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Pastors Guide: Leading with LED Lighting

Pastors Guide: Leading with LED Lighting

Energy savings? Enhancing ministry efforts visually? Lower maintenance? Here's the low-down on LED for church ministries.

Your LED Cheat Sheet

Undoubtedly, you've heard a lot of talk about LED lighting technology. Amid that talk was probably a term or two that tripped you up. Here's a quick glossary to bring you back up to speed.

COLOR TEMPERATURE This indicates the "color" of a technology's white light. Incandescent lighting's white light is rather yellow and has a color temperature of around 3200K; daylight is around 5200K.

COLOR RENDERING INDEX (CRI) The CRI of a fixture as an imperfect rating of how well a fixture can generate light in such a way that the illuminated object's color appears correct. The closer to a CRI of 100, the more accurate the colors of an object should appear when lit by it.

CONTROL CHANNEL In a theatrical/concert lighting control system, commands to dimmers or fixtures are sent normally though a cable to each device. Each "attribute" (such as intensity, pan position, tilt position, how much of a certain color, etc.) takes up one "channel." In the most common control protocol, DMX, one control cable can carry 512 channels of control information.

INCANDESCENT LIGHTING This lighting technology represents the original form of creating light via electricity. A wire inside the bulb is heated up until to glows, emitting light. Most of the electricity is turned into heat, not light, making it a very inefficient form of lighting.

LED (LIGHT-EMITTING DIODE) This is an electronic device that generates light very efficiently as electricity passes through it.

It wasn't that long ago when selecting lighting for your sanctuary or auditorium was a no-brainer as far as technology went. You were going to install incandescent lighting the same basic technology that's been around since electric lighting was invented. That, however, has changed significantly through the last decade.

From stage lighting to moving lights to architectural lighting, LED technology is taking church facilities by storm and for good reason.


What's the primary output of a typical incandescent light bulb? Here's a hint: it's not light. In fact, the primary output is heat. The light emitted by an incandescent bulb is actually a byproduct of the heat it's generating. This makes the technology less than ideal in terms of efficiency.
"Your typical 75-watt incandescent lamp consumes the rated 75w of electricity and produces around 1,100 lumens [units of measure for illumination] of light," explains Robert Mentele, category specialist for Full Compass Systems, a Madison, Wisconsin-based pro lighting retailer.  "A 75w equivalent LED fixture produces the same 1,100 lumens while only consuming 913 watts of power." That means the LED alternative uses just 17 percent of the electricity used by its incandescent counterpart.

"A sometimes overlooked aspect of converting to LED is the extra energy required to cool a room filled with incandescent lighting fixtures," Mentele continues. "Especially in a room with high-wattage stage lighting, there is a significant amount of waste heat that needs to be removed. Studios and theater spaces that choose LED lighting fixtures over incandescent are able to reduce the size of the cooling units required for the space, saving additional money."

Another consideration is the ongoing maintenance of the lighting you choose. "LED fixtures offer potential long lifespans for the lamps, helping to further reduce maintenance costs and potentially dangerous lamp changes in high-ceiling situations," says Tobin Neis, director of marketing at Barbizon Lighting Company, an entertainment and architectural lighting retailer.

"LED lamps are generally rated for around 50,000 hours," Mentele adds, "while a typical incandescent lamp will only last an average of 1,200 hours. This saves on not only the number of lamps you would have to purchase per year, but also the labor required replacing them. Houses of Worship are typically filled with hard-to-reach fixtures, and the cost to pay someone to reach those locations can add up over time. You would have to replace around 20 to 40 incandescent lamps before you have to replace an equivalent LED fixture."

Indeed, there have been more than a few churches in which a fixture remained dark for months or years after its lamp burned out due to the difficulty faced in trying to access the fixture.


Having color options is also a big draw for LED fixtures. Most LED fixtures are designed to provide a wide range of colors simply by changing the settings on your lighting control system. To get multiple colors with incandescent fixtures, you either need an extra fixture for each color or a color-scrolling system, which then needs to be maintained. "If a facility wants to tailor the look of their space for specific events or holidays," Mentele says, "they can simply make a change on the control console for the fixtures, instead of having to reach each fixture and change color media."

If you are thinking of achieving multiple colors through the common method of having an extra incandescent fixture for each color, that means considerable additional costs not only for the extra fixtures but also the extra dimmers and high-voltage wiring.


"The most obvious thing to consider when purchasing LED fixtures is the overall quality for the price," Mentele explains. "This quality will have a direct impact on the ROI you can expect. A lower quality fixture may use LEDs rated for 50,000 hours, but they will also use inferior electronics in the fixture. When an LED fixture stops working it is typically the internal electronics that fail as opposed to the LEDs themselves. Lower quality electronics are not only less reliable, but also more difficult to replace. A better quality fixture can typically be trusted to last longer before failing, but if it does fail, one can expect that it can be repaired and that the manufacturer should have the parts available to fix it."

"We suggest people stick with companies they know," Neis adds, "especially when there are multi-year warranties involved. Will that company still be around three years into that five-year warranty? Will they be able to service the faulty product? Those are all things to take into consideration."

As is frequently the case with electronics, it pays to purchase a more expensive, better quality fixture initially and have reliable operation than to buy a cheaper solution and replace or repair it multiple times.
"If you truly want high quality but do not have the money," Mentele advises, "we suggest either saving up until you can afford what you need or purchasing the fixtures in phases as you can afford them."


"Some of the things we have been asked to resolve from end-users making an uninformed decision on LED lighting include—-unintended strobing of lights, lights that don't match each other in color, lights popping on' when dimmed up from off and, when there are multiple circuits of LEDs, not having them all dim smoothly together," Neis says. "All of these things have the potential to make people focus on the problems of the lights and not the message of the service."

Making sure the fixtures you select will do what you want them to do and do it consistently and well is critical to making a good choice.
If you are considering a retrofit, there's a common approach churches attempt that rarely provides good results that is, changing bulbs. As Mentele explains, simply replacing incandescent house lights with LED bulbs is an insufficient upgrade.

"This typically ends with numerous technical issues and bad results," Mentele says. "In short, consumer LED replacement bulbs even those listed as dimmable' are not able to work with the type of power that theatrical-style dimmers supply. They do not dim lights in the same manner as consumer in-wall dimming controllers do, and the electronics in the LED lights cannot run with the way that the power is manipulated in theatrical dimmers."


If you are building a new facility, your contractor will make sure that the proper infrastructure is in place (assuming you have specified LED lighting fixtures from the start). In retrofitting an existing space, however, there are things that will need to be addressed.

"Most theatrical LED lighting needs a control console, a non-dimmable source of AC power, and data distribution," Mentele explains. For power, this would be a standard AC outlet that is not connected to your theatrical dimming system.

"In many cases, the electronics of LED fixtures do not like dimmed power," Neis adds, "and setting the dimmer to non-dim' may still mean the dimmer is providing power that could potentially result in damaging the electronics in the fixtures. This, in most cases, would not be covered under warranty."

"LEDs also need to have data supplied to them, which sends them information from the control console on how bright to be and what color to use," Mentele says. "This data is usually provided through an additional cable that would need to be installed and run to each fixture with the proliferation of wireless data transmission, however, that challenge becomes a smaller hurdle than it has been. One other issue is that color-changing LED fixtures require multiple console channels to function. In a typical lighting system, each incandescent lamp requires one control channel. So, if you have 16 lights, you only need a 16-channel control console. LED, however, can take three channels or more to control. So, that same 16-channel console you already own will not work."

"What this all comes down to," Mentele summarizes, "is that LEDs can have a great impact on reducing the costs of using a space. With that extra money, a House of Worship can put those funds toward other functions. Since Houses of Worship are run by donations and gifts, anything that can be done to save money has a greater impact on the ability of the organization."

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