If your company has not yet ventured into the energy market, we'll get the bad news out of the way first: You're late to the dance. But fortunately for you there is good news as well. According to Cooper Lighting, even with the newfound emphasis on energy savings, 80 percent of existing commercial and industrial buildings have outdated — translate “inefficient” — lighting systems currently installed. So, even if yours isn't the first plow in the field, the soil is still very fertile. This article will help you execute a successful lighting retrofit, from the initial energy audit to the completion of installation.

  1. Build your knowledge base. Before you storm the nearest Industrial Park Drive telling every facilities manager you want to relight their warehouse, it's best to understand the relationship between lighting systems and a facilities' total operating costs. In large commercial and some industrial applications, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates lighting accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of a building's total energy consumption. With rising utility costs, peak and demand charges will only continue to grow. Through existing, proven lighting and controls technologies, a knowledgeable lighting specialist can cut lighting consumption by 50 percent, while reducing the maintenance department's time spent on the lighting system.

    A properly executed lighting upgrade will not stop at energy and maintenance savings, either. If a facility's current lighting system is more than 10 years old (most are), it is probably not meeting current lighting requirements determined by the Illuminating Engineering Society (IESNA). By designing the retrofit to current lighting standards you will improve the visual environment, which could increase worker productivity.

  2. Know what to look for. Unless you're up for making cold calls at the nearest warehouse, check your location's recent lamp and ballast sales for good leads. Ideally, you would start with end users you sell to, such as universities or hospitals, but contractors with a strong service department are a great place to look as well. Any high-quantity order of T12 fluorescent, 400W or 1,000W HID lamps or ballasts sold should result in a sales call. While warehouses are certainly the low-hanging fruit of the energy-saving orchard, large offices can also represent strong retrofit candidates, too. So don't ignore those 65BR30's, 90W and 100W PAR38s or MR16 lamps.

  3. Making the initial call. If the retrofit candidate is an existing account, you already know who to talk to about a possible lighting upgrade. If not, a few different ways exist to make the initial contact. When properly executed, a cold call can be a great way to establish contact at a new facility. Another good option is to find out which electrical contractor does service work for the customer and propose a joint sales call to them. Some larger companies even have personnel information conveniently located on their websites. Whatever the means, the goal is to get you in front of someone in the decision-making chain to make your pitch.

    While you want to get their attention, don't promise the moon when it comes to how much you'll be able to save a customer in the early stages. Instead of throwing dollar amounts around, use percentages, as in, “We can help your facility reduce lighting demand by 30 percent or more.”

  4. Don't be a one-track record. It's important to realize that a six-lamp T8 fluorescent high-bay is not always the best replacement for a 400W metal-halide fixture. Just as a facility might have any of a dozen reasons to consider a retrofit, many different solutions exist for an inefficient lighting system. Different factors must be taken into consideration, including mounting height, fixture spacing, ambient temperature and the possibility of incorporating occupancy or daylighting sensors. A worthwhile lighting rep will be able to help determine the best solution for a particular application, but it's important to know upfront that there are many factors to consider. For instance, if an industrial facility has fixture level ambient temperatures that regularly exceed 55 degrees C (135 F), a 320W pulse-start, metal-halide retrofit kit might be the best solution.

  5. Know your financial incentives. Depending on your location, there is a good chance your local utility provider has a rebate program set up for energy-efficient upgrades. The rebate could be per-fixture, per-kW saved or per-sensor; the possibilities vary with every provider. The key is to know what's available. Any incentives you can help your customer attain will do at least two things: shorten the all-important payback period and cement your status as a strong energy partner with your customer.

    And it's important to have a basic understanding of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPACT) and its associated tax deductions. Currently available through 2013, it offers an accelerated tax deduction for lighting upgrades of up to $.60 per square foot for projects. Consult lighting authorities in your territory such as independent manufacturers' reps, factory salespeople or lighting designers to get a better understanding of this subject, and how a particular job may meet the requirements.

  6. Executing the energy audit. While every step in a lighting retrofit is important, none is more critical than the energy audit. This is when you truly lay the foundation for a successful energy- and maintenance-saving lighting upgrade, so mistakes made here can prove costly down the road. It's also a great opportunity to set yourself apart from your competition. Imagine the contrast between your team doing a thorough area-by-area walkthrough, taking light readings along the way and finding opportunities for additional savings, and your competition asking for a fixture count and moving on. Don't assume that because a production area runs its lighting 24/7 that the warehouse area does, too. Sensors may not work in some areas and applications, but will present great savings in others. Evaluate the different existing mounting types used. Get into the electrical closet to see how many different lamp types are being utilized throughout the facility. Many old facilities that have undergone expansion over the years will often have high-pressure sodium, metal-halide and T12 fluorescent lighting of all different wattages throughout the building. You will be able to cut that down to one or two types and wattages with your proposal.

    Even though the main focus of your energy audit will be the warehousing and production areas, try to get yourself into the office areas, as they often represent great opportunities for a variety of products, such as occupancy sensors, troffer retrofit kits and LED downlights.

  7. Set your proposal apart from the competition. Just as you get competing prices when you bid a job, rest assured that businesses will get other proposals when considering a lighting upgrade, no matter the strength of an existing relationship. Along with aggressive pricing, a well-organized and thorough presentation can set you apart from your competition when it comes time for the final decision. Many manufacturers have energy calculators available for free on their web sites that take only a few minutes to get comfortable with. Make sure your methodology is clear, meaning you have shown the figures used to calculate savings. Have a complete bill of material that includes lamps, controls and proper mounting hardware that will minimize installation time and future maintenance. And never underestimate the impact of a well-written cover letter, my friends.

The author is an energy solutions specialist for Tennessee Lighting Sales in Nashville, Tenn. He can be reached at flowers.adam@gmail.com.