EXIT out of high facility operations costs

Today, we’re going to address a more unique and specialized issue that applies to building and facilities maintenance in relation to fire code and public safety, and ways older facilities can gain the financial and labor benefits of newer technology without spending an arm and a leg. Why? Because I’ve been doing a lot of large-scale facilities maintenance lately, so it’s on my mind. You, gentle reader, might not own a property yourself where you need to know of these things, but you probably frequent a location that does… and you likely care enough about that place to want to help ensure their longer term existence.

I’ve been working diligently to help reduce some operational costs for a facility that the Missus and I attend regularly, and one of the points that came to the forefront recently were the ubiquitous EXIT signs located throughout the building. It’s one of those things that a lot of people just take for granted and never pay much attention to. I certainly know I never looked much at the things, but since this latest project run, I notice them far more… and the thing that makes me cringe is what I’m now seeing in a lot of older buildings. I’ve lost count of how many exit signs I’ve seen the past few weeks around the area that are still clearly being illuminated and constantly replaced with expensive incandescent lightbulbs. As I have discovered with many of these signs, the average bulb uses between 15-20W a piece, takes two bulbs, and the bulbs in question frequently run between $3-5 a pop depending on where you buy them and the style needed… and don’t seem to last more than a year or two at most before burning out. And of course, nobody wants to replace these older signs because it costs money to buy newer LED units and have them installed by electricians and and and…

…and this is INSANE.

I know a couple municipalities demand the usage of white lamps in these signs for illuminating the egress points themselves underneath the exit signs, but very few do so, and most exit signs I’ve seen in the area still running incandescents either don’t have the bottom illumination point anyway or are located as such that it doesn’t make a lick of difference. Honestly, photo-luminescent egress lighting along hallway floors and around doorways are probably a better idea anyway if you’re going to get into hardcore public safety mode, but I’ve digressed.

Let’s find the cost of running just a single 30W exit sign for a year at a reasonable 10¢ a kWh with an average bulb replacement of one a year at about $3 a lamp. As you can tell from calculations, the cost of burning 30W of electricity 24 hours a day at 10¢ a kWh works out to about $26.21 a year. By our two metric with bulb replacement, we wind up with a total cost of $29.21 for a year of operation for a single one of these older exit signs running incandescent lights.

Exit Sign before LED changes
Exit Sign before LED changes.
Despite the lack of difference between this photo and the after thanks to my crappy phone camera, this image is more representative of what the sign looked like with the incandescent lamps: bright yellow hot spot in the center where the light had degraded the red coloring in the sign filter.

Of course, I’ve heard from a couple people who tried LED lighting in these things to save some money but were grossly disappointed. Upon further research, these people were using the “white” LED lamps in these signs which makes sense given the disappointment experienced. White LED lighting is still relatively immature technology and has problems with keeping its rated brightness long term, which is a common theme in user complaints I’ve noticed over the years. They also typically prematurely fail due to the electronics driving the LEDs. Of course, CFL lighting is out of the question as well as the dimensions of the lamps needed aren’t really obtainable outside of the G series bi-pin sockets, which don’t exactly adapt well to screw in bases, especially without ballasts. Even if there were a CFL solution, there’s too many problems with the technology from environmental safety, overall efficiency and general durability standpoints. As such, most of these people suspect that the only option left is to either keep going with the signage they have with the incandescents or pay to replace them with newer red or green LED models. Congratulations, you’re actually wrong about this assumption!

Exit Sign after LED changes
Exit Sign after LED changes.
Although you can’t tell in this image, the visible hot spots in the lighting had minimized, and overall illumination improved with a pleasant even red glow.

Instead of trying to use expensive LED bulbs designed for general lighting, outfits like Barron Lighting Group’s Exitronics and TCP have created these standard bulb retrofit kits for exit signs using single color LEDs. You can obtain these bulbs for between $12-15 a pair through outfits such as 1000Bulbs or even Amazon. (Note the Amazon link is a referral link to a general search page – non-referral link here.) We’re trying out the Exitronix RT2 bulbs currently in the basement, and are immensely pleased with the end results despite the difficulty seeing the difference between the two in the lousy photos I took.

And of course, running the numbers are incredibly favorable given the new power usage of these particular signs have gone from 30W to 2.4W, providing us more than a 90% energy efficiency improvement for each sign with an average annual running cost of $2.10 at 10¢ a kWh. Added bonus? These bulbs are warranted for five years and are rated for 25 years of service! Not bad for a $14 investment, as the savings in electrical usage alone will pay for itself in less than six months. Multiply this savings across a facility with 20-30 older-style incandescent exit signs, you start to see the real impact on energy efficiency and general maintenance costs this change can make… even if you have to replace them every five years instead of 25. You can’t put a price on the safety of the people in your buildings, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t solutions that can provide for their continued safety in an incredibly cost-efficient manner in older buildings.

Of course, this isn’t the perfect solution for everyone and for every sign as municipal fire code laws will vary from place to place, but this is a superb and cost effective solution for a lot of situations: those older buildings where exit sign fixtures have been worked into the masonry, for places where you’d normally have to hire an electrician to make the changes, or you have really nice older metal signage that you don’t want to give up or can’t afford to replace. For those situations? They’re perfect!


Photo entitled “Exit Sign” by Flickr user mtellin and licensed for use under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

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