Complete Guide to
School Lighting

Everything you need to know about LED lighting maintenance, which LED light bulbs to buy, and how to save on energy costs





Think about this…

Students might spend more awake hours in a classroom than at home. Creating a warm yet exciting learning environment is key to driving success, helping students feel safe, and inspiring new goals.

From primary schools to universities, lighting can enhance and support the learning experience for students, teachers, and other workers every single day.

The benefits also stretch beyond education. With this guide, we will walk you through ways to conserve energy and costs while keeping students top of mind.

Common types of lighting for schools


With so many 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 that may help in your decision-making process.

  • CRI or Color Rendering Index: A number between 0 and 100 that is used to predict how well a product renders color. The closer to 100, the better – or truer – colors should look under its light. For schools and universities, having a higher CRI means better readability in classrooms or libraries. It might not be as important in hallways, dining areas, or bathrooms.

  • CCT or correlated color temperature: A gauge of how yellow or blue the color of light emitted from a light bulb appears. It’s measured in the Kelvin unit (K) and is commonly found between 2400 K and 6500 K. If you want to create a warmer atmosphere, you probably want a CCT between 2700 and 3500. Other areas like classrooms and hallways might benefit from a cooler (or bluer) color temperature.

Dining area Warmer color temperatures tend to work well in dining areas. Consider lighting in the 2700-3500K range.
Common areas and classrooms Cooler color temperatures (3500-5000K) are good for setting an energetic atmostphere and promoting alertness.

To simplify your maintenance purchases, we’re listing below the most common types of light bulbs found in schools and universities, plus the LED equivalent. You can shop for them in our online store. Click here to register for a business account and get discounted pricing for your school.

Found in: classrooms, hallways, dining areas, parking garages Found in: classrooms, administrative offices Found in: gyms, stadiums, parking lots, parking garages

As you replace your light bulbs – don’t forget to recycle them properly. Fluorescent light bulbs used in many schools contain mercury and can’t just be thrown in a landfill. Regency Lighting is a one-stop lighting and electronic recycling provider, allowing you to safely get rid of materials like lamps, ballasts, thermostats, exit signs, and electronics.

Maintenance tips for schools


Lighting at schools and universities should be as low maintenance as possible. It’s very inconvenient to have ladders blocking hallways during busy class changes because you need to replace a light bulb. And what if it’s time for a basketball game and one of the gym lights won’t turn on?

Here’s the bottom line when it comes to maintenance: take care of the hard places first.

If you’re struggling with this, you need a strategy. We have three ways to cut the time and materials you spend on lighting maintenance:


Prioritize hard-to-maintain area: This should be the first step in your maintenance plan. Most likely, hard-to-maintain areas are also areas where safety is critical, like parking lots or garages, gyms, hallways, and dining areas. The last thing you want is a student to fall because of bad lighting or feel unsafe walking on campus.


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. Winter or summer breaks might be a great time to try this strategy. This is especially effective if you’re dealing with high, hard-to-reach fixtures (like in gyms) or busy areas (like hallways).


Schedule maintenanceWork 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 just before the district championship.


Keep product stocked: The best way to improve the chances of a quickly resolved maintenance request is to stock common products.

You most likely have a lot of fluorescent light bulbs inside your school building, and HIDs outside the building. Both HIDs and fluorescents run off a ballast, so it’s also a good idea to keep stock of a few ballasts in addition to light bulbs.

Managing energy costs for schools and universities


You’re probably familiar with the overall energy costs for your school building. It can fluctuate based on climate, time of year, and the school calendar. But you might not be familiar with how much lighting contributes to the overall costs.

The National Energy Education Development Project found that on average, 17 percent of the electricity used in schools is to operate lights.

Most schools use fluorescent tubes throughout the building. Fluorescent light bulbs are moderately energy efficient, but there are other options that still give big energy savings.

We like to use the lighting pyramid to explain energy costs by type of lighting. You can see fluorescent lighting is in the middle of the pyramid.


The easiest way to save on energy costs is to upgrade to LEDs, or to move up the pyramid.
If your school district, college, or university is sticking with fluorescent lights, we have several options
for more savings.

  1. Consider the type of linear fluorescent tube you’re using. There are three different sizes: T12s, T8s, and T5s.

    • T12s were very common 20 years ago, but manufacturers are phasing them out. They use the most energy, and they’re the widest in size.

    • T8s are a little more energy efficient, generally using about 32 watts. They are one inch in diameter. This is a common choice for fluorescent tubes today.

    • T5s are the smallest linear fluorescent tubes and the most energy efficient. They use about 24 watts. But before you buy, you should know T5s commonly have the brightest output and might not be the best option in every setting.

  1. Check the ballast type. Fluorescent light bulbs must run off a ballast to operate, and ballasts use energy. There are two different types of ballasts: magnetic and electronic. The magnetic ballast is older and not as energy efficient. The electronic ballast can use up to 30 percent less energy, plus may help reduce eye strain (a bonus for students).

  2. Check the ballast factor. In addition to the ballast type, ballast factor is another consideration in saving electricity with fluorescent tubes but consider the options carefully. Here is a guide to ballast factor.


If you have already upgraded to LEDs, you might want to consider saving even more money with lighting controls. (Note: fluorescent light bulbs also work with simple lighting controls, like occupancy sensors. But they may require a dimmable fluorescent ballast.)

Teachers have enough to deal with and may forget to turn off the light switch before they leave the room. But leaving lights on in an empty classroom can be a huge waste of money. Or at a college or university, lecture classrooms or study rooms may be empty for hours at a time. Using controls to automate when lights turn on and off can save a lot of money on energy costs.

Lighting control systems can be as simple or as complicated as you would like.
Here are a few basic options:

Dimmers: Dimming light bulbs reduces wattage and output, resulting in energy savings. This can also help set different tones in classrooms.

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. This is a great option for classrooms, because the lights can turn off during lunch or recess. 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: School hours are limited, so you maybe you only need lights on for certain hours of the day. Timers may be the best option to consider.

Lighting controls can also give you a lot of flexibility. That’s what the University of Texas at Dallas learned when it upgraded its HIDs to LEDs in its activity center.


Now the facility manager can easily dim the lights for special events or functions like graduation ceremonies. Plus, the lights can turn on and off from a smartphone. That’s especially helpful when yoga class starts at 5 a.m.

The new lighting also improved the atmosphere during games for everyone: players, spectators, and at-home television viewers.

There’s another added bonus: the school has cut back on both energy consumption and maintenance needs.


Creating learning environments with classroom lighting


Over the past 20 years, there have been a lot of studies about the effects of lighting in classrooms. Perhaps one of your children’s teachers are turning off their overhead fluorescents and utilizing more desk and floor lamps.

With new LED technology, teachers are able to take their lighting to the next level. The Office of Energy Efficiency and renewable energy recently wrote about three elementary school classrooms that tested tunable white LED lights.

Color tuning is a relatively new technology that separates dimming arrays of warm (more yellow) and cool (more blue) LEDs. This allows the user to tune the color to whatever they want, creating different moods and even helping biological factors.

With the tunable lighting system installed at school in Folsom, California, teachers could change color and also dim lights.

Here’s a summary of how the test worked and the results. Spoiler alert: teachers said changing lighting captured children’s attention better than anything else they tried.

  1. Goal: The goal of the study was to understand how the new LED lighting system correlated to student health and academic performance, especially in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

  2. Implementation: Teachers had touchpads to control the lighting, and each of them used it differently. Some used presets that changed the CCT (correlated color temperature) while others simply used it for the on and off function. Overall, they liked having the option to customize their classroom.

  3. Results: Teachers noted that changing the light was the best way to transition students from one activity to another, and to easily get their attention. They all agreed the new system significantly improved their classroom atmosphere.

On top of the educational benefits, the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found the LED system would save 46% in energy costs over the fluorescent system.

Lighting safety and building codes


Keeping students safe throughout the day is probably your top priority. You might not realize it, but lighting is a big contributor to safety.

As a basic safety practice, make sure hallways, stairs, floors, and ramps all around the property or campus are properly lit.

Here are a few specific safety approaches for schools:

  1. Proper, bright lighting in gyms or arenas. The right lighting in gyms can reduce the amount of accidents or hazards for students and any spectators.

  2. Well-lit parking lots or parking garages. Even elementary schools hold after-school activities. Keeping parking lots well-lit should be a top priority for students and their parents. On a larger campus, the last thing you want is a student or employee to feel unsafe walking to their car parked in a garage.

  3. Easy-to-see exterior lighting. Quality lighting outside of your building will help people see where they’re going. Dimly lit signs can cause confusion.

Title 24 and schools

Some schools, community colleges, and universities in California also have to meet Title 24 standards. Title 24 applies to new construction and building renovations. It’s triggered any time you pull a building permit, and it significantly impacts lighting and lighting controls.

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.

LEED certification for school buildings

Another consideration for new buildings today is LEED certification. The U.S. Green Building Council developed LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a green building rating system that businesses across the world have adopted, designed to save energy, water, and money.

Lighting controls and LEDs can help contribute to a LEED certification and school success. For colleges and universities, this can also attract students. Green initiatives and sustainability are big draws for younger generations.

Where to start with LED retrofits


It’s no secret – switching to LEDs can save you money long-term. But we get it, the upfront cost can be a deterrent.

Switching to LED doesn’t have to be an all-at-once commitment. You can start small and work your way up.

If you’re going to retrofit your school lighting in small steps, you probably want to take an approach similar to maintenance. Target the hardest to maintain areas first.

  1. Hallways
    Changing out light bulbs in hallways is distracting and a safety hazard. Plus, hallway lights are most likely turned “on” for the longest time throughout the day. Upgrading to LED here can mean instant savings and less maintenance.

  2. Gyms
    This is another area where inconvenient maintenance can disrupt events. You don’t want to be in a lift while basketball players and fans wait for you to change a light bulb. Or worse, think of possible delays during a graduation ceremony. Plus, LEDs don’t take as long to light up as HIDs.

  3. Parking lots and exterior lighting
    Switching to LEDs in your parking lot can provide brighter, more even lighting. That means you also get a safety upgrade with your LED upgrade. Plus, it’s another place to think about using that bucket truck a little less often.

  4. Classrooms
    Since so much time is spent in the classroom, we included this on our list. A teacher doesn’t want any more disruptions, like dragging a ladder into a classroom during the middle of class to change a light bulb. This can also be high-burn area that could equal more savings by converting to LEDs.

Another decision to consider before you dive into the land of LEDs: should you 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

Because LEDs are now more reliable and efficient – and manufacturers are lowering prices – it’s now costing you to wait to retrofit to LEDs.

We’ve talked to a lot of customers who have several boxes of fluorescent tubes they’re trying to use before they buy LEDs. So that had us thinking, how long would it take to pay for the LED upgrade and cover the cost of unused inventory of fluorescent tubes?

We explore the payback in this blog post, but the answer to that question is most likely under a year.

You can also use the calculator we created for your own estimates.

FAQ: Common lighting questions for schools and universities

If I upgrade to LED, will the colors be consistent?

Color consistency is a big concern, especially when you are looking to create a specific atmosphere in your school building. It’s a problem that can surface immediately or as you replace bulbs over time. Your first option is to buy from a reputable manufacturer with a tight color consistency policy. The second option is color tuning. The second option is color tuning.It’s a more advanced option that we discuss here.

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 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.

How long do LED lamps and fixtures last?

LEDs are not like traditional light bulbs, where one day they will suddenly not turn on. You may notice they’re not as bright when they start to lose their life, but before they stop completely. The actual lifespan depends on the application of the lamp and the fixture.

Should I worry about wattage?

Wattage is the measure of how much energy a lamp needs to light up. This will differ based on the application, and what type of light bulb you are using. If you’re using LEDs, your wattage will probably be lower, which means less energy and more savings.

What about lumens?

This measurement expresses the overall light output or quantity of light produced. More lumens means it’s a brighter light, less lumens means it’s a dimmer light. This may be an important factor as you decide how to set the ambiance of your classrooms or libraries.

Will dimming lights cause them to flicker?

Dimming lights is becoming more common in schools and universities to help with the learning environment. If you are trying to dim lights, make sure you buy a compatible dimmer switch. If you’re trying to dim LEDs, the technology today is better, but you could still run into problems. We look at common issues here.

Lighting can be complicated, but we try to make it easier.

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 common school lighting challenges.

But if you have still have more questions – we’re happy to help you walk through the process.

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