LED’s in the Driving Seat

LED’s in the Driving Seat

Alvaro Garcia, Product Director, LED Emergency & Advance R&D at Fulham, explores the role that LED has played in driving new demand for emergency lighting retrofits.

While building managers may consider emergency lighting as “set it and forget it”, as an installer you have to ensure the lights conform to building codes.

Regulations change, and if the emergency lighting fails to meet the current building code it could be expensive for you and your customers. Fortunately, advances in LED lighting technology are making it easier to stay current with the latest safety regulations and provide less-expensive, long-lasting emergency lighting.

LED lighting and emergency lighting retrofits will continue to be a robust part of construction for the foreseeable future. According to industry research, 50% of the global LED lighting market from now until 2024 will consist of lighting retrofits, including emergency lighting.

This isn’t surprising when you consider that half of commercial buildings are over 60 years old. Lighting consumes 38% of power in the average commercial building, and installing LEDs can reduce power consumption to 17% or less. LED retrofits pay off for building owners, and it is easy to include LED emergency lighting as part of that strategy.

New emergency lights are coming to market to address recent regulations, and LED technology continues to advance with new testing and monitoring features that one day will be part of a centralised building automation system. To stay ahead of the game, you need to understand the latest regulations and the basic emergency lighting options available.

Emergency lighting basics

While lighting technologies continue to improve, the basic purpose of emergency lighting remains the same – to illuminate the way to a safe exit in the event of an emergency. Regulations are in place to ensure that if there is a power outage there is enough light available and sufficient time to exit.

There are specific emergency lighting regulations for different environments, such as office buildings, warehouses, skyscrapers etc., and there are different types of emergency light fixtures for each environment. Thermoplastic lights, for example, are used for indoor applications such as office buildings, where open environments – like a warehouse – often use steel fixtures.

Some installations are required to be waterproof or water resistant. In all cases, emergency lighting is moving away from halogens, fluorescents, and other types of lamps and adopting LEDs instead. LEDs are reliable, heat resistant, less susceptible to breakage, and they use low energy so they can be powered by batteries for a long time. They also can be installed almost anywhere and the illumination often can be programmed to meet safety codes.

Light levels and battery power will vary according to the region and setting. For example, in the UK all emergency lights have to provide minimum light levels for at least 60 minutes, which means one hour of reliable battery power. For exit lighting, the IBC requires “emergency lighting shall be provided at the door,” and outdoor emergency lighting must light the path from the exit to a public right of way.

LEDs are proving ideal for these types of applications since they’re reliable, they consume less power and use smaller batteries. To deliver longer battery life, many emergency light vendors are moving away from lead-acid to nickel-metal hydride batteries, which are smaller, lighter, and more robust. Lithium iron phosphate also is being used for emergency lighting batteries.

Emergency light batteries also have to be tested periodically for regulatory compliance. Indicator lights are usually included as part of newer emergency lighting, and adopting self-diagnostics with a two-colour indicator light makes it easier to check the emergency light status between inspections.

LEDs offer more options

New emergency light installations are starting to standardise on LEDs, but LED retrofits are proving to be even more cost-effective.

For example, if you need to retrofit an emergency fixture into a fluorescent luminaire, you could add an emergency ballast and battery to a T12 or T8 fixture. Of course, fluorescents consume more power which means bigger batteries. There are LED conversion kits that allow you to swap out T8 or T12 fluorescent tubes with more energy-efficient LED light strips; they even use the same connectors and can include emergency drivers. There are also self-contained LED emergency lighting kits that can be fitted inside existing fluorescent fixtures using the existing luminaire wiring.

LED emergency light fixtures continue to become more compact and versatile in their design, meaning they can be installed almost anywhere. What’s more, the newer LED emergency lights come with an emergency driver integrated on the circuit board so they have an extremely low profile and are very easy to install.

For more information about the emergency lighting products and services on offer from Fulham Co. visit: www.fulham.com

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