Advancements in lamp and fixture technology, new approaches to design and the influence of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) are making waves in the outdoor lighting world.

“This is the most exciting time ever in the lighting business. Especially in the outdoor field,” said Mike Owens, a 35-year lighting systems engineer with General Electric (GE).

Curing polluted skies

Exterior lighting design and technology are being swayed by environmental concerns. IDA's mission is fighting light pollution, defined as “any adverse effect of man-made light including sky glow, glare, light trespass and light clutter.” An unpolluted sky is aesthetically pleasing; it is full of bright, glittering stars-great for viewing and pondering the universe.

Light pollution also means an energy drain. IDA estimates 30 percent of outdoor lighting energy-or $1.5 billion a year-ends up wasted, shot upward into space. Light trespass is a homeowner issue. No one wants the intrusive glare of a neighbor's outdoor lighting. It is no wonder the dark-skies movement is gaining momentum. Manufacturers are starting to take notice.

“Products now must be environmentally sensitive. We have to control light, and put it where it's wanted, not where it is not,” said Owens.

One such product is GE's new Criterion line, designed for wall and site lighting. The fixtures have full cut-off characteristics, a flat lens located parallel to the ground and a new line of reflectors that beam light outward, not upward. The company's Salem line consists of a lamp post that has top-mounted lamps with improved shielding. Some GE luminaires are designed so it is impossible to see the arc tube from a height of more than 12 degrees above the tube; the vertical cutoff is 78 degrees.

“We put the controls for the lamp in the top of the unit, improved the shielding, and added internal louvers that control light direction,” Owens said.

New, 85W induction lights are extending highway-lamp life from 30,000 to 100,000 hours. The Department of Transportation said replacing a single highway sign lamp can run up to $25,000, considering the labor cost needed for a lane closing. As a result, tripling lamp life should result in savings to taxpayers.

Owens said GE is moving toward “smart fixtures” equipped with monitoring devices that diagnose their efficiency and give their customers feedback. Using the same technology employed by cell phones, the lamps record their on/off cycles and download reports to a computer, which can schedule maintenance.

“Instead of maintenance workers checking to see if lamps are functioning properly, the lamps tell them, avoiding unnecessary checkups,” Owens said.

The recently introduced VersaFlood III is an electrode-free fluorescent lamp that produces 80 lumens per watt and has instant start and instant restrike capabilities. A 100W globe is available for lamp post top installations.

With security lighting high on many agendas, airports are now installing 400W, high-pressure sodium lamps with hot restrikes that avoid the delays experienced during power dips. The new lamps produce light simultaneously with the restoration of power. Even metal halide is taking on a new personality.

“The impact of pulse arcs in metal halide lamps is resulting in a 10 percent increase in lumens per watt at the start, 15 percent more maintained lumens per watt, and restrike time that has been reduced from eight to 10 minutes, to four to five minutes,” Owens said.

Owens predicts that metal halide technology, which has proven effective in interior installations, will be available for outdoor application in the near future.

“Electronic ballasts for metal halide have proven successful in indoor applications where the temperature is 55 degrees. Our testing indicates outdoor lamps will be effective from below zero to 100 F and will increase mean lumens by 13 to 40 percent,” Owens said.

At Osram Sylvania, lighting technician Ben Koyle said light emitting diodes (LEDs) are at the forefront of new lighting technology for signs. Longevity is one positive characteristic. Koyle said a white LED's average rated life span is 50,000 hours, compared to the 3,000 hours for halogen and 10,000 for fluorescent.

Labeled High-Output White (HOW2), LED modules are incorporated in Power TopLED, Linerlight, Linerlight Flex and Backlight models. With color temperatures ranging from 4,700K to 6,500K, these LED configurations are bright, hitting 80 on the color rendition index (CRI). The index measures alternative light sources against daylight and incandescents, both of which top the scale at 100. The closer a lamp is to 100 CRI, the better its ability to show true colors to the human eye.

Linerlight Flex consists of LEDs mounted on a flexible board that produces a 120-degree light angle. The board has a labor-saving adhesive back that allows it to be attached to a sign housing by hand. Backlight modules are connected by cable and may be arranged in various configurations, depending upon the area to be highlighted. As a result, these highly efficient lamps may challenge neon as the lamp of choice for outdoor signage.

Osram also offers a range of 10V and 24V power supplies, but two other new Osram Sylvania products bear scrutiny: Icetron Reflector Ecologic lamp and Metalarc Supersaver 900W. Icetron can be used in temperatures as low as -40 F and has a 100,000-hour lamp life, eight times that of fluorescents. They also have a CRI of 80 and 4,100K color temperature. Lamp efficiency is increased by internal reflectors that direct light out of the front and sides of the lamp.

Metalarc is designed as a money-saving replacement for 1,000W metal halide lamps in locations such as parking lots and garages. The lamps promise lower energy costs without sacrificing lumen output.

Tony Cunado, quality control manager at Vista Professional Outdoor Lighting, Simi Valley, Calif., also sees a future in the residential market for LEDs.

“At present, the disadvantage of LEDs is that they only broadcast a beam a short distance. However, we will soon be introducing a 1W and 3W LED that will project a solid beam more than 40 feet. When we tested the prototype at the L.A. Convention Center, the beam was clearly visible on the ceiling,” Cunado said.

“We also are developing housing for exterior fixtures constructed of a composite material that will look better and last longer than metal,” he said. “They won't corrode. Since the colorant is infused, if chipped by a weed mower, they will retain their finish. So, coupling LED lamps with long-life housing will result in lower energy costs and less maintenance.”

On the design side

In Detroit, Ron Harwood and Tom McGrail are collaborating on outdoor lighting projects that are producing interesting, artistic, functional systems as well as projects that are running smoothly.

In 1965, Harwood's Illuminating Concepts was a traditional electrical contractor involved in the construction of small malls and apartment buildings.

“I didn't realize that I also was in the lighting-design business,” Harwood said.

As part of his contracting business, he offered clients input on designs that contributed to the aesthetics of the projects and provided engineers and architects technical information about product performance.

“It took time, but I was able to overcome the concept of 'value engineering' that translated to cheap materials,” Harwood said. “At some point, the developers came to me and asked me if I would be their lighting designer. My first thought was, 'Wait a minute. Now I'm going to get paid for what I've been doing for free?'”

His first retail project won three national awards and his design fees are now a fixture in project budgets. Illuminating Concepts has grown to be one of the largest independent lighting design firm in the world, with sales averaging $7 million per year and a staff of 35.

“Our designers consistently push the boundaries, developing innovative schemes for some of the world's most renowned retail prototypes. We approach each retail setting as a medium of communication, understanding that consumers build lasting impressions based on their environmental experiences,” Harwood said. “A recent survey concluded that in major shopping areas, the most important issue for shoppers is the lighting system, whether it's a parking area or the exterior walkways of a mall.”

Along the way, Harwood's firm collaborated on several projects with Motor City Electric. In business since 1952, Motor City was one of the first electrical contractors to design and install night lighting for automobile racetracks.

Tom McGrail, Motor City's executive vice president, said a management change in the 1980s resulted in a commitment to growth. The contractor expanded beyond Detroit, which resulted in a national presence and $150 million in sales in 2004.

His firm first collaborated with Harwood's on the design and installation of exterior lighting at Comerica Park, home of Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers. Motor City did the interior lighting, Harwood designed the sites around the stadium, and the project was completed with few wrinkles. They followed that project with lighting at Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions; the City of Detroit street-lighting project; and Greenfield Village at the Henry Ford Museum.

The duo also works jointly with the Detroit Economic Growth Corp. to design and supervise the installation of exterior lighting systems for a reborn downtown area.

“Once the city fathers saw the improvements in the environment that exterior lighting adds, they wanted us to light up the town. They want Detroit to be added to the list of 'must-see' cities for travelers,” Harwood said.

“The objective for the downtown is to convert old buildings to condominiums and attract newcomers to the city. Special lighting is being used to liven the appearance of streets,” McGrail said. “We sell service and function. Ron adds aesthetics and technology.”

They agree that the arrangement also allows them to cut through any obstacles to coordinating a job. Harwood has some advice for contractors interested in adding design to their list of services.

“Go to school, get a light designer designation, and read books on the environment that will help you understand what people are looking for,” Harwood said. EC

LAWRENCE is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at hrscrk@mcn.net.