The Retrofit Companies Blog

Future of Lighting Controls (links)

future of lighting controls 2016.png

Controls have been a part of successful lighting projects for a long time; however, technology exists now to make using it easier and more affordable. We've shared several ways that use of controls can increase energy efficiency and we've previously discussed the future of lighting controls from our perspective. Here we have collected a set of links discussing an array of topics from the need for standards in education for lighting design professionals, to the pros and cons of wireless controls. 


"The lighting industry is undergoing massive change due to growing demand for intelligent LED lighting systems and controls. LED lighting, which promises high operating cost savings, is ideally paired with both wired and wireless intelligent lighting controls, which promise additional savings and flexibility. Accelerating demand for these technologies is transforming workspaces while reducing costs. It is also creating an education gap among service providers unfamiliar with aspects of the technology.

The electrical industry has responded with a series of initiatives, but to date, there has been no national certification signifying a high level of general expertise in lighting controls technology, application, design and commissioning. To address this need, NALMCO developed the Certified Lighting Controls Professional (CLCP) designation." [READ MORE]


"With wireless lighting control, you don’t need to rely on employees to turn lights on and off. Instead, you can take advantage of scheduling, timers, occupancy sensors and photosensors to deliver the optimal illumination level in all situations while minimizing wasted energy." [READ MORE]


"Energy usage can be cut by 40% by using the latest, more advanced HVAC and lighting controls.  Thus, operating costs for older buildings can be lowered by retrofitting equipment and controls. However, the cost of rewiring is often prohibitive. That’s where wireless sensor networks (WSNs) can help." [READ MORE]


"[D]istricts everywhere are being asked to do more with less, progressive administrators and technicians are coming together to find new ways to streamline work and automate processes. Automated lighting control systems... give facilities managers the flexibility to plan complex lighting schedules well in advance while reducing manual work and energy use."  [READ MORE]


"Lighting is fundamental to any retail store, whether that is for setting a scene and influencing how a brand is perceived, or even encouraging shoppers to make a particular purchase. However, if not managed correctly, it can be extremely expensive. In fact, lighting accounts for around 53% off all electricity consumption in a typical retail outlet, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration." [READ MORE]


 "The opportunities for the lighting industry are immense. Luminaires, which essentially see every square inch of habitable space, are an obvious media in which to host the sensor and video technology that can turn the world into a virtual databank" [READ MORE]

If you are beginning your research, be sure you are getting the best information you can in order to make the best decision. Start by asking the right questions & get our guide:

11 Questions you should ask a lighting contractor

VIDEO of LED Motion Sensor Test in Warehouse


The video here shows the fixtures in action that we discussed in this warehouse lighting redesign case study. This space was redesigned to include energy-efficient LED fixtures on a system of motion sensors that control the on/off of fixtures as people and equipment, like the forklift seen in the video, move through the spaces. Take a look to see the both the rapid movement and slow movement tests.


 For more information on energy-efficient lighting design and starting your project off right, read our e-book to determine if an investment grade audit or lighting design study makes sense for you:

E-book: Why should you invest in a lighting study?

The Future of Lighting Controls

Lighting controls range from fully automated control systems managed by computer programs, to less technological, manual methods. The most direct savings come from actual wattage reduction, but adding controls to your lighting retrofit project can dramatically impact energy savings. There are several proven  ways to successfully control a lighting system; we're going to share some thoughts today on the future of lighting controls. These considerations and innovations are things you should be aware of when considering a new or updated lighting system.


Control systems of the future will utilize multiple technologies to achieve savings. Lighting manufacturers, designers, and installers will pair photocells with motion controls, and employ dual-end trimming capability. These innovations will not only save energy and money, but they can extend the useful life of your lighting technology. The end goal of successful lighting design, aside from increased energy efficiency, is to get the light you need, where you need it, when you need it.The future also includes sustainability as a priority of successful design. One way to achieve that is to use technology pairings, like those mentioned above or others, to your advantage when designing a new system.


Because so much new technology is at our disposal, control systems have become increasingly end-user personalized. Some can even be controlled with your mobile phone. Lighting manufacturer Philips has embraced this trend with products Hue, Spacewise, and Simpleset. While some of these products still seem like novelties, they have become more prevalent, more affordable, and easier to put into use than ever. We expect to see these products more widely available from more manufacturers.


Finally, we know that legislation will continue to impact and increase the need for controls in new construction and existing facilities. The Energy Efficiency Building Improvement Act of 2015, California Title 24, and ASHRAE, are examples of legislation or rules that impact lighting efficiency. There are various standards existing for energy conservation ranging from federal to municipal rules. Some municipalities have their own lighting regulations. Bloomington, MN for example has strict restrictions on light pollution for outdoor projects and specific fixtures must specified to do a lighting project there. Control systems will become more and more prevalent as a result of legislation and as the desire to conserve resources remains a priority.


There are virtually endless ways to control lighting and many help to maximize energy savings. Most of the technologies are relatively easy to implement alongside your lighting upgrade to increase savings. Most of them can even be installed or carried out after a lighting project is completed. We foresee "control retrofitting" for existing energy-efficient systems for users that are looking for additional ways to increase savings and who want to gain more control over their lighting.


What does this all mean for the consumer of lighting products and those buying upgraded lighting systems? The two primary impacts we see are,

1) it has become increasingly difficult for lighting designers and other electricians, architects, or contractors to specify lighting projects, and

2) buying off the shelf will not work. Modern lighting technology can be configured in endless ways, literally hundreds of thousands of different light bulbs exist, and no one can know them all. Consumers should be wary of one-size-fits-all solutions, and look for knowledgeable lighting designers, or speak to multiple product representatives to educate them on available lighting solutions.

Finally, consumers must remember that everything comes with a cost. More features generally means a higher expense. You may not need all the bells and whistles, and the investment in lighting controls may be less than you think once you have a good design in place. Knowing your options before you purchase any type of lighting project or products will help you get the light you want for the job you're doing, now or in the future!

Need to know more about how to talk to lighting contractors in order to get the project or products you need? Get our guide, 11 Questions to Ask a Contractor.

11 questions to ask a lighting contractor

Irresponsible Recycling, T12 Discontinued & Why Hollywood won't ever look the same

Twin Cities group Community POWER has a recycling collection grant program! “The Community POWER Grant Program funds waste reduction projects. Neighborhood organizations, schools, churches, senior citizen groups, youth organizations, and civic groups are invited to apply for funds for projects that will reach individuals who are not currently involved in waste reduction practices.”


The human impact of irresponsible recycling is sadly given a face in this photo essay. “Injuries like burns, untreated wounds, lung problems, eye damage, and back problems go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Almost everyone suffers from insomnia. Smoke and invisible toxins (especially cadmium) harm the careless workers because they often don't know about the risks and walk around in flimsy footwear like flip-flops. Most of them die from cancer while in their 20s.


Maybe you’ve never considered how a city-wide lighting retrofit could affect the artistic integrity of a place; we thought this story about why “Hollywood will never look the same” was compelling. “Every night exterior LA-shot film previous to this change is rendered a sort of anthropological artifact, an historical document of obsolete urban infrastructure.


Americans generated the most e-waste of all countries last year, at 66 pounds per person! In total “generating 9.4 million metric tons of e-waste, followed by China with 7.3 million metric tons.” 


This manufacturer offers a wirelessly controlled LED system that looks pretty cool. “Another useful function of smart lights is security. Instead of leaving a few lights on for the entirety of your vacation, in the hopes of fooling a very unobservant criminal, you can control them from the beach…” If you’re interested in a commercial version, let us know


T12 lamps and ballasts are no longer manufactured. So, “why do more than 500 million T12 lamps remain in commercial buildings, according to the Department of Energy (DOE, 2010), and why is approximately nearly one in three linear fluorescent lamps sold a T12 (reported by National Electrical Manufacturer Association member sales data for Q3, 2011)?” 


 Learn how to find a responsible electronics recycling company

July Links: Ideal Office Lighting, Energy Benchmarking & More

Minneapolis did it and now “Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed an ordinance that would require the city’s largest buildings to benchmark their energy use, and authorize the city to disclose the energy efficiency for these buildings publicly.”


How do you know if your office lighting is ideal? GE Looks at 6 Factors Impacting Your Building—and Business


New Johnson Controls research shows that energy efficiency interest rose 116 percent globally since 2010, with those who set goals making the greatest strides in reducing energy use.


Could sand be the secret to the future of LED lighting technology? This story suggests it could be!


Good news for Cheese Lovers: LED lighting produces more milk! "Crazy True Stories About LED Lighting" 


The Top Ten Underused Technologies for Saving Energy. See which ones you aren't using.


Small Business Administration on Lighting: Depending on the type of business you operate, lighting accounts for 20% to 50% of electricity consumption. This means that significant cost savings can be achieved with energy-efficiency improvements, and due to continually improving equipment, lighting usually provides the highest return-on-investment of major upgrades.


How do I know if I'm a good "retrofit" candidate?

How can I reduce operating costs at work?

It’s a common question and a concern for every business as modern times dictate we do more with less to achieve better results. In manufacturing, schools, retail businesses and other industries, the question, “How can I reduce operating costs at work?” and “What are the ways I can save money for my company?” are very, very common.  

There are many solutions out there to achieve savings at work, to help your company run more efficiently in these lean times. But one solution can be simple, direct, measurable and achievable. Today we are going to outline the ways a lighting retrofit can help advance your career and better your business.  


It’s a fact that every business has lights turned on during business hours, and that light costs money. Retrofitting directly impacts your bottom line. Economic and environmental savings are measurable.  With a successful lighting upgrade you will be able to:

  • Reduce energy costs by reducing the number of watts used per lighting fixture
  • Reduce maintenance costs with longer life lamps such as T8 and LED technology
  • Streamline purchasing by reducing the types and quantities of lamps in your building
  • Build property value by updating the lighting system


Perhaps a part of your company’s success is directly related to its image and customer perception. Making a good first impression starts from the top down. For example, if the lighting is bad in a retail store, things are going to feel wrong. Most people won’t directly attribute this to the lighting, but by providing better light the products on the shelves and in displays will look inherently better. This could result in increased sales. We all know looks are everything. Here’s what improved lighting will get you:

  • Better color recognition, helps displays or products pop and gain attention
  • Upgraded lighting fixtures look clean and modern, or can be integrated more fully into building design
  • Areas with too little or too much light can be corrected for maximum effect
  • Interior and exterior lighting can affect the way clients or visitors perceive your building
  • Better light can mean better safety, security and building recognition


As a part of making operations leaner, lots of employees these days are asked to wear many hats at work. If you can offer up a solution to help your company operate more efficiently or give insight to streamline future growth, do you think it could advance your career or help make your company more profitable? Here are a few reasons that suggesting a lighting improvement could help you be seen as an innovator:

  • This type of project can help attain larger company goals of sustainability and ‘being greener’
  • Suggesting a simple energy-efficiency measure for consideration could get you recognition
  • Quality lighting can positively impact productivity and is proven to have a measurable impact
  • Plan to ‘build for the future’ and reduce circuit load to allow for future expansion and additions
  • Design lighting projects can be planned in phases to help bridge gaps in innovation (HID to T5 to LED)
  • Add  occupancy or vacancy sensors and other wireless controls that can incorporate later into bigger building automation plans

What other ways have you tried or suggested to help improve efficiency at your company?


Outdoor Lighting, LED Retrofit Case Study






7 Great Energy Saving Tips You Can Use Today

We talk a lot about how businesses can start saving energy and resources by retrofitting their lighting systems. This can seem like a humongous project if you aren’t a business owner, or if you aren’t the person at your company who is responsible for finding this type of savings opportunity. Today’s blog is for you: Great Energy Saving Tips You Can Use Today. Some of them you can even use RIGHT NOW.  They are all very simple, so simple; you may have just overlooked the potential for energy savings. If you are already following some of these tips, Congratulations! You’re already an energy saver!

1 Switch all of your light bulbs to energy efficient models like CFL (compact fluorescent) or LED. Or just switch the five you use the most. Energy Star confirms, “By replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or the bulbs in them with models that have earned the ENERGY STAR, you can save $70 each year.” 

2 Make a habit to turn off lights when you leave a room. It’s probably something you’ve been taught your entire life, but if you (or the kids) have a hard time making this habit stick, consider using an occupancy sensor to turn lights off when you aren’t using them. Read more about lighting control and occupancy sensors.

3 Open your curtains & enjoy natural light whenever you can. It doesn’t get any easier than this!

4 On the flip-side, during colder months close your curtains at night to keep heat in. When you open them again during the daytime you benefit from the natural light (#3), but it will also help to warm up your space.

5 Avoid “energy vampires” by completely powering down your computer and other electronics at night or any time they will be unused for a longer period of time. In sleep or hibernate mode, your electronics are just standing by and still draw energy. Read more about Energy Vampires

6 Time to go RETRO. Turn off the dryer, and line dry your laundry. Not only will the sunshine help keep your whites whiter, but your sheets and shirts are going to smell great like the fresh air you dried them in. Not only do you save the gas or electricity used in heating up your dryer to dry your laundry, but you also keep your home cooler during hot summer months by line drying. This simple chore could even help cut your cooling bill!

7 Find out if your utility company offers green power options such as: wind, hydro, landfill gas, or biofuel power. Then call them today and make the switch. Use this resource to find your utility.

The use of electricity is a significant source of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and every household has the potential to reduce energy usage. Buying green power can help reduce your environmental impact while also providing valuable benefits:

  • Avoid carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions
  • Reduce some types of air pollution
  • Hedge against future electricity price increases 

What other energy-saving steps are you taking at home or at work to promote sustainability? Share your ideas in our comments section today.

Safety & Savings: Parking Ramp Lighting Retrofits

Parking ramp lighting and other exterior lighting applications are the latest frontier for energy-efficiency projects, and a lot of savings opportunities exist for building owners and managers in these projects.  Utility companies are even offering rebates for exterior lighting improvements, in some cases. Additionally, long-life lighting technology, like LED’s, and rugged fixture designs that perform well in varying weather are now available, making the feasibility and return on investment of these outdoor lighting projects even more appealing.

The importance of lighting design should take into consideration the function of a space, and this is true for parking garages and ramps, as well. For the tasks of driving and navigating a ramp as a pedestrian, fixture choice will influence the spread of the light and therefore the safety and security of the facility. Generally, these applications will shy away from a “cut off” fixture, which results in a cave effect, or dark ceiling which can strain the eyes and make it difficult to distinguish objects and shadows in an area. Not a great choice for place where people will be driving.

Instead, a better option would be semi-cut off or refractor, which will brighten the entire driving area, parking area and walls. Most parking ramp applications will want 5 foot candles per square foot as an appropriate amount of light for the basic tasks required in that space. With the semi-cut off or refractor style fixture, especially now with directional LED options, light can be directed to the places it is needed, without glare and without ‘spilling’ light beyond the intended area to create light pollution.

The Department of Energy offers this checklist to guide decision making for parking garage lighting, and recommends the following steps for a successful project:

1)  Conduct a complete inventory, including information on every fixture: wattage, burn hours, and existing light level.

2)  Decide whether to retrofit or install new fixtures is the best option. Consider fixture condition, and whether or not new lamp replacement options would fit into the existing fixture.

3)  Consider light quality and quantity. Be sure to take into account the importance of lighting design and the function of a space. Ask “what task must be lit?” and “where is it taking place?” In the case of a parking ramp or garage, the tasks will be driving, walking and identifying people and vehicles.

4)  Consider controls for transition areas. “Lighting Controls” can include daylight harvesting and occupancy sensors for dimming during no or low-traffic times.

5)   Take time to investigate utility incentives or rebate programs to help buy down the initial cost of the lighting products used in your energy-efficient retrofit project.

6)  Determine specifications for replacement or retrofit of the existing lighting system.

7)  Solicit bids.

8)  Create your life-cycle cost analysis, include your energy savings, cost reduction, simple payback and return on investment. What is important to you? A lower up front fixture cost, or the best long-term investment? Consider these when you create your life-cycle analysis.

9)  Purchase and install the new lighting system.

This reads like nine concise steps, but keep in mind that an entire industry exists to address your lighting needs. There really should be a funnier punch line to the joke, “how many lighting contractors does it take to change a light bulb?” – But in all honesty, every single lighting contractor you talk to will likely have a different answer for how to save energy and reduce your overhead. Most of them will probably be able to do that for you, but be sure the lighting products and installation configuration you choose is one that has your needs and lighting requirements at the forefront. Arm yourself with knowledge and the ability to choose the best project for you. Read the full DOE check list here

Also, read  11 Questions to Ask a Lighting Contractor for additional insight on organizing a lighting project. 

11 questions to ask a lighting contractor

5 Ways to Control Lighting for Maximum Energy Savings

As you continue research for your lighting retrofit project, you will find many energy-saving methods available to you aside from simply reducing watts and energy used by the lamps you choose to use to light your facility. The most direct savings does come from this wattage reduction, but adding lighting controls to your lighting retrofit project can dramatically impact energy savings. Lighting controls range from fully automated control systems managed by computer programs,  to less technological, manual methods, some are even as obvious as “good occupant habits,” like always turning lights off in an empty room. But occupant habits aren’t always good and fully automated systems might be overkill for the lighting management of smaller facilities. 

These five ways to control lighting for maximum energy savings are all relatively easy to implement alongside your lighting upgrade to increase savings, but most of them can also be installed or carried out after a lighting project is completed.

1) Dimming

All light sources use less energy when dimmed and two primary types of dimming can be used, depending on the lighting application. Continuous dimming brings light levels down incrementally; often on a sliding type switch or you may have seen them on a knob which turns light levels up and down. This type of dimming offers a smooth transition between light levels. Step dimming is a method of firing some or all of the lamps in a fixture, depending on the need for light. Commonly referred to as bi-level switching, in reference to fluorescent lamp systems, this dimming method can offer more than 2 levels of light. This method is seen in classrooms, where only the lights in the front near a projection screen are turned off or is used to turn off lamps near a bank of windows on the end of one large room where less light is required during bright times of day.

2) High End Tuning

Tuning down the high end of your lighting system means to slowly adjust from 100% of your lighting system’s capability down to the most appropriate amount of useable light required for an area’s needs.  Example: Recommended lighting level (range in foot candles) for kitchens in the food service industry is 50-100 foot candles. Your facility may be lit at 100 foot candles with the current system, but employees are still able to safely and comfortably perform all required tasks at 75 foot candles. Over a period of days, by trimming off the top using controls, and setting the new ‘maximum’ light level at 80 foot candles, reduces overall energy usage. Typical lighting energy savings from high end tuning can be 10-20%.

3) Occupancy sensors

Using passive infrared (PIR), ultrasonic or dual technology, these sensors respond by turning lights ON when the presence of a human is detected and then automatically turn lights off when the presence is no longer detected for a specified amount of time.  The use of sensors is most suited to areas where lights are commonly left on when not occupied including:

      • Offices
      • Classrooms
      • Bathrooms
      • Storage areas
      • Conference rooms
      • Warehouses
      • Hallways / Corridors

4) Vacancy sensors

Using the same technology as Occupancy Sensors, these devices only turn lights off when no occupant is detected. Someone must manually turn the lights on in a space where vacancy sensors are employed. This may seem counter intuitive to some, but consider spaces such as offices where someone enters for only a moment to retrieve an item and then leaves. In this scenario, an occupancy sensor would turn lights on, and leave them on for 10-30 minutes depending on how they were commissioned, wasting energy in an unoccupied room. Vacancy sensors grant the highest level of energy savings because lights cannot turn on automatically.

5) Personal lighting control

By providing individuals the option to control light levels which accommodate the tasks and activities in a specific area, some facilities could see a 20-60% lighting savings.  The ability to adjust light levels in their own workspace, gives occupants the exact light level for their eyes and the task they are performing. There has been some research to suggest that in addition to energy savings, personal lighting control also increases productivity

Have you implemented any energy saving lighting controls?

 11 questions to ask a lighting contractor


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