October 26, 2016
Written by Bob Nieman, CLA Member
The Keys to efficient and Impactful laundry Lighting
In the most recent Coin Laundry Association survey on laundromat customer behavior, two of the top three answers respondents gave as reasons why they would choose one self-service laundry over another are “cleanliness” and “safety and security.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, both of these reasons are strongly related to a laundry’s lighting situation.
After all, with the proper lighting, even an adequately clean store will sparkle and shine. And a laundromat that’s lit up like a Christmas tree is most certainly going to give a strong impression of being a safe place to bring the family to do the weekly washing.
“I think lighting is a very important aspect to consider when owners are thinking of ways to improve their stores, and certainly before constructing a new building or renovating and existing one,” said George Pierce of Pierce Commercial Laundry Distributors in Mandeville, La. “Store owners should think about the importance of lighting not only as a way to make customers feel safe, but also to create an ambiance that makes each customer feel comfortable.
“Owners should always think of lighting as tool for creating the look of the store they are going after, while achieving efficiency that will lower their expenses,” he continued. “Lighting should be used to create a safe, secure environment for store patrons.”
Karl Hinrichs of HK Laundry Equipment, based in Armonk, N.Y., agreed with Pierce on the critical importance of lighting.
“You want your customers to feel good about washing and drying their clothes in your laundromat,” Hinrichs explained. “Plenty of good lighting will make the clothes look cleaner. Plenty of bright lighting also has the benefit of the customer feeling happier. Scientists have determined that a portion of the population suffers from mild depression during the winter months, due to a lack of sunlight; plenty of light at the proper spectrum will reduce the feelings of depression. So, yes, lighting can make your customers feel better, especially in the winter months – and we all want happy customers. In addition, lighting can promote a feeling of cleanliness, as well as of safety and security.”
Provided you have clear open windows that face a main road, proper lighting also will create a dynamic “billboard” for potential laundry customers to see as they pass your store, Hinrichs added. “In this case, lighting can help market your business,” he said.
“Lighting is right up there with cleanliness, as far as the impact it has on a store’s business,” said Russ Arbuckle of Wholesale Commercial Laundry Equipment SE, headquartered in Southside, Ala. “Your store could be clean as whistle, but if it’s dark, customers will associate that with dirty. Create a spacious look with your lighting and accent your equipment.”
Designing Your Store’s Lighting
It was hard to find a laundry distributor who didn’t trumpet the merits of today’s LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.
“Years ago, we always recommended high-output eight-foot florescent bulbs,” Arbuckle said. “But, with the advent of LED lighting, that should be the first choice. Although they’re three to four times more expensive, the life expectancy is typically more than double. Also, LEDS don’t slowly dim as they age, and the cost to run them can be two-thirds less than the typical florescent bulbs.
“Obviously, budgets are always a factor, but you need to consider long-term operating and replacement costs, as well as the time and effort to maintain and replace your lighting. Owners should make their lighting choices based on all of these factors, not just the dollars.”
Whether retrofitting of existing fixtures or replacement with new fixtures, LED lights are considered ideal for laundromats because they provide a better light output for safety considerations and can save between 50 percent and 70 percent of the energy costs of the existing lighting being used, according to Steven Lulias of SMS Building Systems, a lighting company that works extensively on laundry projects with Equipment Marketers in Cherry Hill, N.J.
“With many laundromats open 24 hours, the energy savings can be significant,” said Lulias, adding that store owners can expect LEDs to last five to 10 years or longer.
“Today, it only make sense to purchase LED lighting,” Hinrichs said. “This was not the case even a couple of years ago, but the dropping cost of LED fixtures makes it economically justifiable to spend the extra money on LED lighting – for both outside lighting and interior lighting. Service lights behind the dryers that are only turned on occasionally should be less-expensive T8 lights, but all customer-area lighting for new construction should be LEDs.”
“Steel-framed buildings are the norm for the new laundries we build,” Pierce explained. “Typically, a suspended ceiling with recessed lighting is the choice in new and existing stores – and we suggest LED lights. The initial cost is higher than for florescent lamps, but the efficiency and durability is much higher. I would suggest that owners choose efficient lights with lamps that are easy to replace. Some recessed lights have lamps that can be difficult to change, while others are designed to make it easy.”
When considering a lighting upgrade, Lulias suggests the following:
• Identify the fixture types currently being used. Typically, they’ll be fluorescent 2x2 or 2x4 fixtures.
• Are the current fixtures in reusable condition? Can they be retrofitted? Most tube fixtures, screw-in bulbs and outdoor lighting can be upgraded.
• Identify how the fixtures are mounted. For example, is there a drop ceiling in which the fixture is mounted?
• Select a color temperature. The industry standards are 4,000K (which is a softer white, often used in offices) and 5,000K (which is white light and more closely resembles daylight). For laundries, 5,000K is often recommended.
• Does the store require more light, or is the current level adequate?
• Are utility rebates available? These can help offset the cost of the fixtures and can be applied for through the local electric utility.
Lulias added, for a new installation, a 40W to 50W, 2x4 or linear LED fixture will cover up to 64 square feet and would typically be laid out in a logical grid based on the drop ceiling. For darkened outside areas, wall packs or parking fixtures should be added.
Pierce noted that the layout of a store’s lighting is a crucial factor for owners to consider. Lighting colors, brightness and the projection of the light are all things operators can choose before buying, he pointed out.
“I always suggest that the lights be placed in patterns that work with the layout of the equipment,” he said. “If you look at a plan view of a store’s equipment layout and place the lighting in that view, there should be matching patterns. I like using spot lighting above the dryers, seating areas and other areas to highlight those elements of the store.”
“Lighting should be placed over the aisles and over the folding tables,” Hinrichs suggested. “In addition, there is no such thing as too much lighting. You can only have too little, but never too much. We will talk to architects, and they will double the amount of lighting typically found in an office space. We usually end up doubling that amount again just to get the amount of lights we feel we need for a store.”
Sterling Phillips of Sterling Equipment Sales in Stanton, Calif. warned that lighting needs to be placed so as not to create any dark or shaded areas, especially with regard to any hanging signs or other décor items that may block the light.
“In laundries with few windows or that are deep, I put in more lighting to bring in some brightness,” Phillips explained. “They need to be close enough to each other to keep the brightness consistent everywhere. All walkways and vending centers should have light right above, if possible. I also include lighting on the exterior of the laundry – canopy lights in front and back and flood lights off of the buildings to brighten up the parking area or surrounding sidewalks. Customers need to be safe inside and outside of our laundries, especially at night.”
• “LED technology continues to increase in capabilities. It’s important to make sure the LED solutions being selected are producing more than 120 lumen per watt, which means more light output with less energy. Also, be sure you’re not pushed to install new fixtures that cost more to purchase and install, if the existing fixtures are reusable and can be retrofitted with LEDs – you’ll get all of the benefits at a lower cost.” – Steven Lulias
• “Don’t forget to consider lighting during the design phase. There are minimum efficiency standards that must be met for new and renovated buildings. A lot of people don’t realize that a lighting plan has to been submitted and approved to get a building permit for new construction and renovations of existing buildings. It’s important to plan how lighting will be used to accent features of the store, provide for a safe environment for customers and to pass inspections.” – George Pierce
• “Don’t place all of your store’s lighting on one grid. With today’s lighting, you can have it on multiple grids. This allows you to keep your store lit at night, without needing to have all of the lights on.” – Craig Dakauskas, Commercial & Coin Laundry Equipment Co., Gulf Breeze, Fla.
• “The laundromat owner needs to be sure to install enough lights to properly illuminate the entire interior and exterior of the store. This will help scare away ‘bad guys,’ promote the store and create a feel-good environment for the customers. Too little lighting is a major pitfall and placing lighting over the machines rather than over the aisles and folding tables is another mistake. The worst sin is having too few lights and dark corners, which create hiding places for mischief to occur.” – Karl Hinrichs
• “When stores are new, they obviously have new bulbs. Where I see owners making mistakes is in replacement – not making storewide bulb change-outs as soon as the first bulbs begin to show signs of deteriorating. We suggest this because, as the bulbs begin to breakdown, they put a larger strain on the ballast, which is the most expensive part to replace in a fixture. If owners replace all of their bulbs promptly, the long-term cost effectiveness is that they are only replacing bulbs at $6 to $9 each, as opposed to ballasts, which can run from $45 to $65 each.” – Russ Arbuckle
According to Dr. Laura Prestwood Thompson, director of the TCU Center for Lighting Education, by 2025 most retail lighting will be LED, which is more complicated than traditional lighting.
“LED is not just a light bulb – it has a brain,” Thompson explained. “The majority of interior retail lighting in 2025 will be LED. This includes retrofitting and new construction.”
Thompson pointed out several advantages to using LED lighting.
“You get a lot of lumens from a few watts,” she said. “You get 13 to 15 lumens from 60 to 70 watts. This translates to high ROI from high efficacy. LED lights last 50,000-plus hours, so maintenance in changing them is lower. There is no mercury, lead or glass. They are durable and dimmable.”
Furthermore, Thompson said LED will become a mainstream lighting technology over time, as its costs come down.
“LED will be affordable for the masses in 10 to 15 years,” Thompson predicted. Part of the expansion in retail LED lighting Thompson sees in the next 10 years or so is a vast increase in its use for exterior as well as interior lighting.
“By 2025, virtually all exterior lighting will be LED,” she stated. “Right now, we have serious light pollution. Light is wasted shining up or on ‘light trespass,’ which is the uncontrolled glare or light from another property intruding on a property.”
Other lighting trends to keep an eye on include:
Connectivity. With LEDs comprehensively in the mainstream, the next frontier in lighting is controls. Call it “smart,” call it “connected,” call it what you like – the point is that your lights can be controlled. Dimmers and sensors have been around forever, but the challenge now is to make them more sophisticated, get them to communicate with other devices and make sure people use them. Energy saving is only the start of the potential benefits.
The internet of things. The internet of things is the term used to describe what happens when it’s no longer just computers and smartphones that are connected to the web, but also your fridge, your coffee cup, your heart monitor and your LED lights. Lighting is an ideal network for internet-of-things services to be built on – because it’s already there in the ceiling of every building, looking down at us, wired up and ready to go. You only have to add a few sensors or cameras and some kind of data connection.
New power technologies. Until now, LED luminaires have typically come with a “driver” that converts the mains electricity supply into a form the light can use. But now new power technologies are appearing, with a range of benefits. Drivers are often the first component of a lighting system to fail, so some companies are taking them out of the equation. In fact, the latest innovation is power-over-Ethernet, which provides electricity through data cables.
Healthier lighting. Light influences how productive we are at work, how well we learn and how quickly we recover from illness. The rise of LEDs means it’s gradually getting easier and cheaper for lighting manufacturers to put this knowledge into practice, and make products that promote health – usually by adjusting the brightness and color of the light during the day to mimic natural light.
Lighting: Put Into Practice
Some of today’s self-service laundry owners shared their thoughts on the importance of laundry lighting, as well as their own personal experiences with the upgrade process:
Salem Laundry Co., Salem, Mass.
We switched to LED lighting for all of our stores a year ago. The light is bright, and the power company subsidized about 85 percent of the equipment and installation costs – with the remainder spread over the next 24 electric bills. There has been a net reduction in my monthly bill.
A well-lit laundry looks cleaner – that is, if it’s already clean in the first place. Plus, good lighting provides great curb appeal. Clothes always look brighter and cleaner when a store is properly lit. For those reasons, I usually put more than the “recommended amount” of lighting into a store.
Classic Drycleaners & Laundromats, South Central, Pa.
We’ve been upgrading our stores one by one to all LED lighting – interior, soffit and parking lot lights. The look is so clean. The lighting makes our recently renovated laundromats look brand new.
Two of our stores – each with large parking lots – are about 2,000 square feet, and they cost $20,000 each to upgrade, while the same-size stores with no parking lot or soffit lights cost approximately $12,000. We also installed daylight sensors so that, when it’s very sunny outside, half of the lights turn off.
We offset the cost of this lighting project with a $9,500 grant per store from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Our estimated payback is three to four years.
Brad and Karin Seder
Wash World, Santa Rosa, Calif.
One store features four-foot fluorescent tubes with electronic ballasts, and our second laundry was just converted to LED lighting.
The fluorescents are cheap and easy to replace; however, properly disposing of the used tubes is getting harder and more costly. The LEDs are a little harder to install, as the wiring has to be changed – but, if they ever require replacement, that will be simple. Our LEDs are 3,500K, and the light is bright and clean.
I measured the amp draw on the lights with four tubes each and electronic ballasts at 11.5 amps per bank. After the LED conversion, it’s down to seven amps per bank. The payback is 18 months on the cost of the kits, not including our labor to install the new lights.
In our opinion, LED’s longer life, less power usage and no disposal problems make them a winner. Also, our area is very conservation aware, so any improvement that is seen as green draws positive comments.
Anytime Laundry, Omaha, Neb.
I have 100 percent LED lighting throughout the entire store, inside and outside. Most people never mention the outside when discussing lighting, but I have a building that is extremely well-lit on three sides because of LEDs – and I have a parking lot with zero shadows or dark spots. Plus, it costs me just pennies a day in energy to run them all.
Those who are still burning bright metal halide are probably spending a dollar per light per day and not getting the same coverage I get with the LEDs. Anyone not converting to LEDs is wasting money. These lights pay for themselves in two years easily.
I even have LED-backlit signage, and it’s brighter than every other sign on the block, which makes it more noticeable than tube-lit T8 signs or neon signs.
It cost me $6,200 for everything, including replacing the back lighting of my sign. My utility bills represent 12 percent of gross revenue, and I run the air conditioning at 68 to 70 degrees constantly, even in July and August, when several days reach or get close to 100 degrees. LED lights don’t generate the heat other lighting does.
I know LEDs are a “green thing,” but I wouldn’t do it if it didn’t make money. The “green” aspect is just an added benefit.
Lighting is more important than many laundry owners realize. Drive through any dangerous area of your city. What do you notice? It’s poorly lit.
SLM Corp., Belton, S.C.
We’ve recently been updating the lighting at our company-owned laundries. We were approached by the local utility company, Duke Power, and asked to assist in helping reduce the electrical grid in this area. What they had in mind was to offer a discount on the cost and installation of replacing our inefficient T12 bulb fixtures with more cost-efficient and brighter T8 bulbs or LED fixtures at all of our laundries and our office.
The power company generated a report indicating our current power usage, versus the estimated power usage with new fixtures, along with the projected savings each month. The T8 fluorescent bulb supposedly uses 40 percent less energy than the older T12 bulb.
The average replacement cost for the laundries ranged from $3,600 to $10,500, depending on the size of the building and the number of fixtures. However, the power company absorbed most of this cost, and our expenses never exceeded $500 for any of the laundries being upgraded. It was an easy decision to proceed immediately.
We choose the T8 fluorescent bulb fixtures for the interior – because the cost was less – and the LED fixtures for the outside. The LED bulbs cost about three times more and last longer, but the power company suggested we remain with the T8s so that our ROI could be achieved more quickly. I also believed that we didn’t need the laundry to be real bright – like 5,000K – due to the sensitivity many people have to a very bright lights. So, we went with a 4,100K brightness.
Our stores are considerably brighter, and customers feel safer. Perhaps an overlooked benefit of upgrading a store’s lighting is the fact that security cameras display better images with improved lighting.
If an owner decides to upgrade their existing lighting, I would strongly suggest hiring a licensed and bonded electrician to install these enhancements. It’s not worth causing a fire, or possibly endangering yourself or your customers.
We always talk about upgrading washers and dryers, repainting the interior and updating the flooring. Why not lighting? And, while you’re at it, replace that drooping, dingy ceiling tile, too.
Advantage Laundry, Oakland, Calif.
Four of our stores use four-foot LED fixtures, and our fifth laundry uses LED high bay lighting fixtures. In fact, just this past August, we upgraded all of the lighting in our four oldest stores from T8 and T12 bulbs to the LED retrofit bulbs.
The new LED lights are very bright and yet use only about half or less of the power of the old lights. Each four-foot bulb uses only 17 watts, compared to 32 watts for T8s and 40 watts for T12s. I figures my payback on these lights to be about two years or less – not bad for lights that should last 50,000 hours.
The only regret I have is that I didn't get the bulbs that run on
120 volts, but instead got bulbs that were plug-in play – meaning all we had to do was take out the old bulbs and put in the new ones in the same fixtures, with zero modifications. Although this took us less time initially to complete the retrofit, there are two things that are annoying. The first is that we still have the old ballasts, which consume about six to eight watts – so we’re giving up a little bit of our potential savings. The second issue is that those ballasts fail from time to time, and then we’re stuck replacing them.
The LED retrofit bulbs cost about $12 each, and I have seen a decrease of 7 percent to 12 percent in electric usage as a result of the change. As I mentioned, if I had to do it over again, I would have removed all the old ballasts and put in 120-volt LED bulbs. But, overall, the ROI made the upgrade a no-brainer.
Plus, in my experience, having a well-lit store makes clothes look brighter and cleaner. Customers react positively to the look of the clean clothes and are happier with the results. In addition, customers feel safer in a brightly lit store.
Owasso Express Laundry Center, Owasso, Okla.
We have a brand new store built from the bottom up, so our decision was pretty easy – we’re 100 percent LED. There’s not a single fluorescent or incandescent bulb in the house. As our building was under construction during the second half of 2015, we saw the price of commercial LED lighting drop significantly, making the all-LED decision a no-brainer. Going forward into 2017 and beyond, if even the most basic economic study is applied, I can’t imagine a “new” laundromat, or any new commercial building, going other than all LED.
There are three major advantages to our LED-lit store.
First, very low to near-zero maintenance. LED lighting has a 50,000+ hour to failure rate, while that rate for fluorescents is 5,000 hours – that’s a 10-fold reduction in maintenance replacements. No ballasts, no spare tubes to store and keep handy, no fluorescent “hum.”
Second, significantly lower energy costs – easily half the cost of even the most efficient fluorescents. Energy-wise, LEDs produce nearly no heat.
Third, our color temperature of 4,000K, in our opinion, is ideal for laundromats and the perfect color temperature to highlight clean laundry. We came to this conclusion after some real-life testing with real laundry. Here’s what we did: after visiting the local home improvement stores and looking at a display of color temperature examples, we couldn’t see a clear answer. So, we bought three sets of LED lights – 3,200K, 4,000K and 5,000K – and tested them separately, using a clean white towel, a bright red shirt, a bright multi-colored shirt with yellows and greens and a new pair of blue jeans. By our measure, the 4,000K lights made all of the colors “pop,” and the whites looked very clean. To us, 5,000K was too harsh and washed out the reds, yellows and greens – and the warmer 3,200K light made the whites and blues look dull.
Our store was intentionally designed to be bright and well lit. We applied 20 percent more lumens per square foot than the lighting recommended for an office or retail setting. A brightly lit store with no dark corners communicates safety to everyone – customers and staff.
In addition, cameras and lighting go together, and this higher level of lighting helps our high-resolution security cameras not miss a thing.
Washin’ Coin Laundry, Anniston, Ala.
I currently have three stores. Store 1 has T8 fluorescent lights. The tubes were all replaced about 18 months ago, after five years of operation. At the time, the cost of converting to LED was not in my budget. That upgrade will probably take place in about two more years. Store 2 also has T8 fluorescents, which are currently being switched to LED lighting. And Store 3 opened in July with LEDs.
The LEDs are brighter and give off a whiter light than the fluorescent bulbs. In my newest store, all of the lights are LEDs, including the pot lights in maintenance area and restroom, the canopy lights, the building sign and the pylon sign.
With a 24-hour, unattended store the only things I can offer my customers is a clean, safe place to wash their clothes with equipment that works. A brightly lit store also helps to highlight how clean the store is. The two really go hand-in-hand. A dimly lit store will always seem dirtier and more rundown.