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Signage: Neon to LED Sign Lighting Retrofit Advantages and Strategies

Posted by CLS Admin on November 20, 2015


Consider a hypothetical scenario: Let’s say you have three dozen retail stores located throughout the mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Each of those stores has signage, both inside the building and outside of it. Some signs are big, like the ones outside that announce your company name and logo. Some are small, like the exit signs throughout your interior spaces.

If these buildings are more than a few years old, it’s likely that much of the signage is neon. Neon has been a bedrock signage technology for decades. It’s defined corporate brands; it’s illuminated our paths along highways, byways and city streets. Neon is part of the fabric of America. It’s also antiquated, inefficient, and expensive to operate, maintain and replace.

Chances are, for building owners and managers like you, neon is taking a bite out of your property’s bottom line. And that bite is getting bigger each year.

What to do? Enter LED. We’ve extolled the virtues of LED lighting before in this blog — LEDs provide considerable energy savings over time; they offer maintenance cost savings; they deliver a more even distribution of light, which improves aesthetics inside and outside a building. In turn, that even provides enhanced security and employee safety.

There’s more. LED lighting is an environmentally friendly technology — considerably more so than neon. And, the better quality lighting produced by LEDs lead to higher levels of tenant satisfaction, including potentially improved health and efficiency.

Recently, we posted a blog that touched on the many benefits of lighting retrofit projects for retail and commercial buildings. At CLS, we believe these same benefits can potentially be realized by retrofitting neon signage with LEDs.

In this post, we’d like to offer some tips for planning a signage retrofit project, and then implementing it successfully. These tips are general, and intended to provide strategic guidance. Each signage retrofit project comes with its own challenges, so each one requires a unique approach.

Evaluate the relationship between cost and ROI before implementing an LED sign lighting retrofit

LEDs are more cost effective today than when they first came on the market just a few years ago. In a short period of time, the cost has come down, and we see that trend continuing. As costs continue to fall, ROI for building owners and managers will continue to rise. Keep in mind that even though costs may continue to fall, that doesn’t necessarily mean that waiting will actually save you money in the long-run. Waiting also means that you are missing out the potential energy savings that come with LED, so acting sooner may be in your best interest depending on your particular situation.

ROI is different for everyone, and certain variables can determine the extent to which ROI justifies your up-front cost. These include your current electricity costs with the signage you now have; how long you plan to remain in a given location; and how many feet (or inches, as the case may be) of LED you plan on using, both for specific signage, and for all cumulative signage in a given facility.

This can be a cumbersome calculation as the number of facilities increases, and it can make for a difficult analysis. Experienced facility management providers like CLS are specially trained to conduct signage analyses and provide ROI expectations. We encourage you to consider using one.

Buy LED lighting from a reputable source

When LEDs first hit the market, lots of companies sold them — including many fly-by-night outfits. Many of those providers are no longer in the game, so when it comes to honoring LED product warranties, companies that are out of business can’t honor them.

We recommend buying LEDs from known entities and reputable sources. GE and Sloan LED are two manufacturers that are viable, healthy, time-tested and reliable.

Consider a signage audit

Chances are, you use signs for a variety of tasks, whether they be illuminating your business from the street or indoor uses. As part of a signage audit, think about how you use your signage, whether that differs from location to location (and if so, how it differs), and then analyze how LED could positively impact your business, and your bottom line.

For example, your audit can include a brightness analysis — you can go outside at night, take readings on the brightness of your signs, take photos of them from different distances and angles, and this information will help you determine the effectiveness of your signage portfolio. Certainly, you can do this yourself; but typically, it’s a task that facility management companies like CLS perform every day.

Lighting rebates don’t drive purchases like they used to, but they may still be available

A facility management company like CLS has its finger on the pulse of the lighting rebate game; we check on behalf of our clients to see what rebates are available.

Be smart about how you retrofit your signage with LED

There are different ways to use LED in signs, and different considerations drive different approaches. How you elect to implement LED — even on a sign-by-sign basis — can make or break the retrofit.

As an example, if you have a sign, and the letters are all individually illuminated, you can adhere the LED to the metal component of the letters; or, you can install that LED board into the sign itself.

Likewise, there are two primary ways to mount a sign: 1) flush mount, where the letters adhere directly onto a building, and 2) raceway, in which the letters adhere to a metal cabinet. We believe flush mounted signs tend to look nicer, but they penetrate walls more than raceway signage. The approach you choose is dependent on aesthetics and cost — but it can also be determined by a landlord’s preference or mandate, if a landlord is involved at all (translation: your landlord may not want you punching holes in his building).

In any case, it’s best to gather as much information as possible up front, then analyze it in order to make good decisions.

Neon signage isn’t going away completely. But there’s no question that LEDs are an exciting development in building technology; there’s so much to talk about with them, and we’ll be touching on many LED-related topics in future posts.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for more information on an LED sign lighting retrofit, we encourage you to read our previous posts on the subject — or, call our lighting, electrical and signage professionals directly at 800-548-3542, or fill out our contact form. We love talking about this stuff — we welcome your questions, and we value the opportunity to spark dialogues about your business, and the ways in which technology and strategy can interact to strengthen your bottom line.

In our next signage installment, we’ll touch on the broad benefits of signage — what it really means to your business, and how to make it work effectively for you.


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