For job sites without electrical service or power failures, portable lighting is appropriate; not only is portable lighting equipment essential for disaster-recovery operations, it extends working hours for almost any project, helping contractors to meet completion deadlines.

Whether the area to light is small or large, there is portable lighting equipment for the job. In areas where power is available, compact portable lighting often can brighten dark work areas.

Towers with four 1,000-watt lamps have long been considered the industry standard, but popular models range from small, one-lamp models to towers powered by separate generators.

New to the lighting scene in North America are compact balloon lights. An inflatable, opaque “balloon” evenly diffuses light from 1,000-watt lamps, providing almost shadowless illumination.

The popularity of balloon lights is growing in the United States, said Marc James, Ingersoll-Rand product manager, whose responsibilities include lighting systems.

“Balloon lights are the ultimate in portability, light in weight and able to operate off a portable generator or any 20-amp circuit, if it is available,” he said. “The big advantage balloon lights have over conventional light towers is the glare-free light they provide—light is diffused by the covering balloon-like envelope.”

“They are new to the U.S., although they have been used in Europe for several years,” James said. “In this country, they are most widely used on road-paving projects. Mounted on a paver and operating off an on-board power source, the light moves along with the machine.”

On electrical projects, compact portable generators or truck-mounted welding equipment are a ready source of power. Their size and light weight permit many mounting options, including tripods, poles, mounting on vehicles and equipment, or attaching to a building. They also are very good for interior applications.

Although the latest light tower models look much like those that have been available for several years, they are becoming more efficient and easier to use. Representatives of five manufacturing companies comment on portable lighting products available today.

Genie Industries, Tammi Anderson, marketing communications manager: “Trailer-mounted light towers are primarily used to light job sites during non-daylight hours. Other typical uses include lighting for recreational events and indoor lighting for locations where other lighting sources aren’t available.

“For portable lighting, portability is key because they can be easily hauled behind most vehicles set up for towing. Also, the smaller, portable size makes it easy to trailer several units simultaneously to a job site when multiple units are needed.

“Over the past three years, there has been a movement to cast square fixtures from a conical-shaped sheetmetal housing, providing more durability. Auto-start is also a new feature that automatically starts and turns off the machine via an internal clock or photocell.

“Innovative, ergonomic design makes light units quick and easy to set up, and they can run between 60 and 100 hours before refueling. Our light towers feature a ‘tool-less,’ quick-aim system, providing both horizontal and vertical adjustment of each lamp fixture, and a tilt-actuating system that provides the ability to vertically aim all four lamps from the ground. Our trailer-mounted light towers are very popular in the rental market.”

Ingersoll-Rand, Marc James, product manager: “Portable light towers with self-contained generators remain the most common source of temporary portable power lighting, providing bright, dependable illumination anywhere there is no available power and light is needed, emergencies and anywhere electricians are working at night.

“Designs continue to evolve and be refined. Engines must meet EPA emission standards that continue to become more stringent. Those requirements and the need to meet noise guidelines affect the design of equipment. Engine enclosures to reduce noise must also allow adequate airflow to cool the engine. Refinements include tool-less adjustment positioning, adding receptacles for operating power hand tools, electrical and hydraulic winches for raising and lowering the tower, [and] automatic start and stop features using photo cells, so a unit starts as it becomes dark and turns itself off when daylight comes. Dual hitches facilitate transporting with different vehicles.”

Magnum Products, Jim Roberts, military and international sales manager: “Most electricians use light towers for large outdoor job site illumination and portable lights for their indoor lighting needs. Product offerings have increased to include larger power output and many more convenience outlets placed on the exterior of our units to allow for ease of use. We currently market 15 and 20 kW output light tower sets in addition to the 6 and 8 kW sets of three years ago.

“The range that includes 6, 8, 15 and 20 kW outputs and full convenience power outlet panels exist today for on-site power and lighting needs. Our units use market-proven, rugged components that perform in the rental and light construction industries. We consider change when it improves our durability and dependability only.

“Balloon lighting and other forms of light have filtered into the industry the past few years, but the most economic and simple systems still are the individually ballasted and light switched metal halide systems.

“Although we do not have statistics to support our belief, we believe that most job site illumination is being done by the use of rented rather than owned products. Magnum lighting products are available from all of the large national rental store chains as well as through many of the fine-quality local rental houses.”

Multiquip, Juan Quiros, product support manager: “For large outdoor projects, a conventional light tower would be most applicable. For indoor electrical jobs, a balloon lighting system is more effective as those units are more compact, emit glare-free light and many models can operate on household power, eliminating the engine emissions of conventional light towers.

“Conventional light towers have changed little in recent years. The industry standard configuration is four 1,000-watt metal-halide lights attached to a mast, which extends 30 to 32 feet, depending on the manufacturer. What has changed is the emergence of balloon lighting systems.

“New to North America, balloon systems are portable light sources that emit glare-free light, 360 degrees. They are offered in a number of configurations such as pole or tripod-mounted models, mobile stands with outriggers or cart-mounted for transporting an optional generator. Models typically use standard 120-volt power and can operate with a generator as small as 2.6 kW on the job site. Balloon lights are lightweight and feature an inflatable balloon composed of a durable water-resistant material. They are extremely versatile for construction applications.

“Having a wide range of portable lighting solutions is essential to meet the demands of the end-user. Coverage area, sound requirements and ease of mobility all play a factor in deciding lighting requirements. Trailer-mounted light towers can easily be towed to and from the job site. The more compact balloon lighting systems can be transported in practically any vehicle and once on-site, assembled in minutes.”

Wacker, Marc Leupi, utility product manager: “Convenience and ease of use is an important factor for light tower use, especially in the rental applications. Our compact units are easy to transport to and from job sites. Other factors to consider include easy, one-person setup, especially with a power winch; large-capacity fuel tanks for continuous 68-hour light/run time; and a control panel that offers a 120 volt GFCI with circuit breakers for additional accessory power.

“Improved lighting is achieved through the use of distinctive elliptical lighting fixtures. The fixtures allow the lamps to be mounted horizontally, allowing more light to travel directly from the source to the work area, thus providing uniform light coverage and better job site illumination.

“As with most types of construction equipment, the easier it is to get on and off the job site, the better. Our light towers offer a compact/narrow body that allows the unit to fit two abreast on a flatbed. They are also available with a fully equipped, highway-ready trailer that offers a combination pintle-ball hitch, 13-inch tires, four tie-downs, DOT lighting, VIN number and chains,” Leupi said.

Light towers are popular rental items, and it is likely that many of the units on job sites today are being rented.

Multiquip’s Juan Quiros estimates 80 percent of lighting systems are rented.

“Temporary lighting is a staple of the construction industry,” said Frank Branca, manager of field sales and marketing projects forUnited Rentals, the nation’s largest rental organization. “Demand for such lighting solutions range from practical to precautionary and safety compliant. United Rentals offers a broad range of temporary light solutions for rent through its branch network, including specialty lighting for road construction, commercial and residential construction and special events.”                EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or