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Parking Garage Lighting: Know Your Options

by Christina Crow-Dufault 20 April, 2012 06:00

Parking garages were once thought to be dirty and poorly lit. Nowadays, with new construction, design improvements and renovations, those negative views have mostly been left behind.  Designers and owners have come to realize the importance of a better looking facility with quality lighting.  They have learned that proper lighting can create a safe and secure environment and attract new customers.

Because no two facilities are the same, it is difficult to give a general assessment. Instead, we will take a look at the most common types of lighting for garage lighting applications as explore how they compare to each other.

Of course, before we begin exploring what type of lighting is best for your garage, you must first decide upon how much light you need.  While there are standard levels recommended for garages, most opt to light beyond those levels to reach better uniformity ratios that create a safer environment. Footcandles are the preferred unit of measurement for parking garages and a good rule of thumb is to reach five foot candles per square foot both horizontally and vertically.  Also note that vertical lighting is actually more important than the horizontal.

Levels can be measured with the use of a light meter or with the assistance of a lighting professional and some basic facility information to calculate.  The chart on the left has recommended light levels as suggested by The Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA). Note: IESNA does not set the standards, but are often followed by those that do.

High Intensity Discharge (HID) lamps and Fluorescent lamps are most commonly used in parking garages and other commercial outdoor facilities.  Both have their share of benefits and again, it is important to identify what type of lighting technology is best for your individual location.  A safe, brightly lit garage is important, but so is keeping within your operating budget. 

High Pressure Sodium (HPS), Metal Halide and Fluorescent are the most common types of lamps used for parking garages.  HPS and Metal Halide Lamps are a part of the High Intensity Discharge (HID) family and both produce the high levels of light output commonly needed for outdoor Commercial lighting and garage facilities.  Fluorescent lamps are considered energy efficient, as they produce a high light output (lumens) while using very little energy because of their low wattage.

High Pressure Sodium

While a HPS lamp has the longest rated life, its trade-off is poor color rendering.  A CRI in the low 20’s will provide an orange-like glow and little differentiation between colors.  Low CRI may present some safety issues for your location.

HPS lamps also have a high lumen per watt rating and are typically used in larger commercial garages with high ceilings. These lamps are ideal for garages that require a high number of fixtures as they are a cost effective option.  If labor costs weigh heavier and the application calls for it, a longer rated life of 20,000-24,000 hours may take precedence. 

Metal Halide

Metal Halide lighting

Metal Halide lamps are a popular choice for parking garage facilities as they can produce a bright, white light and have a higher CRI than HPS lamps.  These lamps do a better job of rendering color with their CRI ranging from 60-93.  As the CRI get closer to 100, the light produced becomes closer to the light and color rendering from the sun. 

Generally speaking, Metal Halide lamps have an average rated life of 10,000-15,000 hours.  Again, there is a trade-off; short lamp life vs. high color rendering.  If you operate a smaller facility, the shorter life of these lamps may not be the most economical decision. However, if quality is your goal and there is available budget to warrant more frequent lamp replacements, Metal Halide lamps are an excellent choice.

Fluorescent Lamps

Flourescent Lighting

If energy efficiency is your goal, fluorescent lamps are the way to go.  Overall, they have high color rendering ranging from 70’s-90, high lumen per watt efficiency and a long average rated lamp life, usually 20,000 hours.  High Output fluorescent lamps are recommended as most parking garages tend to be partially exposed to the elements and standard fluorescents will not perform as well in colder conditions.     

Fluorescent lamps offer huge energy savings as they consume the least amount of energy while still producing a high light output.  They are reasonably priced and are an excellent choice for energy savings and keeping to a budget.

LED & Induction

LED and Induction lighting are becoming a more popular option for parking garages; however, there are a number of factors to be considered.  LED fixtures provide energy savings and clean white light with high color rendering and a very long life.  Many have a rated life of 50,000 hours and are an efficient replacement for HPS and Metal Halide lamps.  Induction will offer the same benefits with a rated life of 100,000 hours.  Induction is certainly a technology to use for locations that are difficult to access such as parking lot pole lights and very high ceilings. 

Both types of lighting are investments with higher than normal upfront costs, but rebates may be available from your energy provider and of course, energy savings and very minimal replacement concerns make them attractive.   We recommend that you speak with a lighting professional to decide if these may be viable options for your facility.     

Quality of light, cost and the size of your garage will also play a role is this decision.  Each type of lighting comes with its own advantages and not all will be right for your business.  If you have questions about your commercial lighting options, please contact one of our LS1 certified Lighting Specialists at 888-455-2800 or e-mail us at customerservice@bulbs.com.

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