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A Temporary Lighting Moment: Developments in illuminating the work site

By Claire Swedberg | Apr 15, 2024
A Temporary Lighting Moment
Like permanent lighting, temporary lighting systems have been getting more sophisticated, and how they are specified and installed can affect the project’s success.

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Temporary lighting plays a critical role in the safety and effectiveness of many work sites. Like permanent lighting, temporary lighting systems have been getting more sophisticated, and how they are specified and installed can affect the project’s success.

Power generation for temporary lighting and the fixtures themselves have been evolving as project owners demand greater safety based on good lighting. That means better, and sometimes more sustainable, power and fixtures designed to meet high-level light quality requirements customized for the project.

The companies that come to Southwire Co. for temporary lighting have a set of objectives that has changed over time. They often bring a greater understanding of the light quality they’re getting from a temporary fixture and have a general sense of their expectations, said Jack Andrews, product manager at Southwire, the Carrollton, Ga., electrical components and solutions company.

Customers are seeking the fixtures that produce the greatest amount of light at the lowest price, but even those expectations are the bare minimum. The fixture must hold value for the customer.

“Whether it’s dollars per lumen or lumens per dollar—they want to see value out of [their solution],” he said.

 Southwire sells products directly to general contractors, electrical contractors and third-party retailers. Companies have always been seeking the best value with the most light output. But recently, Andrews said, the quality of lighting is something that comes up early on in business conversations.

That demand may be coming from the project owner as much from federal or local restrictions. OSHA standards have been consistent from a safety perspective when it comes to lighting on work sites to ensure they are well lit and safe.

State requirements vary. California requires 5 foot-candles for an active outdoor construction area, but 10 foot-candles for indoor spaces or equipment rooms and nighttime highway construction work. Even though only 5 foot-candles are needed in many projects, some owners and contractors are looking for 10. In such cases, Andrews said, “we’re going to have that discussion with them—if you want to get to that light level, this is what you have to do.”

Strategizing work-site lighting

Traditionally, contractors could do simple math: take the square footage and determine the number of fixtures. That works unless the site has greater complexity that requires concentrated lighting in some sections to accomplish the same overall light quality.

No contractor wants to wait to hear from an inspector that they are low in a specific corner. Such shortcomings send contractors back to the supplier for another string of lights or single fixtures, which ultimately can cause delays.

Today, communicating in advance with the technology provider, GCs and customers can help ECs head off those delays.

“If that conversation already took place before the project started, contractors have better assurance that the lighting will meet requirements,” Andrews said.

Temporary lighting providers, manufacturers and suppliers know that today’s LED products can offer a longer life than previous technology, meaning that they are designed to work in several projects. They are made to be modular for reconfiguring on several sites.

Where low-cost metal halides were once the rule of thumb, more efficient LED lighting is being deployed, reused and increasingly strategized before it goes into place. While metal halides offer quality light, LEDs last longer, are more energy-efficient and may require less maintenance. LEDs also avoid the long warmup periods that metal halides require.

Southwire offers support related to digital layouts and providing ISO files, similar to the luminaire layout for permanent lighting.

“There are a lot of customers who don’t know we perform that, and it’s free of charge,” Andrews said. The goal is to ensure fixtures meet each project’s specification. With the right support from a vendor, “They don’t have to do that second guessing [of] overordering or underordering.”

LED lifetimes span projects

Most projects have made the transition to temporary LED lighting, said Ken MacDougall, director of business development for the NECA Penn-Del-Jersey chapter. That shift, he said, was the key trend that contractors have been noticing in work-site lighting.

LEDs’ lives are long but not infinite, and fixtures degrade over time. So, if a modular light string is reused on one job site after another, contractors need to factor in the drop in light quality long before the light actually fails. LEDs are typically expected to have a 50,000-hour life span, but could degrade below an acceptable level before then.

The lumen maintenance measurement for decrease in light output means that with an L70 rating, for instance, the LED must maintain 70% of its new level lighting and then be replaced.

However, not all fixtures deteriorate in the same fashion. One may be subject to more wear and tear than another. If they aren’t monitored and tested, that may lead to a full failure.

In the meantime, projects and light level requirements vary widely. A 100-by-100-foot warehouse can be fitted with a standard set of LED strings. A high rise or complex building campus might require something very different to ensure that the bends, turns and obstacles of a structure don’t interfere with or degrade lighting in one area.

New technology

The actual LED technology that came on the market more than a decade ago has changed, too. Andrews, who has been in the lighting market since 2008, witnessed the rapid changes in LED quality and reliability, as well as drop in price, which have slowed recently to a more incremental pace.

Technology development has provided other shifts in LEDs’ capabilities, which may change the way future temporary lighting is applied. Today, intelligent lighting systems can accommodate sensors to deliver more than illumination. For instance, with a Bluetooth- or Zigbee-connected system, lighting can accommodate smoke detectors, carbon monoxide sensors or alarms.

Currently, lighting and smoke detection are provided by separate vendors, but in the future such systems may be integrated. While smart lighting systems are mostly deployed for permanent installations today, availability and lower pricing may mean that a single system could be used on a work site to monitor safety while lighting the space.

Safety first and last

What it boils down to, though, is safety. An OSHA spokesperson pointed out that electrical hazards on the work site are addressed in specific standards for the construction industry and focused on how installations take place. OSHA’s CFR 1926 dictates safety and health regulations.

When it comes to safety around temporary lighting, OSHA’s electrical standards are designed to protect employees exposed to dangers such as electric shock, electrocution, fires and explosions.

“Employers are required to provide a workplace free from serious recognized hazards and comply with standards, rules and regulations issued under the OSH Act. They must examine workplace conditions to make sure they conform to applicable OSHA standards. Employers must also train workers on the hazards that exist with their specific job function,” the spokesperson said.

Inspectors can each have unique perspectives and interpretations related to minimum foot-candle readings.

Harnessing the power

Power for lighting and construction activities includes a variety of solutions, said Scott Pisani, commercial and industrial senior product manager at Leviton, Melville, N.Y. Diesel or other generators are sometimes replaced with more efficient solutions.

“Most of the recent innovations I’ve seen in the industry revolve around the source of the power,” Pisani said.

Gasoline generators still power some sites, but today other options can use cleaner fuels such as hydrogen, nitrogen or even “zero air” options to purify the emissions. Zero air generators accomplish this by removing hydrocarbons—such as natural gas, ethane or propane—from the air using nitrogen combined with oxygen.

Generators can incorporate solar panels or batteries and provide attachments for electric vehicle charging. Pisani pointed out that even as power sources evolve, generators still typically use the same temporary power connections to external equipment, which makes retrofitting easy.

Making installations faster

Many of those in the construction temporary power business met in January at the PowerGen International Show in New Orleans. One common theme discussed was the need for “anything to make installations quicker and easier,” especially in temporary power applications, Pisani noted.

Currently, to connect a single-pole connector plug to a cable, one needs to cut the plug to fit the cable size. When multiple plugs are installed, this can be a time-­consuming process and introduces human error. To address these challenges, Leviton manufactures precut plugs starting with a 4/0 size version of its most frequently used single-pole devices.

In the meantime, the nearly universal migration to LED lights, as well as challenges in staffing the work site, means contractors may have to change the way they go about their business. Electrical contractors have choices—designing temporary lighting in-house or subbing out that work, or buying longer-term lighting that suits the needs of multiple projects and finding storage space that ensures the lights are undamaged and ready for reuse.

Contractors still need to consider how their higher-value LED lighting is used, stored and reused, in contrast with the lower cost metal halide lights that were often treated as if they were disposable. The financial advantage to throwing the products in the dumpster isn’t there.

Companies such as Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis., are building lights to be easily stacked. Milwaukee Tool reported that it has gotten more requests for configuration of temporary lighting in recent years. Other contractors are meeting their needs internally.

To address new realities, some companies are providing temporary lighting equipment and full services to help contractors get systems installed in a hurry when labor is short. Some vendors have a full line and can provide custom assembly. Southwire has sites in California and Chicago that can build temporary lighting systems.

However temporary lighting is managed, the further development of technology and the demands from project owners are likely to keep the hardware evolving.

shutterstock.com / Aquila chrysaetos / stock.adobe.com / Roman

About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].

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