Kurt Beres


Why Maintenance is not a factor when discussing energy-saving lighting alternatives

  • FEBRUARY 18, 2011
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It is staggering how often we see maintenance rolled into a client's total return on investment regarding lighting alternatives from manufacturers and other designers. It is written as fact and preached as gospel but usually we don’t include it. Maybe we just like to go against the grain or perhaps it just looks prettier as a footnote on the bottom of the page, but more often we don’t even mention it. “Why?” Is often a question we hear from salesmen. “We have the manufacturers stated maintenance factors?”

The simple answer is maintenance factors are projections. Masked in magic, bathed in voodoo and surrounded by mist for most small to medium-size businesses they are nothing but a puff of smoke or the rabbit magically pulled from the magicians hat.

The reason is most small businesses have no maintenance staff - the lamps are replaced as they burn out by the owner or one of the employees. There will be the cost of the lamp, but providing an accurate gauge for that is conjecture. Most lamp life’s are given to the point that 50% in testing facilities have failed. So that 20,000 hour T8 might last only 10,000 hours or as long as 40,000 hours. During the life of a 70,000 hour LED lamp the small business owner may have replaced the low cost T8 lamp as many as 7 times or as little as once. Over time the cost difference between the low cost lamp and the more expensive lamp is small when labor is not a factor. Lamp life and maintenance costs only become a factor for small businesses when the order of magnitude in the life of the lamps is huge - maybe comparing that 500 hr A lamp with the 12,000 hr CFL. Suddenly replacing a lamp as many as 24 times might change the argument, but more likely they will make that change not because of maintenance but because of the promised energy savings.

The medium-sized business owner may have a single maintenance person or a staff. They are most likely replacing lamps one at a time, and changing light bulbs isn’t a big part of their daily job. Lamp costs once again will be the only real maintenance cost as pink slips probably aren’t going to be handed out to the maintenance guy any time soon. However maintenance is even less likely to be a factor because the medium-sized business already has abandoned A lamps and all of its incandescent brethren, so the big game change in maintenance and energy already occurred.

The only time when maintenance becomes a factor is with large businesses. These behemoths of modern industry don’t want to be bothered with a burnt out lamp. They replace all the lamps in a single go and hire an outside company (Company B) to do it. Since they are replacing so many lamps at once (and on a regular cycle) the cost of the lamp and the frequency in which they are replaced suddenly matter. Longer life lamps mean they hire company B less often and even though these fancy lamps might be more expensive the major cost of mass re-lamping is usually the labor.

So to make a big story small, maintenance just simply isn’t a factor unless you are…. Big.

Kurt Beres


Kurt is a talented lighting designer with a flare for details. His favorite restaurant is Mad Mex, and he is a dedicated Cleveland Browns fan.