Top 7 hidden costs of emergency lighting
It's not just the upfront luminaire cost but the ongoing cost of maintenance and testing that should also be considered.
From our experience of supplying & installing over 1,000 lighting upgrade projects across Australia, here's our summary of the key emergency lighting operating cost areas that are sometimes overlooked.
Whole fitting replacement at point of battery failure
Industry practice has traditionally been to replace the whole emergency batten fittings when the light fails the 6 monthly test. It is believed that this is a cheaper alternative than undertaking further investigations that would result in having to isolate the circuit to replace the faulty component, which is typically the battery. This often results in emergency light fittings being replaced every 3 to 4 years.
- Choosing an emergency light that has features such as easy removal for repair and upgrade and / or an accessible battery drawer so that battery replacement can be simply undertaken without isolating the mains power.
Co-ordination of emergency light testing
To prepare for the 6 monthly emergency test, building managers and owners need to advise all building occupants of disruption to normal activities in areas where emergency lighting systems are being tested, which typically involves isolating mains power to that lighting circuit.
A range of stakeholders need to be co-ordinated including external contractors who typically conduct the test after hours, as well as security staff to supervise testing contractors who have access to tenanted areas in the building after hours.
- Monitored emergency lighting systems conduct the mandated 6 monthly battery discharge tests without disrupting power but this comes at a system cost premium of 30-40%. Similar self-test functionality is now available in stand alone luminaires, which conduct battery discharge whilst maintaining normal light operation. The test status is visible via an LED indicator. This testing takes place without disrupting the normal operation of the light, which avoids the cost of notifying occupants and coordinating contractors and other service providers.
Fixing faults in emergency lighting electrical circuits – a stab in the dark!
In cases of emergency lighting electrical circuit trip or failure due to thermal overload, short circuit or moisture ingress, fault finding by a qualified electrician can be complicated, time consuming and costly. Often it involves the removal of light fittings and examination of electrical wiring up & down the line to isolate the fault.
- Emergency lights with a smart connect base that allows for simple removal of the light fitting. This enables lighting to be simply replaced with time-consuming fault finding done off-line.
Pressure to certify buildings can result in higher than normal luminaire replacement costs
Building managers and owners are required to submit emergency lighting certification to local authorities in a timely manner. This results in time constraints for 6 monthly test reports to be provided and subsequent repairs to be undertaken for failed lights. Often these time constraints result in a premium being paid.
- If the luminaire design allows for simple battery changeover, you can stock spare emergency battery packs and provide them to the testing contractor, reducing the pressure during this critical period.
Cleaning is vital to lighting efficiency. Light levels can decrease over time because of dirt on luminaries and a build up of insects inside the light. These factors can reduce total illumination by 30% or more, potentially falling below minimum required lighting levels.
Australian Standard AS 2293.3 requires that all emergency lights have their lighting emitting surfaces cleaned annually.
- Beyond a simple wipe down, a light fitting that is easy to remove for further cleaning if required reduces ongoing cleaning & maintenance time & costs. In addition to a simple clean, many light fixtures require holes to be drilled for cable entry points and these are often an entry point for insects. Lights that connect to a separate base do not have this problem and therefore will not need to be opened and cleaned.
Drop in light output quality (lumen depreciation) over time
For maintained emergency lighting systems where light output in non emergency mode is part of the area lighting, this light output will need to meet relevant area lighting level compliance requirements.
Many emergency light fixtures have either older technology fluorescent lamps which need constant replacements or poor quality LEDs that cause light output to depreciate quickly. Often light upgrades result in “energy efficient’ lights selected that are underpowered, resulting in lower wattage luminaire replacements with light output not sufficient to meet local building code requirements.
Impacts include a reduced amenity for the occupants and creation of a liability for the building owner. This can result in tenants leaving and insurance companies not covering claims in non-compliant areas following an accident, both of which are very expensive.
Know the light level requirements for your building or ask someone who knows – your electrical contractor or lighting suppliers. You will need to demonstrate compliance to claim government rebates. Look for a luminaire with a broad range of light outputs to give you the flexibility to suit the light to match the area.
Check the quality of the LEDs. Luminaire datasheets will list LED chip sources where there is a reputable brand used. Look for emergency luminaires that are “approved for use” by state government energy efficiency scheme administrators as they will need to have supplied LM80 test reports to support LED performance.
Keeping monitored emergency lighting systems up to date
Commissioning of monitored emergency lighting systems is complex & requires specialist contractors to wire and program all light connection points into the system. When any system changes are needed, there is no simple addition or subtraction of lights. The high call out rates for any programming or wiring changes from the contractors that work with the proprietary systems are the source of complaints from building managers.
Additions or changes to emergency lights in tenanted areas of commercial office buildings, are often not incorporated into the base building’s monitored emergency lighting system. This reduces the accuracy for emergency light testing status & cannot provide the building manager with 100% trust in the system reports.
- Keep it simple. Given that a visual inspection of each emergency light is required under Australian Standard 2293:3, non monitored stand alone emergency luminaires can now provide the functionality to display the test status via a multi coloured LED indicator. This results in the visual inspection being undertaken at the same time to determine the compliance status, eliminating the need for an expensive monitored system.