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By: John Mitchell

The economy has given us a lot to pray about in the recent years, not least of which is how to best use the limited funds we have available to maintain and expand lighting systems. 

For those of you planning on expanding or interested in finding a more economical way to maintain your current lighting systems, you may find these questions and answers very useful.   

Q:  We have a traditional house lighting system that requires us to bring in scaffolding twice a year to change out lamps. Is there a better way to handle this?
A:  How many architects does it take to change a house light? Perhaps if we had an answer to that, we’d know why they typically build these amazing buildings with beautiful high ceilings and no way to change out burned-out light bulbs!  

We hear a great deal about this issue from our church partners. There are really three ways to address it. 

First is the scaffolding solution, and as anyone who has done this can tell you, it is an expensive and time-consuming process. 

The second way to address this is to use an individual hoist for each lighting fixture to lower it to the ground for re-lamping. While this eliminates the need for scaffolding, the individual hoists require power at each location, which can be an added expense, and the hoists themselves are somewhat pricey.

The third and perhaps easiest from a long-term return on investment is to use an LED style house light. While there is an investment to be made in the fixture itself, the return begins almost immediately in reduced power consumption and decreased HVAC costs due to the heat efficiency of the units. 

The advancements in recent years have allowed us to provide a more than adequate solution in terms of output using an LED source. 

In addition, there are units with variable color temperatures (from warm to cool in terms of the quality of light), the dimming curves have improved substantially, and the units offer individual control using a DMX signal.

Q:  We have a very limited capital expense budget for the next year, and our lighting system desperately needs upgrades. Our last major cap ex was 10 years ago when we installed a new dimming and control system. What should we do, and how do we plan out a major reinvestment with limited funds?
A:  Don’t despair! 

The first thing you need to know is that you have given me some major hope for your system by telling me that you upgraded 10 years ago with a new dimming and control system. The dimming system from major manufacturers, such as ETC, are designed to last a long time with regular maintenance, and you should not have to replace it for a few more years at least.

There are ways to change out the “brains” of your dimming system while keeping most of the hardware intact. 

Again, using ETC as an example, the back plane of their Sensor rack can be upgraded to the latest version of the control module with relative ease and for a fraction of the cost of a new rack.  This will give you the ability to upgrade a control console or house lighting system without having to throw everything out and start over.

If you upgraded your electrical (or circuit) distribution about 10 years ago, you should also be in good shape there. What you want to look for here is very old wiring that may be rated under current code or contain asbestos wiring. (And, yes, that would make it very old, but we do still see a lot of that!) 

But, unless there are circuit failures, this can go on the long-range upgrade list.

I would examine the console and see if it still meets the needs of your current production values.   Is it a current production model? If you are hearing that it is not robust enough to meet your needs or of it hasn’t been manufactured in several years, this is a good candidate for replacement and will not be a budget buster.

Of course, the easiest place to look for improvements in your system without straining the budget is to purchase new fixtures. The latest advances in LED technology have allowed us to find actual replacements for standard theatrical luminaires. 

There are now several viable options in the market for replacing standard ellipsoidal reflector spotlights, cyc lights, and par cans. The advantage here is that the fixtures will last for several years without needing to replace lamps or gel. 

In addition, these units typically use a lot less power than their conventional counterparts and generate less heat, which is important for energy savings and for those lights that hang in close proximity to people.

Finally, for a full system replacement, I would begin the process of planning an upgrade over a period of years. We know that the economy will bounce back in time, and when it does, we want to be prepared. 

So, right now is the time to begin a five-year plan for upgrading your lighting system. 

This is the perfect time to interview potential consultants, spend time with your local lighting dealers, and send your production team to the trade shows to gather information and see new technologies. 

John Mitchell is the executive vice president of sales and business development at Entertainment Lighting Services in Sun Valley, California, www.elslights.com.

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