensed, avoiding permits, and being uninsured.

3. Significantly Lower Bids

When it comes to an energy-efficient upgrade, or any type of performance upgrade or remodel for that matter, the lowest bid is rarely the best option. Contractors who offer a substantially lower price compared to other contractors may be cutting corners on labor or using cheap materials. A good way to verify if a contractor is inexperienced, or underestimating the costs of a project, is to ask them if the scope-of-work matches the proposal they provided.

In most cases, the contractor may have missed one or two line items. However if the contractor confirms they bid the job correctly, and price provided is a lot lower than their competitors, there’s a chance this may be a contractor to avoid.

4. Bad Reviews

One of the first things you should do when researching a contractor in the “age of technology”: get opinions of their work from previous customers. Nowadays, the internet is a great resource to find honest feedback about commercial lighting contractors. If they don’t have good reviews and positive customer feedback, they may not be the best choice to work with. Find reliable online review sources such as Yelp!, Google reviews, and even reviews on their social media pages. It should be noted, that although one bad review may not indicate a bad contractor, if the company or contractor has bad reviews, you should proceed with caution.

5. Too Many Subcontractors

Good lighting contractors know how to use subcontractors wisely. If a contractor is overly-reliant on the use subcontractors, that should raise a red flag. Ask your contracting company if they have a dedicated team to complete your project, or if they hire a lot of subcontractors to do the work. This shows that the contractor (or organization) you hired is simply an unnecessary middleman, organizing and farming out most of the work, rather than an essential piece of the process. Always expect to pay a premium price if there is high use of subcontractors.

6. Not Providing References

A credible contractor with a positive work history should be eager to provide multiple references and/or referrals to their potential clients, so they can show off how excellent their abilities are, and brag about how happy their previous clients are with their work. If the lighting contractor you’re interested in hiring is not comfortable with providing the names and contact details of their previous clientele, there’s a chance that they have a sour reputation among old clients, and should set off some bells.

It’s important to remember that a single reference is not enough—your lighting contractor should have a long list. Don’t feel bad for putting in the effort to thoroughly vet each candidate upfront. Taking the time to choose the right contractor for the project will save you from potential headaches down the road.

7. Incorrect, Misleading, or Skewed Information

In an attempt to improve bottom-line numbers, some lighting contractors may deliberately skew or use incorrect information. Take this company’s proposal for example: 

Crooked Lighting Project Proposal

At a glance, this may seem like your average lighting retrofit proposal, but once we inspect the numbers closer, we find the information is either incorrect, or misleading, affecting the projected cost savings and the project’s payback window. We've highlighted some incorrect or misleading information in the examples below:

Crooked Contract NumbersUnder Current Energy Usage (in the image above), the "Watts" listed for Exterior Pole Light fixtures is an overestimate; we know it's an overestimate based on the length of the pole the lights are mounted on. Typically, a 30-foot pole fixture would have 460w lights installed, however, having done work for this property in the past, the specialists at Energy Performance Lighting know these pole fixtures only measure 18-feet. So in actuality, these fixtures only produce 270w.

The "kwh cost" listed is also incorrect. Based on information provided by the municipally-owned utility that provides power to this property - the actually kwh cost is .085 - nearly HALF the cost listed in the proposal! If we take the correct numbers and pair them with the property's current energy usage, we find that the real annual cost is $3,551.81; a difference of  $2,715.97 than the annual cost provided.

Misleading numbers like these can have an enormous impact, often doubling the length of time for payback, and halving the project's ROI.

Crooked Proposal Terms

This example (pictured above), displays why a proposal's terms of agreement should be throughly examined before signing a contract. We've highlighted the terms involving: sales tax, freight charges, and disposal, because they all make a direct impact on the proposition's payback and ROI, and should be brought up any time you're working with a contractor.

It is good practice to get a second or even third opinion from another contractor (in this case, another reputable lighting company) to verify that the numbers provided to you representing energy costs and energy consumed are accurate.

Always double check the terms of the proposed project as well. Certain project terms like sales tax, freight charges, and unit quantity can affect the projects ROI and payback conditions. You should also verify with the contractor who will handle the disposal of the existing materials. If the disposal of materials is left up to you, you may have additional costs and fees associated with your project.

Bottom Line

It can be a real challenge finding the right contractor or company to contract for your lighting retrofits. It’s important to work with a credible business to ensure that your lighting project is completed successfully. If you’re mindful of the red flags listed above, and make sure to stay away from the contractors that present them, you’ll be well on your way to successfully completing your lighting upgrade(s).

At Energy Performance Lighting, we pride ourselves on being the best value for our clients, not the lowest bid. We provide a fair bid from the get-go and won't nickel and dime you along the way. We're brand neutral and committed to being on the leading edge of the latest advancements in the industry. EPL offer's "Good-Better-Best" options and will work to educate you and your team on recommendations, options, and tradeoffs. Energy Performance Lighting delivers the best lighting upgrade solutions. Period.

Get in-touch with one of our lighting experts today! Give us a call at (608) 661-5555, send us an email, or visit our office at 243 Bonnie Road in Cottage Grove, WI.

Bacteria-Killing Light

Bacteria have evolved. Some are even immune to the chemicals that are commonly used for cleaning and disinfecting. They are evolving, spreading, and becoming stronger and more dangerous – but what if there was a way to clean and disinfect without the harmful chemicals? There is – and we have been using it for millions of years – light.

How It Works

A study conducted by the University of Strathclyde in Scotland has shown a narrow spectrum of visible, indigo-colored light killed MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), C. difficile and VRE (Vancomycin-resistant Enterococcus), which are some of the most common harmful bacteria linked to hospital acquired infections (HAIs). Molecules within the bacteria absorb the High-Intensity Narrow Spectrum light which produces a chemical reaction killing the bacteria from the inside-out, and because it is visible light, it is safe for use in the presence of patients and staff, but lethal to pathogens.

Lowering Infections and Saving Money

Using light as a disinfectant tool can assist in reducing the number of HAIs. In the United States, it is estimated that HAIs contribute to at least 1.7 million illnesses, 99,000 deaths in acute care hospitals, and add tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of treating a single patient, resulting in $35-45 billion in excess healthcare costs each year.

While the current disinfecting methods in a healthcare environment are effective, they are also sporadic, causing results to be short-lived, as the bacteria re-populate the space rapidly. The ability to continuously treat hard and soft surfaces, as well as the air, will provide a substantial boost to disinfecting efforts.

At Energy Performance Lighting, we’re excited to see how LED lighting and controls can give healthcare providers an effective tool to ensure the safest and best environments for their patients.



The Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things, is it the next revolution of the century? From the amount of people already connected and using it, without knowing it, the IoT is a major industry just waiting to explode. The Internet of Things is a simple concept; any object where an interface and processor can be installed and connected to the internet can be classified as part of the Internet of Things network. One possible feature for car keys with the IoT is if you’ve set your keys in an odd spot, the keys could notify you where they are. No more searching for an hour to find them because you didn’t leave them on the key ring or the cat knocked them off the counter. The keys could tell you exactly where they are.

Lighting is affected by the IoT in a variety of ways. In businesses lighting could be adjusted by the time of day, occupancy, flow of traffic, task performed or even to kill bacteria.  Other duties light could do is make facilities managers jobs easier this could be done with sensors and connecting lights to the internet to see how many hours of life remain on a light bulb before it needs to be replaced or what is causing a light to not dim. Lights connected to the IoT could also be a great tool for safety, guiding people to the nearest exits during fires or being connected to a security system where the lights start flickering on and off when an intruder breaks in. The IoT has endless opportunities for new products and uses.

The IoT currently is at the center of innovation, technology and ideas being implemented in Smart Cities. Through the IoT, cities are already tracking pedestrian traffic, real time energy usage, water usage and solid waste collection. From the data collected at the tips of consumers’ and businesses’ fingers, processes can be streamlined and more control can be implemented to improve services. Technology is rapidly evolving too, as Wi-Fi and Li-Fi are being implemented in different ways to connect cities. This is being done through installing routers on busses, old payphones, and lights. 

Beyond the scope of just cities, so many other industries could be affected. Manufacturing, Transport, Supply Chain, Healthcare, Insurance, Logistics, Government, Energy and Automotive industries could connect products and gather data from a distance. In the case for Healthcare, what if there was a plaster cast that could give you diagnostics on a broken bone and pictures without having to get an x-ray? This would cut down the amount of times patients would have to come in to the doctor’s office and doctors could evaluate the injury in real time on the computer, catching problems earlier.

Companies already have started implementing the IoT in their businesses and have had energy savings that are beyond the 50% energy savings you get from installing just LEDs. With more data you can propel past others learning patterns and using the knowledge to saving money and allow employees to perform in a quality environment. 

At EPL, we are lighting experts because lighting is all we do. We can upgrade your lighting systems to the 21st century and connect you to the world. We hold ourselves to the highest standards of health, safety, and energy efficiency, and always deliver on time and on budget. No change orders, ever.

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