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It’s Not As Simple As Changing A Lightbulb

Updated: Oct 10, 2022

by Jeff Martin, Chief Operating Officer

How many people does it take to change a lightbulb?

We’ve all heard this old joke. And the answer is usually at the expense of someone who isn’t working as efficiently as they could be.

The irony here is that this is my world. As Chief Operating Officer at Donovan Energy, my team does a lot of commercial LED lighting replacement projects.

Why? Because they generate a ton of savings for buildings that are still using inefficient lighting technologies, like incandescent and sodium metal halide. And the payback periods are often quite short - sometimes less than a year, often less than 2 years, and almost always less than 3. Simply said, these projects just make a lot of sense.

But one thing I still encounter is how often companies think they can update their inefficient lighting one bulb or fixture at a time as each lightbulb goes out. As the old joke suggests, this seems like the sensible and efficient way to do it.

Here’s why it’s not.

Updating commercial LED lighting and fixtures in a warehouse, an office space, or a manufacturing facility without a comprehensive plan results in higher energy, material, and maintenance costs. It leads to a larger carbon footprint, sub-par lighting, and improperly disposed waste.

Workers are left with a lower quality work environment because the lighting selected and installed is sometimes the wrong color, level, wattage, CRI value, or consistency for the area and its use. This isn’t just a matter of aesthetics (though, for some, that is also a major factor). Poor lighting can cause headaches, eye strain, and tiredness, all of which can contribute to unsafe working conditions.

To avoid this outcome, commercial LED lighting projects should be performed by experts that know how to conduct a proper lighting audit; utilize audit data to design proper commercial LED lighting systems that will optimize both cost savings and quality; and execute installations at scale, involving a large amount of materials.

Lighting audits are an especially important step because they identify specific solutions to address poor lighting quality AND energy conservation measures (ECMs). They’ll help you understand the costs involved, as well as the opportunities available to capture economies of scale and to leverage vendor relationships, rebates, tax incentives, and financing.

Here’s what an experienced lighting team can do:

Step 1: Lighting Audit

To get a good estimate of how much savings can be achieved through a commercial LED lighting upgrade project, you need a thorough understanding of the facility and current lighting environment. This should start with a review of floor plans, drawings, and utility bills.

Next is a room-to-room site visit usually lasting 2-3 hours, where engineers photograph and plot every existing light fixture and lamp in the space, noting the color temperature, wattage, height off the floor, type of lighting, usability, accessibility, etc. They also capture the features of each room, including occupancy, the type of work that occurs there, fixtures/equipment, special conditions, burn hours, natural lighting, etc.

This is the level of detailed data required to fully estimate the cost of the project and total savings you can achieve through a commercial LED lighting upgrade project.

Step 2: Data Analysis & Financial Projections

With proper analysis, the comprehensive information collected during a lighting audit can be used to design an optimal commercial LED lighting configuration for every space and to project cost savings, payback and ROI. An experienced technician can also make important determinations such as whether there needs to be a 1:1 replacement, if a simple bulb or lamp replacement would do, or if a different type of fixture would be more advantageous.

Solution design should be based on detailed analysis of customer needs with a final approved report going to labor teams, material, transportation, recycling, and financing partners so that everyone involved in the project fully understands the full scope and anticipated outcomes.

Step 3: Project Execution

The project execution phase is no less complex, with a large amount of material that needs to be removed and a large amount that needs to be installed. An experienced team will place material orders and then actively track lead times and shipping schedules for every item ordered. They’ll stage material until the site is ready to receive them and coordinate with the client to deliver material and start the project.

Depending on the type of business, teams should be accustomed to working on off-hours, weekends, in hazardous environments, or whatever it takes to get the job done safely and efficiently. This includes the proper removal, staging, and disposal of the old fixtures. Once the plan is implemented, the new commercial LED lighting system will be easy for your company’s electricians to maintain for years.


High-efficiency commercial LED lighting is actually more complex than most realize. But when it’s done with purpose and reason, it benefits the environment and can have a significant impact on your business, workers, and bottom line.

If you're interested in exploring how new lighting systems can improve your working environments, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us for more information.

Because, as it turns out, it does indeed take many people to change lightbulbs.


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