Court Lighting: Light Reaction
While lower costs may be an incentive to move to LED lighting, there are many other factors to consider.
By Lex Kessler
Although a number considerations go into assessing the state of our tennis facilities, they should always be considered from the player’s perspective. This includes understanding what the player’s experience is when they visit another facility, which happens regularly in our sport.
From this perspective, tennis players are likely to have already played at a facility with LED (light-emitting diode) lighting — which means you should consider an LED plan for your facility, if you have not already. This may be a plan for a conversion to LED within the next few years, or an assessment that LED is not in your future for a specific reason. If you choose to go forward, it is important to consult an illuminating engineer, architect or tennis facility specialist to help determine an efficient, quality LED-conversion plan.
In addition to potential savings on electricity costs, you also may want to consider converting to LED lighting for any potential rebates from your utility company. There can also be savings in maintenance and replacement costs compared to other types of lighting.
Light Quality for Tennis
As you evaluate your existing facility, the most important factor should be the quality of light you are providing to players. Playing tennis is much different than soccer, football and basketball in that the ball is much smaller, travels much faster, and is viewed at many more angles against different backgrounds. The result is that our sport requires more light, and the level of light from one end of the court to the other and from ground level to heights of 40 feet should be consistent.
It is important to measure the light at all places the ball travels, including outside the playing lines. If the ball travels from areas that are well lit through areas that have even a 25 percent difference in light level, the effect can distort the actual motion pattern, making it difficult for our brains to adjust to the proper timing to strike the ball effectively.
When most people discuss a “foot-candle,” they’re thinking of a quantity of light that falls on their desk, the kitchen counter or an operating table. These are horizontal foot-candles, and they are very important. But vertical foot-candles are the more important quality issue for tennis, as it pertains to the light on the face of the ball as it approaches the player. Light-meter readings at various locations on the court should be measuring vertical foot-candles, so players get the quality of light they need to strike the ball properly, and more often.
A well-planned investment in LED lighting can save money on the electric bill, provide a rebate from the local utility company and decrease annual expenses between 25 percent and 75 percent. The savings comes from decreasing the wattage in LED lamps: lower watts means less electricity used. But facility owners and managers need to be careful. If they press for maximizing electric savings, they may end up with a quality issue that costs more money to fix.
The rebates and/or incentives from utility companies can be an important piece of the “payback” equation. Doing research online and a having follow-up conversation with your electricity provider will provide you with the information you need. Some utilities may need to visit your facility to audit what exists. You should understand and quantify your specific rebate for LED in advance of vendor selection.
Maintenance is an important piece of the puzzle, too. Cleaning the fixtures and lamps should remain an annual function, but depending on which LED you select, you will not be replacing lamps as often, because LED lamps last longer. That results in annual savings on parts and labor.
When you add up the maintenance, the rebate and the monthly electric savings, it’s possible to see a payback in the range of two to five years for an indoor tennis facility and four to 12 years for an outdoor facility. The difference is due to the number of hours of lighting required; indoor facilities in the U.S.
operate about 12 to 16 hours a day, while outdoor courts are generally lit only about two to four hours a day.
Selecting a Vendor and Installation
After understanding your rebate, calculating your payback and making the decision to proceed with an LED lighting installation, you’ll want to write a brief Request for Proposal. In addition to traditional RFP language regarding vendor/contractor experience, length in business, references, etc., make sure to include the following:
- What lighting class is your facility? (See the “Typical Facility Classifications” chart on page 132 of “Tennis Courts: A Construction & Maintenance Manual, 2015”.)
- For indoor facilities, do you want direct lighting? To put it anothe way, are you considering 100 percent direct lighting, 100 percent indirect or a mixture? Less direct lighting is better for tennis, although it does require more light, and sometimes may require a new ceiling.
- Make sure provisions for testing per USTA guidelines are done prior to acceptance of the project, to ensure compliance.
When selecting a vendor, it’s important to retain a professional to “level” the various bids and sort through technical information in the proposals. Such expertise will help you avoid unforeseen costs down the road and help you make the most informed decision.
A note of caution: in my experience, a high number of facilities that have installed LED lights have not achieved the desired result. Make sure you thoroughly research products, vendors and installers before making a commitment. Any product being considered should have DLC (Design Lights Consortium) certification, which is often required to be considered for a utility company rebate.
When you’re ready for the install, tell your members as well as the community what you’re planning to do and why. Consider holding an open house to allow people to see what’s going to happen, to generate additional exposure. Make it a celebration and invite local media.
For each court, the conversion to LED lighting can usually be done in just a day or two, and can most often take place without any interruption of service to the players. When the installation starts, be prepared to take foot-candle readings a number of times, ideally when the first court is halfway done, and then when the first court is completed. This way, any adjustments can be done right away. Good luck!
Lex Kessler is the founder and owner of Indoor Courts of America. For 34 years, he has designed, built and renovated indoor tennis facilities in the U.S. and abroad.
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