You might not pay them much mind, but the bright lights hanging above parking lots are a major part of our urban landscapes. A survey by the Canadian Urban Institute counted between 1.4 and 2.7 million parking lot luminaires installed in Ontario alone!
Well-designed parking lot lighting makes life better for everyone: it lowers the risk of accidents and property damage while providing employees and customers with a sense of safety and security.
But great lighting design isn’t just about putting lights on a pole. Smart, effective parking lot lighting provides exactly the right amount of light in exactly the right location using as little energy as possible.
Here’s what you should know before you kick off your next parking lot lighting retrofit.
Guidelines and By-Laws
Before you get started, stop by your local planning department and inquire about the by-laws on commercial lighting. Most municipalities set the illumination requirement for large parking lots at 10 lux or 1.0 foot candle, but your locality could be different. You may also have to submit a site plan outlining your proposed lighting design.
For standards not addressed by local by-laws, the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) provides guidance in the form of parking lot lighting best practices. The IES monitors and controls the standards and illumination guidelines in the North American lighting industry.
Quantity vs. Quality of Light
If your goal is to enhance visibility in the lot, simply replacing your current lights one-to-one with brighter ones might not be the solution. More light doesn’t necessarily equal better light. The quality of your parking lot lighting is just as important as the quantity.
More intense exterior lighting might increase visibility in one area, but it can also make it harder to see people and vehicles in the darker areas. Good lighting aims to decrease the contrast between light and dark areas and distribute light evenly across the space.
Colour accuracy is another matter. The colour-rendering index (CRI) measures how well a light source shows the colours of the objects it illuminates compared to natural light to a maximum value of 100. The CRI in your lot at night should be enough to allow people to pick out faces, clothing, vehicles and license plates. The standard value for parking lot lighting is 65.
Safety and Security
A well-designed parking lot creates a welcoming environment for shoppers and clients while doing the opposite for unwelcome characters. By allowing personnel and security cameras to keep watch, lighting deters property damage and other illicit activity.
This is another reason why lighting consistency matters: too much contrast or glare makes it difficult for people and surveillance equipment to properly observe the area.
Areas with high traffic (especially a mix of pedestrian and vehicle traffic, like crosswalks) do often require higher levels of light, but it is just as crucial to avoid glare and contrast in these areas. A lighting installation professional can help you select the proper luminaries and fixtures for the various parts of your property.
It can be hard to sleep when it’s bright outside, whether the brightness comes from natural light or the neighbouring parking lot.
The intrusion onto neighbouring properties (known as light trespass or spill light) is preventable through good lighting design. LED parking lot lights provide superior directional lighting and less spill than other high-bay lighting solutions. For fluorescent, metal halide or high-pressure sodium luminaires, shields can be added to block the light in certain directions.
Additionally, high-bay lights should be mounted no higher than the buildings or trees at the perimeter of the property.
One of the primary motivations to revamp a parking lot’s lighting system is to reduce its energy consumption. With the emergence of LED technology, property owners can see energy savings of between 30 and 70% just by switching their lots to LED pole lights.
Although ENERGY STAR does not certify parking lot lights or other high-bay outdoor lighting, you can gauge the relative efficiency of a parking lot luminaire by its DesignLights™ (DLC) Consortium designation. The DLC is a voluntary certification program that rates the efficiency of a variety of outdoor lighting products not covered by ENERGY STAR.
Energy consumption is power multiplied by time. Reducing consumption requires that you reduce either the duration the lights are on or the energy they consume.
Fortunately, modern lighting controls have made it easier than ever to control both parts of the equation. Incorporating lighting controls at the same point you select your luminaires can help you maximize the efficiency of your parking lot lighting.
There are several lighting control solutions available for parking lots, including photosensor-based (adjusting light level depending on the amount of sunlight) and timeclock-based (adjusting light level at a set time) systems.
Ask a Lighting Installation Professional
Good parking lot lighting pays dividends in safety, convenience and energy savings. We’ll help you design a solution that fits the needs of your property. Get in touch to talk about your commercial lighting installation today.