Addressing Temperature for Effective Outdoor Lighting Installations

Credits: Solomon Group, Eskew+Dumez+Ripple/Ellerbe Becket, Frischertz Electric

As I’ve said before, there is a lot that goes into making outdoor AVL systems effective, from ensuring the AV has proper weather protection to addressing life safety requirements. However, when you deal specifically with lighting in outdoor installations, there are some additional concerns you must address as well. One major concern with lighting is temperature, and really that can refer either to the color temperature of the light emitted by the fixture or to the physical temperature of the fixture itself and the environment around it. Both are important for outdoor lighting.

We’ll look first at the physical temperature, which is understandably very important for outdoor lighting. Light, as you might remember from your high school physics class, is directly related to heat. Modern fixtures have technology that helps them not only run cool, but also handle cold temperatures, but if your geographic location is prone to extreme temperatures, you should nevertheless make sure to address it in your architectural lighting designs.

This is of most concern for locations where it gets extremely cold and freezes during winter months. Unlike tour lighting, most architectural lighting fixtures are permanent installations that typically can’t be brought inside. Inground washes, for example, can’t be removed, and can end up underneath several feet of snow for months at a time in some areas of the world. This will cause the temperature around the fixture to drop quite low, and you want to be sure that won’t damage the fixture.

That’s why you should always look not only at the lighting fixture’s IP rating (though that is obviously important), but also at durability and life expectancy (that is, how many hours the fixture is rated for and how it will stand up over time). Specifically related to the cold issue, you should also ask the lighting manufacturer about a fixture’s safe temperature range, but be sure you ask both about the operating temperature and the storage temperature. For example, a fixture may be rated to operate between 0° C and 40° C (32° – 104° F), and limiting to only an above-freezing temperature range isn’t great when you’re dealing with a fixture covered in snow. However, the same fixture may be safe to store down to -30°. This is fine for locations such as theme parks, where it would be too cold for guests during winter months. Of course, if the fixture is covered in several feet of snow, there would be no reason to run it anyway.

If, however, you do need to run washes or other lighting during winter months, another alternative is to change where the fixtures are mounted. For example, you could mount an exterior wash to a roof overhang and point the lighting downward rather than have an inground fixture pointing up. That way, the fixture isn’t sitting underneath the snow all winter.

While the temperature around the fixture is very important to lighting outdoor venues, it’s equally important to consider the color temperature the fixture itself is putting out. Any lighting designer will tell you that color temperature is vital to eliciting the right impression out of a display. With outdoor lighting, it is particularly important that this color temperature be consistent across all fixtures.

Lighting the outdoor surfaces of a building is commonly called “architectural lighting,” and not simply because you are lighting the architecture. With these solutions, the lighting itself becomes part of the architecture. It becomes, in essence, part of the building itself, and for multi-building locations such as theme parks, it is the architectural element that ties the entire experience together. That’s why lighting designers need to ensure that all of architectural lighting fixtures have the same color temperature throughout an area. That way, when you take a picture, the lighting will appear smooth and uniform. Having the correct color temperature will also ensure that the paint color comes out correctly and looks right on every surface.

Inconsistent color temperature is a lighting design and programming concern, but it is also a hardware issue. Not all lighting fixtures are able to address all color temperatures, and even those that do may not be entirely accurate or consistent in their portrayal of that color temperature. That’s why you should always ensure you use lighting fixtures with a wide color temperature depth and color-calibrated LEDs. Martin’s architectural lighting heads, for example, can go from 2700 Kelvin to 6700 Kelvin, giving you a broad range of colors to match your desired look. Martin heads are also calibrated, which is very important for consistent color temperature. Martin grades every LED in their calibrated fixtures using a color grader, so that when you set them to 2900 K, you really get 2900 K, not 2850 K. They also make sure this is accurate fixture-to-fixture, so that all of the fixtures look the same.

Whether you are talking about the air outside or the color of the light itself, temperature is obviously important. Having durable, weather-rated fixtures with calibrated color outputs are a vital part of any architectural lighting display and the key to creating memorable experiences for years to come.

Do you have experience with outdoor architectural lighting? Give us your tips in the comments.