By Bob Nieman | Oct 31, 2011
Laundry owner Robert Maes is currently upgrading the lighting in his two Houston-area stores. In fact, one laundry is already complete, and Maes is busy working on the second store. He recently took some time to discuss this project with PlanetLaundry.
Why did you feel it necessary to make the update in lighting?
When I built my stores about two and a half years ago, both spaces were approximately 30 years old. They needed to be remodeled. I tried to reuse as much of the existing space and fixtures as I could. So, we reused all of the doors, all of the blinds… and we also ended up reusing the same overhead light fixtures that came with the space. We did that for budget concerns.
Of course, I knew all along that, at some point, I would want to upgrade the lights. But having never owned a store before, I didn’t know exactly what my electric bill would be. And once I saw how high it had gotten, I was more motivated than ever to come up with ways to save on electricity.
Also, the old lights had two ballasts and four T12 bulbs. When you have a two-ballast system, if one bulb goes out the second one in the pair also goes out. So, it seemed like every time I looked up at my lights about half of them we running at about 50 percent because one of the two bulbs would burn out, and that would make the other one go out – or the ballasts themselves would burn out because they were 30 years old.
It seemed like all I was ever doing was changing bulbs and ballasts.
I decided that, if I was going to replace ballasts, I wanted to look at buying a better ballast with a better bulb that would be even more efficient.
What costs were involved with this project?
The bulbs themselves are about $13 and the ballasts are about $15. That’s $28. My store that’s already complete, which is 5,500-square feet, has 40 fixtures – so that’s $1,120.
If I were to have bought new fixtures, that would have been an extra $40 per fixture. But I kept the original fixtures.
When I made the conversion, I wanted to come up with a way for each fixture to require one ballast instead of two. My reasons were twofold: (1) to save money on ballasts and (2) because with one ballast and four bulbs, if one bulb burns out the other three keep working.
I had two choices – upgrade to one ballast with four T8 bulbs, or one ballast with two high-output bulbs. If I went with the second option, I would have had to modify my original fixtures because they are designed to handle four bulbs.
I decided on the one ballast/four bulb option. I thought it was a more expedient way to go. The socket inside the light fixture will accept either T12 or T8 bulbs, so the only modification required to switch from T12 to T8 was replacing the ballast. I went with four 25-watt T8 bulbs, which replaced four 32-watt T12 bulbs, which means I went from 128 watts to 100 watts per fixture. I got an immediate energy savings because I was using less wattage. And the lighting is much better – my store is now as bright as an operating room.
I also made sure to purchase long-life bulbs, which last about three years, so that I wouldn’t have to change them (or buy them) as frequently.
In addition, ballast technology has changed. The ballasts that were used 30 years ago were magnetic, and that’s why you often hear that hum from fluorescent lights. The newer ballasts are electronic and don’t hum at all. Plus, the newer ballasts themselves have become more efficient.
What types of savings are you realizing at your upgraded store?
The estimated electricity savings is 56 percent per fixture, roughly half from the reduced wattage and half from the electronic ballast.
And, since I am running my lights 24/7, the payback for me will be six months. However, for most laundry owners who don’t run their lights round the clock, the payback should still be no more than one year.
Did you upgrade the lighting yourself?
Yes, it’s something you can easily do yourself. All you have to do is make sure the power is off to the light fixture. Then, it’s just a matter of getting up on a ladder and changing everything out. Of course, if you’re not comfortable with such work, definitely hire an electrician to do the job properly and safely.
If you decide to do it yourself, I wouldn’t suggest retrofitting your entire store at once, because it’s just too much work. It took me about 45 minutes per fixture. I’d knock out three or four at a time. Also, the T8 bulbs are narrower than the T12 bulbs, so they’re easier to handle and install.
What else should laundry owners consider before upgrading their lighting?
Confer with a local lighting company or work with lighting professionals online – they’ll help you make a lot of important decisions.
Also, if you’re going to make the investment, do your homework and be sure to choose the proper ballasts and bulbs for your store.
If you go to a big-box retailer, such as Home Depot, they’re likely only going to have one or two types of ballasts, whereas a lighting supplier is going to have 30 or 40. And the same goes for bulbs. You can go to Home Depot and buy cheaper bulbs. However, if the price is low, the chances are you’re paying for something less. It’s worth paying more for a better bulb if you want more brightness and don’t want to change them as frequently.
At my store, the difference in lighting is like night and day. I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.