9 Steps to Choosing the Right Parking Lot and Area Light

All commercial property owners should be considering converting over to LED. Outdoors, they may have metal halide shoebox lights that are consuming 400W to 1000W each, and so installing new LED outdoor lights in their parking areas makes sense, right? 


So what do you need to know? What should you consider? How do you get started? There's a lot of information out there.

  • New or retrofit?
  • How many LED watts do I need to replace these lights?
  • Distribution patterns?

Well, we try to address all those issues here in our definitive LED Guide to Parking Lot Fixtures.

Below are 9 steps you need to consider to help make your decision before you convert over to LED lights in your parking lot.

1. Do you really need to upgrade your parking lot to LED?

To answer this question you have to understand what your payback is. Payback is a simple calculation that determines, based on the savings, how long it will take you to recoup your investment. There are many things to take into account to determine your actual cost. These include:

  • cost of the fixture.
  • cost of installation.
  • cost of disposal of your existing fixtures.
  • amount of rebate your utility company will provide you to convert over to LED .

How do you calculate your savings? First you have to understand:

  • the current wattage of your fixtures, including ballast draw. This is simply calculated. Take the wattage of the bulb and multiply it by 1.15. That will give you the power consumption of each fixture.
  • your cost of electricity. It's your cost per kw/h, which typically ranges between .06 to .30.
  • how many hours a day do you run your lights? 3 hours? 12 hours? 24 hours?

Follow some simple guidelines:

  • If your cost per kw/h is high, then it may make sense to convert.
  • If your hours of usage is high, then it may make sense to convert.
  • If you are getting a good rebate from your utility, then it may make sense to convert.
  • If you have a combination of the above items, then it probably makes very good sense to convert to LED.

Need help? We can help. We do this every day, for many customers. We can help you with your payback calculation.

2. Does the area have existing lights or will you be adding new lights?

If you already have existing lighting, then converting to LED will be a lot simpler and less costly than if you are thinking about adding lighting to an unlit area. The reasons are obvious. You can reuse existing poles and if you retrofit, existing fixtures. You do not have to rewire. Converting to LED will actually put less demand on your existing circuits.

If you are thinking about adding light to an area, its obvious you will have to add poles, wiring to service the poles, and permits.

Using a good general contractor or electrical contractor in your area will help you manage the new project. Replacing existing lights is typically a much easier project that typically does not require permission.

So what information do you need to gather before you start your project?

  1. What type of fixture do you have? If you are not sure, take a picture.
  2. How is this fixture mounted? To a pole, to a wall? What is the fixture mounting type? Slip fitter? Trunnion? Unsure? Take a picture. A good LED sales person should be able to instantly identify what you have.
  3. What type of light bulb do you have? Metal Halide, High Pressure Sodium?
  4. How many watts? 400W? 1000W?
  5. What is the line voltage? 277V? 480V? Single phase or three phase?
  6. What is your cost of electricity?
  7. Which is your utility company?
  8. How many hours a day do you run your lights?
  9. Do you currently use controls, like photocells or timers? Would you like to? This can save you even more money.
  10. How do you feel about your existing lighting? Good enough? Too bright? Not bright enough? All this can be addressed with the new solution.
  11. How good are your existing fixtures? Will they last another 10 years? Maybe retrofitting makes sense for you.

3. The different mounting types for your outdoor shoebox lights

Understanding how your fixtures mount to your existing poles and walls is paramount to converting over to LED. Nothing is more frustrating than getting your lights out to your facility only to find out you need a slip fitter but thought you had a trunnion mount. The electrician will have to go home, be rescheduled and either new lights need to be ordered or you will have to replace the mounting on the lights that were sent. Knowing what you have, and ordering the right parts, will save you time, money, and aggravation.

Slip Fitter

This type of mount allows for the fixture to be mounted on a bull horn. The slip fitter inserts onto the tenon. Tenons tend to be around 2 3/8" in diameter.


This type of mount bolts to a pole, and arm or a wall. These are typically associated with flood lights, and the trunnion adjusts to accommodate different installation needs. Sometimes, this is also referred to as a yoke mount.

Straight Arm

This type bolts to a light pole. There are adapters for round poles as well. Poles that accept straight arms are typically pre-drilled to match the bolt pattern of the straight arm.

4. New LED fixtures or retrofit your existing fixture?

So its obvious what a new fixture is. When you get one, it should include everything to replace your existing fixture, including a new arm, trunnion or slip fitter bracket. You are essentially replacing the entire fixture with a new LED fixture.

But what if your fixtures are in good condition? Or you spent a lot of money on a particular fixture and want to maintain that look but still want to convert to LED? Can you?

Yes you can. It's retrofitting. Retrofitting is replacing the old light engine with a LED light system inside your existing fixture. Its essentially a bulb and ballast replacement.

Parking lot retrofit lights

But is retrofitting good? Is it safe? Will it last as long as a new LED fixture?

Yes, to all those questions. Our parking lot light retrofits are ETL approved and this approval is done with the full knowledge its going to replace an existing light engine inside the fixture. They are DLC Premium Qualified, so they are very efficient and are eligible for rebates from utilities. And they are warrantied for 10 years; thus they are designed to last.

Here are the steps to convert a metal halide parking lot fixture to LED:

  1. Turn off power to the fixture.
  2. Open the fixture.
  3. Remove the bulb, ballast, reflector and socket.
  4. Configure the mounting arm that comes with the kit to match the best configuration for your fixture. Several options come with the kit, you just have to use the one that best matches your fixture.
  5. Bolt the mounting arm into the fixtures using the holes that the socket was attached to. Hint, save the socket screws because these might be your best option.
  6. Mount the LED driver to where the old ballast was installed.
  7. Attach the LED head to the mounting arm.
  8. Connect the black and red wire of the LED head to the black and red wire of the LED driver.
  9. Connect the input wires of the LED driver to the power wire that was attached to the old ballast.
  10. Clean the glass, close the fixture.
  11. Turn the power back on.


New fixture or retrofit - what option is best for you?

What's the best option for you? There is no right or wrong answer, only the best solution. You have to take everything into account.

  • cost of fixture/retrofit.
  • size of rebate.
  • payback.
  • condition of your existing fixtures.
  • cost to install versus retrofit.
  • cost to dispose.

Want help? We do this all the time. We have both options available. Unlike some companies that sell one or the other, we are not biased to sell one as a better solution over the other, rather, only what's better for you.

5. What LED wattage should you choose for your parking lot and area light project?

Watts is a bad way to think about this. You really need to think about lumens. Lumens are the amount of light one fixture produces. Watts is the amount of energy a fixture consumes to produce lumens, or light. And each fixture does it differently. In other words, some LED products are far more efficient than others in producing light using less energy. And that's why you are converting.

  There are a few ways to tell which are the more efficient lights.

  1. Check out lumens per watt on the cut sheet. If they don't advertise this, then take the total number of lumens the fixture produces and divide it by the total number of watts it consumes. That's your number.
  2. If it's below 110 lumens per watt, chances are you are looking at very old LED technology.
  3. A good target is 130 lumens/watt or better. We sell retrofits, for example, that are as high as 165 lumens/watt.
  4. Look at the DLC qualification. If it doesn't have one, this is not good option. If it says DLC Premium, this is the highest efficiency qualification. A standard DLC symbol means it is not as efficient as a DLC Premium product. And typically, utilities give bigger rebates for DLC Premium. So while it may cost a little more for a DLC Premium product, the rebate will also be bigger, and your cost savings will be substantial over the life of the product.

How many lumens do you need to replace:

  • 250 watt metal halide, 9000-10000 lumens is good.
  • 400 watt metal halide, 14000 to 20000 lumens is good.
  • 1000 watt metal halide, 36000 to 50000 lumens is good.

What does this translate to in terms of watts?

If your fixture is 110 lumens / watt, you need:

  • 90W to produce 10,000 lumens.
  • 181W to produce 20,000 lumens.
  • 454W to produce 50,000 lumens.

If your fixture is 130 lumens / watt you need:

  • 76W to produce 10,000 lumens.
  • 153W to produce 20,000 lumens.
  • 384W to produce 50,000 lumens.

If your fixture is 160 lumens / watt you need:

  • 62W to produce 10,000 lumens.
  • 125W to produce 20,000 lumens.
  • 312W to produce 50,000 lumens.

Be careful when someone says you need X watts of LED to replace X watts of metal halide. You may be getting bad information.

6. What distribution pattern should you consider?

Optics can be added to your parking fixture to change the distribution of the light to best suit your needs. So how do you choose which one is best for you?

Before you purchase, you can actually model your area with photometric software. This software allows you to model lighting layouts using different lights and different optics. These light designs allow you to determine which light and which optics provide the best light distribution for your area.

There are five basic light distribution patterns, Type 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. Of these five, Types 3 and 5 are most common and are ideal for parking lots with long aisles between parking spots.

An example of a photometric layout

Want to know more? Read our blog on Light Distribution

7. What is the best color temperature? And what is CRI?

One other item you need to consider is color temperature. What is it? Simply stated, color is measured on the kelvin scale, and for purposes of this discussion, there is a predefined range you should consider. This range starts at about 3000K and extends to 6000K.

So what does this mean? Color temperatures on the left side of the scale tend to produce white light with yellow or warm tones. Colors on the right side of the scale tend to produce white light with bluish tones.

Realistically, you are probably going to select two common color temperatures used in 99% of outdoor applications, 4000K or 5000K. 5000K tends to mimic metal halide quite well.

So what is CRI? CRI (Color Rendering Index) is a measurement of quality of light. Lumens are quantity, and CRI is quality. For example, if you ever stood in a white shirt under High Pressure Sodium, your shirt looked yellow. Its quality of light is poor, and it tends to color everything. Its CRI is somewhere around 20, on a scale of 1 to 100. If you stand under a LED Light with a CRI of 80, your white shirt will look white.

So what CRI should you select? We recommend 70+. You do not need 90 CRI. Remember, this is a parking lot, not a television studio where color rendering is incredibly important.

8. Rebates - can save you a lot of money when you purchase.

Rebates are handed out by utility companies and vary by every utility company.

Why would a utility give out a rebate? It's simple. As we consume more electricity, the utility has to make a choice; get people to consume less or make more. They can only produce a finite amount. Once their customers consume all they can produce, they have to make more. And making more costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time.

So, the thought is that it's better to make customers consume less. LED has been a big part of this. Remember, you can replace 400W Metal Halide with 100W of LED. That's at least a 75% reduction of consumption.

How are rebates determined? First you need a standard of efficiency, and a means to test a product. In the industrial and Commercial lighting sector, there is DesignLights Consortium, or DLC. They created a standard which lights are tested against, and if the light passes, it becomes DLC Qualified. There are two standards: DLC and DLC Premium. DLC Premium is for the most efficient LED Lights. And sometimes, a utility company will give a bigger rebate for a DLC Premium Qualified light.

How can you know if your utility is going to give you a rebate? How do you get a rebate? What are the steps and processes?

That is where we can help. We have been doing this for years, and can help you determine your rebate, and what paper work needs to be filled out to get your rebate.

9. The warranty - how long is it and who will help you if there is a problem?

If you want to know how good a manufacturer thinks their light will work, here's what you need to do.
  1. Check the length of the warranty. A product with a two year warranty is not designed to last long. All DLC qualified products are warrantied for five years.
  2. Read the warranty. Some manufacturers promise amazingly long warranties, along with some cleverly designed small print that makes it next to impossible to make a warranty claim.
  3. Check the Better Business Bureau. Sometimes companies find clever ways to not honor their warranties. They make claims such as 'Installation Error' as the reason the lights failed. Make sure you work with a reputable dealer. We often get calls from customers with failed lights with warranties that are not being honored.
  4. Online purchases - buyer beware. Some large online sites sell products with 30 day return policies and apparently with warranties if the product fails. Who is the company behind those warranties? The problem is you don't have a relationship or a phone number of a person you can call if a driver fails. So, be careful of what you buy and where you buy it. You need these lights to work, and work for a long time, and someone who will be there to help if an issue arrives.


MyLEDLightingGuide Shoebox Parking Lot Fixtures


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