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LEDs: Have You Seen the Light?

Lighting options can brighten store, enhance safety, lower electric bill

CHICAGO — The light-emitting diode (LED) is an energy-efficient and rapidly developing lighting technology. Quality LED light bulbs last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

LED lighting is available in a wide variety of home and industrial products. Their high efficiency and directional nature (LEDs emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers than can trap light) make them ideal for many industrial and commercial uses.

In a self-service laundry where interior lighting could be on for 16 hours a day or longer, it’s important to utilize lighting that gets the job done at the lowest cost.

Daniel Ahlbrand II owns Hoosier Family Laundry, a 2,150-square-foot self-service store with drop-off service in west-central Indianapolis, Indiana. His store originally had 20 standard drop ceiling tube fixtures that pulled 3,200 watts in total to operate. He recently installed 20 LED shop light fixtures that pull a total of 900 watts, effectively lowering his lighting expense to less than one-third.

“I was generally unhappy with the amount of light that came from the old store lighting,” Ahlbrand says. “It was pulling a lot of power and still left several areas of the store dimly lit.”

Ahlbrand spent about three hours completing the project by himself. The cost: a little less than $500.

“The advantage of drop ceilings is that they can be changed by simply replacing the solid tiles with clear panels,” he says. “The new LED fixtures are linkable, so all I had to do was place the lights and run the plugs from the previous light in the row.”

Clothes come out looking cleaner, the environment is brighter, and store security is improved, according to Ahlbrand.

“Customers have stated that they feel safer,” he says. “I also purposely chose lighting that has 5000k (daylight) color profile. Studies have shown that there is a psychological correlation between light color and customer satisfaction. Daylight colored lighting stimulates endorphins in the brain, which is a chemical that causes happiness. Happy customers spend money.”

In Wyoming’s Dubois Laundromat & Car Wash, owner Chuck Bryant recently changed his 1,800-square-foot facility’s lighting from 4-foot T8 fluorescent tubes to 4-foot T8 LED. Bryant estimates it took about 20 hours for him to do the project himself, but he spent less than $200.

When comparing traditional lighting to LEDs, Bryant thinks that converting to LED is easier than replacing a defective ballast. You may or may not need new tombstones (sockets), depending on what kind of LED retrofit replacement lamps you choose and whether your existing tombstones are shunted or non-shunted, he adds.

Why did Bryant make the change?

“Energy savings, plus knowing we will never have to replace a fluorescent ballast ever again.”

Yvette Morton Williams owns multiple stores. Wash & Spin Coin Laundry in southwest Atlanta, Georgia, was the first, and is the largest at 5,000 square feet.

“Four and a half years ago, we took advantage of the incentives from the power company and updated all of the T12 fluoroscent lights to LED tubes,” Williams says. “We changed the bulbs and bypassed all the ballasts. At that time, we also added motion sensors in the bathrooms and in employee-only areas.

“In the newer facilities, we made these changes during the buildout. We have a couple of the flat panel LED lights installed as well. These look very contemporary and fit directly in the ceiling grid space without separate fixtures. At Wash & Spin, our electric bills decreased 25%.”

The conversion at Wash & Spin was completed by a team of professional installers in three days. The project cost several thousand dollars after rebates at the time but notes the cost of LED tubes has decreased substantially since then.

“Customers all commented on how nice and bright the store appeared after the conversion,” Williams says. “Everything seemed new. We received many compliments. Time spent changing bulbs has plummeted; we have replaced only one since the conversion. The fluorescent bulbs were constantly requiring changing.”

Over the last few years, Alexander Sakla, who owns Babylon Laundromat in New Orleans, Louisiana, has been working with LED Supply in nearby Metairie to systematically replace all exterior and interior lighting across all his buildings to more efficient LED solutions.

“LED lighting is easier to maintain because the life of the lamps is significantly longer because they put out less heat and (are) more cost-efficient,” he says.

The scope of the project prompted Sakla to enlist some professional help.

“In this situation, to update the existing 8-foot T8 fluorescent fixtures, the ballasts in all the lights had to be removed and the lights rewired to full voltage, so I had an electrician come after the lights had been delivered,” he says.

It took the electrician roughly three hours to install 32 bulbs and rewire 16 fixtures. Cost for bulbs and installation was approximately $750. He’s seen the same benefits as described by others.

What advice would these store owners offer about installing LED lighting?

“Do it,” urges Ahlbrand. “It’s inexpensive, and the benefits far outweigh the cost.”

“There are a lot of options, (so) find one that best suits your needs,” says Sakla. “For residential, I find 3,000-4,000 Kelvin as high as I’ll go. In commercial, the 5,000-6,000 Kelvin is fine but be prepared for a blue tint if you go that high.”

“My advice is if you can replace a fluorescent ballast, you can convert your fixtures to LED,” says Bryant.

“We would advise anyone considering the change to do it now,” offers Williams. “Your only regret will be that you didn’t do it sooner.”