Separating Fact from Fiction Regarding Billboard Lighting
It is true that any switch from HID to LED will result in a major power bill reduction, but true ROI is not so straight forward. First, find out how many LEDs it takes to do the job. Four cheap lights are still more expensive than three quality fixtures. Second, know the wattage per fixture. A 100W fixture will save you 36% more in energy than a comparable 136W fixture. A 50W fixture will save you a whopping 172% over that same higher watt unit.
Bottom line: A cheaper fixture will likely cost more long-term.
According to a recent Philips Color Kinetics white paper titled Evaluating Light Output Technical Brief, "For a number of reasons, lumen output is not the best measurement of an LED lighting fixture's capabilities. In fact, evaluating an LED lighting fixture solely or primarily on the basis of its lumen output can ... give a distorted picture of the fixture's performance and suitability for a given task or application." The article goes on to state, "Light can be wasted in a number of ways: It can be partially blocked or dispersed within the fixture housing, it can be emitted in a direction away from the task area, or it can be lost through filtering." So, how well do the lumens listed actually light billboards? First, find out if the unit was designed specifically for a billboard, created with a billboard's size and shape in mind. Chances are, if it was designed for another application and simply "re-purposed" for billboards, a lot of listed lumens are not hitting the sign face. They are "wasted" and spilling into the night sky (and not Dark Skies friendly). Second, find out whether the LED fixture is utilizing older technology. For example, for units with reflectors, light bounces back before projecting onto its intended target. Additional lumens may be needed to account for that initial reverse trajectory.
Bottom line: A high lumen count doesn't mean anything if many of those lumens aren't hitting the intended target. Light on the target, also known as illuminance, is most important.
In a perfect world, optimal lighting coverage on billboards could be achieved with maintaining the distance from the face established by metal halide manufacturers. But LED technology is different and therefore requires different placement. Can you get "adequate" coverage at current position with some fixtures? Yes. But it won't be the best coverage. In fact, this issue was considered so important at a recent regional independent billboard association convention that an entire presentation was dedicated solely to the need to place LED fixtures further away from the sign face for improved coverage. It is a point that true lighting professionals well-entrenched in Outdoor all agree on.
Bottom line: Installing LED fixtures to metal halide standards is risky business and achieves varied results.
Good LEDs are going to have a long life. That is part of the beauty of this newer technology: No more frequent bulb change outs. But as time passes, technology will improve even more. It may take half as many LEDs and half the energy to achieve what today's new technology has accomplished. Will your unit need to be completely replaced for you to benefit from the newer technology, or can it be easily upgraded? A modular unit that allows for a simple component "change out" will make smart business sense and will be better for the environment. It ensures that the technology you purchase today can grow with you in the future, rather than end up in a landfill.
Bottom line: Even today's great technology will be improved upon. Will your unit be ready for the future?
Be wary of sales tactics that claim "bumper-to-bumper" warranties. Ask for documented back up to those claims and you'll often see that they are actually "limited" warranties. Three-year, five-year and 10-year warranties should all be looked at closely and not taken at face value. Moreover, learn about the ratings on individual components. Based on the efficiency of the units, the driver-life and extended high-quality light output of the individual LEDs can vary greatly. Lastly, find out what fixtures the largest billboard companies have chosen. They have already done a lot of the background work on quality products and vendors. Let their independent testing, site visits and background checks work for you.
Bottom line: Don't take sales pitches regarding warranties at face value. Compare "actual" coverage and individual component ratings.
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