Why external lighting is important, and how to do it right

July 06, 2016
When it comes to upgrading your outdoor lighting to LED, the available fixtures come in many shapes and sizes, and can also differ substantially in price and quality. With such a large number of options, how do you even begin to plan an exterior lighting upgrade? And which fixtures are worth buying? Find the answers to these questions and more below.

Lighting Purpose

When it comes to lighting, and especially outdoor lighting, there are a large number of options for every fixture type, not all of which will work for your specific purpose and application. In fact, fitting your fixture type to your specific application is as important as selecting a high-quality fixture in the first place.


For instance, if you operate a gas station with a large canopy, your first thought may be that the purpose of the canopy fixtures is to illuminate the area directly below, so that your customers can see what they’re doing. This isn’t wrong per se, but it may not be the only purpose for your lights, or even the most important.

In this case, you should also be concerned about what your facility looks like from a distance. Without bright enough lights or an evenly illuminated space, your store may be passed up for the retailer down the road because it looks unsafe or uninviting. This may lead you to choose fixtures with higher output or a larger spread of light than your current fixtures.

Alternatively, if your current fixtures are too close together, you may do the opposite and delamp some of the fixtures instead for the purpose of reducing glare. It’s easy to see how an intimate knowledge of your facility is essential to planning your lighting upgrade (of course, if you go with Joule Energy, we do the planning for you).

Here are a few purposes for exterior lighting to jumpstart your thinking. Again, each type of lighting may have more than one purpose.

  • Keeping occupants safe from hazards
  • Ensuring security or promoting feelings of security
  • Attracting customers from a distance
  • Displaying facility signage or features
  • Allowing actions to be caught on camera (whether a sports arena on national television or a grocery store with security cameras)

Now that you have planned for your lighting needs, the next step is to find an appropriate light output and spread for each type of fixture you hope to upgrade.

Mid Power v. High Power

High power LEDs are, by nature, more expensive, but are often worth the higher price tag in the long run. This is because they can more easily handle a high thermal load, causing them to degrade and fail much more slowly than other LEDs.

How? Many failures are due to diodes (the individual light-producing components in the fixture) becoming exposed to persistent high heat. High power LEDs, however, can draw more current while keeping the overall power use low, and in a way that withstands the heat produced as a byproduct.

Just as you wouldn’t drive a car at full speed continuously, the diodes in your LED fixture should not be operating at full capacity every second the fixture is turned on. Not only is operating this way inefficient, but it will eventually destroy your engine (or cause your fixture to fail).

To help regulate diode function, high power Cree LEDs use silicon carbide as a thermal sink, arguably the best substance in the world for that purpose. This helps its high power LEDs both last longer and perform more efficiently. And in case you were wondering, many other companies use gallium nitrate as a thermal sink.

So where can you find high power LEDs? For now, Cree is the only company that provides true high power LEDs. Many other companies will try to sell you other kinds of LEDs for high power applications. So if your facility requires this type of durable, highly efficient lighting, Cree is your best bet. And don’t worry, we’ll let you know where high power LEDs are recommended.

Evenness and Spread

Some lights are meant to illuminate in one direction, while others benefit from having a larger spread of light. Lights mounted on the exterior wall of a building are going to have a different spread of light than those mounted on a canopy, soffit, or pole. So how do you know if a certain fixture meets your needs for evenness and light output?

The easiest way, of course, is to have an experienced lighting designer create an illumination model of your facility (by the way, we do this for free). But you can also take a look at spec sheets for a few fixtures you are interested in and compare the diagrams of light output. It’s also helpful to know how far apart the current lighting fixtures are in your facility, how high they are mounted, and your desired light level.



From left to right: photometry diagrams for a Cree area light, wall pack, and canopy light.


When it comes to creating a lighting design, we take all of these factors into consideration to provide you with a consistent and superior quality of light. We make sure to choose fixtures that distribute light evenly to prevent shadows and hotspots and create a pleasant atmosphere.

But no matter who installs your LED lighting, make sure they understand that upgrading exterior lighting necessitates anything but a one-size-fits-all solution. With the right amount of planning and thought, your visitors, maintenance staff, and wallet will thank you.

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