Complete Guide to
Commercial Office Lighting
Everything a chief engineer needs to know about LED lighting maintenance, what to buy, and how to save on energy costs
The correct lighting in a commercial office building can be a game changer.
Not only can it help you save money on energy savings, but you can also attract more tenants and keep your current workers happy. Dim lighting can strain employees’ eyes, and that can lower productivity.
Our goal with this guide is to help you solve your top commercial office lighting problems and concerns. From which light bulbs to use, to managing energy costs, and the best places to retrofit to LED – we’re covering it all. Hopefully, you will find the answer to your question. But if not, you can always contact one of our lighting experts.
Common light bulbs and LED upgrades for office space
It’s no secret – most businesses are buying LED lighting for their office space. One of the biggest reasons is for energy efficiency and savings.
With so many LED lighting options in the market today, it can be overwhelming trying to make the best decision and find the right products.
We have a list of common light bulbs you most likely need and the best LED replacement. But first, we want to explain two lighting metrics to consider for commercial office applications:
- CRI: Color rendering index is very important in commercial offices. If the tenants at your building spend 40 hours a week under low-CRI lighting, they’ll eventually begin to notice and complain of “bad” or “funky” lighting. This can negatively affect retention in the long-term. We recommend a CRI of at least 82 in commercial offices.
- Lumens: Dimly lit commercial office space isn’t very useful. It impairs productivity and lends itself to maintenance and cleanliness challenges. Of course, you don’t want to hurt your tenants’ eyes, but you also don’t want them squinting. Focus on high lumen output to ensure your spaces are adequately illuminated but keep delivered lumens and foot-candles in mind as you do so.
We’re giving you five of the most common types of light bulbs below. Click here to register for a business account and get discounted pricing for your property.
T8s are the most common light bulb you’ll find in a commercial office. Check these spaces: lobbies, hallways, common office space, stairwells, and parking garage.
: COMPACT FLUORESCENTS
Check your recessed cans, often in office lobbies, for CFLs.
: COMMON ACCENT LIGHT BULBS
If you have common accent light bulbs, it’s likely in track lighting to draw attention to accents like artwork in your building.
: TORPEDO LIGHT BULBS
Check for torpedo light bulbs in chandeliers in your lobby or other accent lighting.
: LED LIGHT BULBS
LED usage info here.
STILL HAVE T12s?
NEED TO RECYCLE?
Which reminds us – did you know we sell more than light bulbs?
We carry other products like batteries, too.
Maintenance tips for commercial offices
Office buildings have a lot of areas to maintain. These same areas require quality lighting for productivity and safety.
But first, let’s talk about getting strategic with your lighting maintenance. We have three ways to cut the time and materials you spend on lighting maintenance:
Group relamping: This is a “work smarter, not harder” approach that prioritizes efficiency over speed. Rather than climbing ladders multiple times a month to swap out burnt-out lamps, take care of certain areas in one fell swoop. This is especially effective if you’re dealing with high, hard-to-reach fixtures or busy areas, like lobbies or stairwells.
Schedule maintenance: Work with a provider or schedule out your maintenance on a calendar. The idea here is to maintain your lighting like you would your car. If you don’t maintain good air pressure in your tires or change your oil regularly, you will experience a blowout or break down at the worst possible time. And if you don’t schedule out your lighting maintenance, you may experience an outage on the busiest day of the week or just ahead of a visit from your out-of-town boss.
Are there particular commercial lighting challenges you’re trying to overcome? Our team of lighting specialists is here to help.
There are several areas where the lights are always on. You want to make sure burn out is low, so you aren’t constantly stuck on a ladder replacing them or inconveniencing tenants. These areas include stairwells, elevators, and parking garages.
Managing energy costs in a commercial office
No matter what stage of lighting you’re in – traditional, LEDs, in the process of retrofitting – it’s important to understand the total cost of lighting. This diagram gives a general breakdown of operating costs:
There are two easy ways to save money on lighting and increase energy efficiency:
1. Retrofit to energy-saving lighting (see below)
2. Invest in long-life products from reputable manufacturers
Let’s discuss #2 a little further. New companies continue to come onto the scene with LED lighting innovations and low prices. These might save energy upfront – but the wrong product could end up costing you in the long run.
Another tool to consider when you’re trying to save energy: lighting controls. We’ve touched on areas where you need lighting 24/7, but you also have areas in your office building where lights don’t always need to be on. Conserving in these locations can help reduce energy consumption – Philips says by as much as 55 percent.
Lighting controls vary from simple dimmers and occupancy sensors to advanced systems that allow you to change light color.
- Dimmers: Dimming lightbulbs reduces wattage and output, resulting in energy savings. This can also help set different tones throughout your building.
- Sensors: No one wants to light an empty room – so installing occupancy sensors in a conference room that’s rarely used is an easy place to start. Or it could be tedious to turn on parking lot lights every night, so photosensor controls could be a huge advantage. Motion sensors are very useful for security lighting. They turn on when motion is detected, then turn off a short while later.
- Timers: Will everyone be out of the office by 6:00 pm? Or do you only need accent lights on for certain hours of the day? Timers may be the best another option to consider.
How to attract office building clients
First impressions are key. You want your building to look well-maintained for the people who work and visit on a daily basis. But lighting consistency can also attract potential tenants or clients.
Customers have told us that better lighting increased worker productivity and fewer employee mistakes. When businesses or employees rave about your facility, others will want to work there, too.
Here are a few factors to consider for attracting new tenants.
- Energy efficiency: Whether you are going for a LEED certification for your building or you are simply trying to save on energy costs and maintenance headaches, more efficient, long-life lighting can be a benefit for attracting tenants to your property
- Sustainability: Many tenants are looking for a space that follows sustainability best practices. Lighting is an excellent – and visible – way to show a commitment to sustainability standards.
- Low maintenance: Another tool for attracting tenants is lower maintenance. Most often, that’s achieved by installing long-life lighting. Most tenants appreciate fewer maintenance interruptions, and lighting is a way to grow your commitment to minimal disruption and a consistent environment.
Light safety and building codes
We’ve touched on difficult areas to maintain lighting in commercial office buildings. Some of the same areas that are hard to maintain are also key to maintain because of safety. That includes parking garages, stairwells, and elevators.
In short, you want to make sure tenants enter, navigate, and exit the building safely. Regency worked with a CBRE commercial office property in Dallas, TX to upgrade their parking garage lighting.
The lights were dim and dull when CBRE acquired the building – not very safe. Regency was able to boost the light levels in the garage while using 500 fewer fixtures. Not only is the garage brighter, but energy costs and maintenance are lower.
Title 24 compliance for commercial offices
There is also a push for more sophisticated lighting systems in many areas of the country, and that could have you dealing with building code.
If you’re in California, new construction and building renovations must meet Title 24 standards. The energy code significantly impacts lighting and lighting controls. It’s triggered any time you pull a building permit.
Other states are quickly catching onto these standards, too.
If you’re subject to strict building codes, contact us. We dove head first into Title 24 years ago, and deal with these requirements day-in and day-out.
Where to start with LED retrofits
When is the right time to upgrade to LED? And where should you start? It can feel overwhelming, especially in commercial office buildings.
You may be able to gradually work LED into your property by purchasing a few bulbs per month or quarter. Or you may be ready for a complete LED retrofit now.
Here are a few things to consider:
- Is your primary goal energy efficiency?
- Energy efficiency is a common goal for our customers, since energy costs are such a high percentage of the cost of traditional lighting.
- Is your primary goal reducing your operating budget?
- How much of your budget includes energy cost? If you’re operating budget only includes labor and material savings, you may need to transition to LED a little slower.
- Is your primary goal ease of maintenance?
- No one wants to spend all day on a ladder. Switching to LED means fewer light bulb changes.
- Is your primary goal improving the visual appeal of your space?
- Light quality can be a huge part of lighting for your lobby, employees, and potential tenants. The high color quality of LED lighting may add more value.
- Is your primary goal sustainability or social responsibility?
- Many of our clients are very interested in gaining LEED points for their office building with LEDs. If sustainability is a goal for you, LEDs should be a top consideration.
- Does your property manager have specific areas in mind?
- Does your property manager keep pointing out areas where he or she wants to upgrade to LEDs? You’ve got to keep the boss happy.
Once you’ve decided it’s worth it to upgrade to LED – where do you start? Here’s a visual we commonly use to prioritize which lighting products you should swap for LED first. This is a great tool for property managers to see the areas of greatest financial impact.
Unless you have HIDs in high-ceiling recessed cans or parking areas, they are not too common in commercial office buildings. You can likely jump to fluorescents.
With linear fluorescent lamps in particular – start your retrofit with areas that need light 24/7, like parking garages, stairwells, or the basement. Then, gradually move inside to the core of the building, strategically making high burn areas top priority.
You might also be faced with the question: should I retrofit with LED bulbs, or do all fixtures need to be replaced? Here’s a look at pros and cons.
LED fixture replacement retrofit pros:
- Maximum control over light output and placement (great for situations where lighting design is paramount)
- Longer life rating and efficacy than LED replacement lamps
- Lower maximum fixture wattage than traditional fixtures, which is advantageous for meeting strict building codes or Title 24 standards
- Excellent performance for controls and dimming
LED fixture replacement retrofit cons:
- Longer, more expensive installation
- Higher up-front cost than LED replacement lamps
- Potential for difficulty in upgrading to future emerging technologies
You can also ask yourself these key questions:
- Are you working on a new construction project or complete remodel?
- If you are working on a new construction project, LED fixtures are probably the best starting point to consider.
- Do your existing light fixtures need maintenance or repair?
- There are some cases when fixture repairs, combined with the cost of upgrading to LED, makes it worth paying for a fixture replacement.
- Do you need to meet specific building codes based on controls or fixture wattage?
- Building codes are becoming more stringent on efficiency and controls requirements. (See Title 24 above)
- Are there rebates involved in your lighting decision?
- One final consideration in the debate of LED fixtures versus plug-and-play replacements is the question of rebates. While the cost of LED fixtures is generally greater, so are the potential incentive programs to offset the up-front cost.
FAQ: Common lighting questions for commercial offices
Problems to solve in commercial office lighting
- What’s the difference between a lamp and fixture retrofit?
|LED Lamp Retrofit Pros||LED Lamp Retrofit Cons|
|Quick, easy installation||Maximum fixture wattage remains the same (applies to Title 24)|
|Significant efficiency gain||Common challenges with dimming|
|Strong rebate programs|
|LED Fixture Retrofit Pros||LED Fixture Retrofit Cons|
|Maximum control over light output and placement||Longer, more expensive installation|
|Longer life rating that LED lamps||Generally higher upfront costs than LED replacement lamps|
|Lower maximum fixture wattage than traditional fixtures||Potential for difficulty in upgrading to future emerging technologies|
|Excellent performance for controls and dimming|
- What is a ballast?
- We consider the ballast the functional heart of a lighting fixture. We explain more here.
- What is a ballast factor?
- Ballast factor is calculated by dividing the lumen output of a lamp-ballast combination by the lumen output of the same lamp(s) on a reference ballast. A ballast factor of <1 means that your fluorescent system will produce less light (lumens) than the reference ballast and a factor of >1 means it will produce more light. Ballast factor also impacts the actual energy usage of the connected light bulbs.
- What’s the difference between kW and kWh?
- Kilowatt (kW) usage is the total potential energy drawn from the power lines if you were to turn all of your electricity on at once. Kilowatt-hour (kWh) usage, however, is how electricity is consumed over time as you operate your facility.
- How do you convert fluorescent tubes to LED?
- The lowest upfront cost option: Anything that’s 17 watts or greater
- These lamps are typically less than $10 and still give you plenty of energy efficiency. You can use an existing ballast with them and they last around 36,000 hours.
- Highest light output option: 15 watt lamp
- These lamps are around $17 and have a superior light output of 2,200 lumens.
- Most energy efficient option: 12 watt lamp.
- This lamp is about $13 and lasts about 50,000 hours, giving good maintenance savings.
- The lowest upfront cost option: Anything that’s 17 watts or greater
- What is lamp life and how does it compare to rated life?
- Average rated life is an average rating, in hours, indicating when 50 percent of a large group of lamps has failed.
- Lamp life is the expected operating time. Most, but not all, lamps will meet the lamp life hours. In other words… how long will your LED lights really last? Click here for more resources.
- What is wattage? The measure of how much energy a lamp needs to light up.
- What about lumens? This measurement expresses the overall light output or quantity of light produced.
- Should I be concerned with color temperature? Color temperature is measured in Kelvin and indicates whether a lamp has a warm, midrange, or cool color appearance. This is important to consider if you’re concerned about worker productivity.
- Is color rendering index relevant to me? Color rendering index, or CRI, measures the visual effect a light source has on the perceived color of objects it illuminates. High CRI light generally makes colors natural and vibrant. Low CRI causes come colors to appear washed out or even to take on a completely different hue.
Lighting can be complicated, but we try to make it easier. If you’re looking for more answers to lighting jargon, click here to download our lighting glossary.
Still have questions?
Bottom line: there is never a one-size-fits-all approach to lighting. We hope you found the answers you were looking for on commercial office lighting.
But if you have still have more questions – we’re happy to help you walk through the process.