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Post top lights are area lights mounted on poles and usually placed near pathways, commercial buildings, educational complexes, roadways or parking lots. These outdoor light fixtures are generally fitted on poles with heights ranging from 7 feet to 20 feet. Depending on use, a pole might have several light fixtures on it, using different mounting methods. Typically a LED Post Top bulb contains everything you need to product light, with an internal driver and heat sink, these bulbs are designed for a quick, fast and easy installation.

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The History of Post Top Lighting Fixtures

Street lighting has been a part of humanity for centuries because the setting of the sun heralded danger from bandits or animal attacks. The earliest form of street lights illuminated Peking in China in 500 BC, using natural gas directed from volcano gas leaks by bamboo piping.

Ancient Romans are also recorded to have used vegetable oil lamps to light the entrances to their homes. They had slaves whose task was to light, keep filled, and extinguish the lamps come dawn.

But perhaps the earliest form of post top lights was used in London in 1417. The mayor of the city then passed a law that all homes should hang lanterns outdoors to illuminate the streets during long winter nights.

By 1524, Paris had passed laws that enforced street lighting for people who lived near streets. In Paris though, this forced lighting system became a sign of social control, raising a lot of objections. Streets lights, in that age, were lanterns that were hanged on iron lamp posts, and they soon were turned over to the police for management and care.

Street lighting changed the landscape, making the city come alive at night as the poor left their dimly candlelit abodes and occupied the streets at night. Lamp posts were constructed from cast iron and were ornate and very decorative.

There were globes and lanterns with motifs of foliage, fish, monsters, classical columns, and crowns. Lamp posts were used to give life and identity to the streets in their abstract designs of mythical creatures and classical columns.

LED Outdoor Lighting with Post top bulbs

The Emergence of Post Top Lighting Fixtures in the US

By 1757, Benjamin Franklin had designed his own improved version of the London glass globe oil street light. The first lit road section in the U.S was Pelham Street, Newport, in 1803 using William Murdoch's 1792 gas light invention.

By 1880, the first electric street lights were in operation using Brush lights designed by inventor Thomas Brush. Come the 30s and 40s, fluorescent area lighting had become common, although was quickly replaced by mercury vapor lighting.

Modernism turned the ornate street pole into a steel or concrete feature. By 1966, high-pressure sodium lights were introduced, taking over street lighting from mercury vapor lights. The unique yellow monochromatic glow light became the staple lighting of the streets till the metal halide light –with an improved color rendering index – took over.

The first city in the U.S to utilize LED post top lights was Ann Arbor in Michigan in 2006. By 2009, Los Angeles had about 14,000 LED post top retrofits and the city of Seattle followed closely on their heels with 40,000 LED post top retrofit bulbs with its five-year plan.

Challenges Facing Post Top Lighting

High Energy Consumption

There are numerous post top lights all over the world today, and they consume trillions of kWh annually. This high energy consumption means that a lot of electricity has to be generated to feed these lights that have become an essential part of the nightlife in the cities. Energy inefficient post top lights mainly contribute to the emission of green house gases that are damaging our planet's ecosystems.

Maintenance Problems

Post top lights that utilize traditional light bulbs have short lifetimes. The maintenance crew in your facility has to be very keen to note when a lamp dies and replace it quickly. Since the lights are usually mounted at high points, most require the use of vehicle mounts to assist in lamp replacements, cleaning, and inspection of the light fixtures.

Sometimes accessing these light fixtures in areas obstructed by parked vehicles can be difficult, especially if you have to do it often – which is the case with traditional lamps as they have short lifespans. Most building owners have to hire vehicle mounts from a different firm for maintenance purposes, whose costs further eat into your operating costs.

LED post top retrofits can use intelligent light systems that help with not only light management but system management as well. These systems can, with precision, monitor the light fixtures’ energy quality and the overall health of the light fixtures as well. They interconnect LED lights using appropriate media that sends data fast and reliably to the building manager.

Some intelligent light systems can, for example, report when a lamp is past its prime lighting stage. They also have very long lifetimes, decreasing relamping needs. Conventional light bulbs like MH and HPS do not integrate with new intelligent lighting options as easily as LEDs do.

Large commercial buildings have been known to carry out scheduled relamping of all lights, to cut on maintenance costs that accrue with replacing one dead bulb at a time. Of course, this raises issues of sustainability since some of the bulbs are relamped before their due date.

Light Pollution

Conventional post top lights are sometimes either too dim or too intense, depending on the age of the bulbs. Inadequate lighting is therefore, a widespread occurrence with traditional post top lighting and reduces security and safety, is counterproductive, and increases energy operating costs.

When lights are too dim at night, they can cause accidents, some of which may be fatal. On the other hand, intense lights at night cause light pollution that is not only detrimental to human health but to crop maturity, and also wildlife.

Sea turtles, for example, have been adversely impacted by intense lights that make them wander too far inland instead of toward the ocean, leading to their deaths. Human beings, on the other hand, may experience sleep disruptions if exposed to intense artificial light at night.

Poorly designed, poorly positioned, and poorly aimed light fixtures cause glare, wasted light, light trespass and shadows, too. Glare reduces visibility, but the right optics in luminaires, properly placed poles, and the correct pole heights can help minimize glare.

Part of the reason why traditional post top lights are often too bright is because as intense as they are with their orange and yellow light, lighting controls negatively affect their lamp life – so they are not used. The lights also tend to get dusty and dirty fast. This dirt can encrust on the lenses of traditional HPS post top lights because of the heat they produce.

This will dim the light fast, especially in humid climates. Many building owners and managers, seeing this shortcoming, opt to use the lights at their most intense, to ensure that they can produce enough light in all circumstances. LEDs, on the other hand, do not produce glare but are bright enough for outdoor spaces.

LED post top retrofit bulbs can be controlled and dimmed because they are flexible. This not only makes them more energy efficient, it also makes them the perfect light sources for nighttime use.

Tough Weather Conditions

Many older post top light fixtures fade, corrode, and rust when exposed to the elements. High-intensity discharge light fixtures' starting and operational efficiency is also adversely affected by extreme temperatures.

These temperatures can cause fluttering and reduced light output in cold weather, because the ballast will have difficulties starting. Extremely high temperatures can also cause the ballast to overheat, damaging it through a process known as cycling. High temperatures not only decrease the light output of these light fixtures, but also shorten ballast life.

Advantages of LED Post Top Retrofit Bulbs


One of the most critical benefits of post top lights is safety. They will illuminate pathways, parks, roads, and streets, reducing accidents and the risk of injuries. You may not know it, but poorly lit streets and highways are accountable for almost 1/3 of all fatal night crashes?

Good lighting greatly enhances night driving, be it on the highway or in commercial and residential spaces. High-quality post top lighting will also ensure the safety of cyclists and pedestrians after sundown.


Decorative post top lighting can be used to enhance the visual aspects of outdoor spaces innovatively. Some LED post top retrofits have the ability to change color, lighting up grounds or buildings decoratively.

The design choices of decorative area lights are endless, ranging from contemporary to traditional designs. You can choose any design you like – from innovative post top spheres and cube designs to pendants, lanterns, tulips or acorns.

Most of these post top light fixture designs have unique historical significance being the standard light fixture designs for some cities, parks, or colleges. When planning to install LED post top retrofits, the design of the fixtures, therefore, can be used to enhance a promenade, boardwalk, lake, or seafront.

These lights can be appropriately placed to not only add charm but also create a remarkable ambiance. High-quality night lighting also enhances a commercial space's exterior, attracting in more customers.

Crime Reduction

The effects of quality outdoor lighting on crime often vary, depending on the conditions of an area, but cases of crime are often exacerbated by poor lighting. Improved outdoor lighting will help keep your visitors and workers safe.

If the lights are installed in an educational complex, they will help enhance the security for students walking to and from their lecture halls or libraries to their homes or boarding facilities. High-quality lighting also makes people feel more secure and confident when out and about at night. A poorly lit commercial outdoor space is bound to attract very few customers after dark.

Improved outdoor lighting also enhances community confidence and aids the operations of security patrols as well as closed-circuit television cameras. Research shows that improved street lighting is capable of reducing crime by 21%, thanks to enhanced community cohesion and deterrence of criminal activity.

Gray Street in Workington, in the U.K, was dealing with many cases of car vandalism and stolen cars at night. In 2002, the area reported 27 car thefts over several nights. Low-quality street lighting was identified as one of the possible contributors to these thefts.

The post top lights were upgraded to LED post top retrofit lights and installed in late 2003. In 2004, there was a remarkable reduction in car theft, with only 6 cases reported. The residents said that better lighting not only made them feel safer out on the street, it also deterred crime.

Helps Enhance Geographic Orientation

Visitors to your commercial enterprise are more likely to lose their way at night if they do not have quality light to guide them.

LED post top retrofit bulbs can not only be used to illuminate walkways, streets, and roads, they can also be used to highlight important focal points like fountains, sculptures or important geographical landmarks.

Post top lighting can also be used to highlight the landscaping and architectural features of a building, adding a beautiful aura that your nighttime visitors will enjoy.

Types of Post Top Lights

High-Pressure Sodium Vapor Post Top Light Fixtures

High-pressure sodium vapor lights have an aluminum oxide arc tube and sodium metal combined with mercury. They produce an intense yellow-orange light and require a warm-up period before attaining full light output. They use ballasts that provide the starting current and also control the current during operation.

But as HPS post top lights age, they require more power to produce a little light. They waste a lot of energy over time since they use the same amount of power to produce fewer lumens as they age. Their standard life cycle is 24,000 lamp hours.

Disadvantages of HPS Post Top Lights


Poor CRI

Post top lights are meant to enhance safety and security, but in order to do that, the lights have to render colors well enough to increase visibility. Well, the low CRI of HPS lamps (20-30) ensures they deliver the worst color rendering of all post top lamps. In fact, items viewed under HPS lights appear to have a single color, which means that it’s difficult to tell between the colors of cars or clothing, which could help when trying to deter or detect crime.


Short Lamp Life

HPS lamps will only last a short 24,000 hours before they require relamping. And since they don’t stay bright for very long, relamping may be done long before their lives’ end. The lamps also require frequent maintenance which will eat into your business operating costs. They also have mercury in them which is toxic, making their disposal problematic.


Warm-Up Period

HPS lights have a lengthy warm-up time, meaning that they cannot be switched on and provide instant brightness. They need ample time to evaporate their metal salts into plasma, a process that could take at least 10 minutes.

When switched on, they give off a pinkish/reddish glow which slowly transitions to the characteristic orange/yellowish glow. In case of power interruption, the lights must be left to cool down before they are turned on again.

It is therefore difficult to pair up high pressure sodium lights with light controls, because of their long restrike and warm-up times. Light control features will degrade their function and ballasts, resulting in a reduction in light production and lamp life.


Direction of Lighting

HPS lights discharge their light in all directions, in 360 degrees. Half of this light is wasted since it usually sent sideways and upwards, where it is not required. What's more, this light causes annoying sky glow that increases light pollution which adversely affects human beings' sleep patterns and animal and plant behavior.


Energy Inefficiency

HPS lights contain ballasts that use at least 52V to 100V, making them very inefficient. The lamps also draw a lot of electricity, regardless of the light output. In addition, they produce a lot of infrared energy which is usually lost to the surroundings.


Low Range of Correlated Color Temperatures

HPS lights have a warm orange glow with a CCT of 2200K. They have limited color temperatures to choose, from making them unsuitable for areas that need flexible lighting.

Metal Halide Post Top Lights

When halogen elements and metal combine, they form metal halides. Halogen elements include uranium hexafluoride and sodium chloride. When an electric current is passed through metal halide gases combined with mercury, an intense bright light is produced (with a CCT of up to 5500K).

Disadvantages of MH Post Top Lights


Long Warm-Up and Restrike Times

Metal halide lamps have the longest restrike and warm-up periods of all post top lights available today. They can take up to 20 minutes to warm up, depending on the specific metal halide. This means that they have to be left on longer than required since they cannot be switched on and off on demand.


Light Direction

Just like HPS lamps, metal halides disperse their light multi-directionally (in a 360-degree arc). And just like HPS post top lights, much of their light is lost to the environment and requires reflection and redirection to ensure balanced lighting.


Lighting Inefficiencies

When dimmed, the light output of metal halide lamps becomes poorer and they become even more energy inefficient. Dimming controls adversely affect their ballasts, further shortening their lives. The lamps convert a significant amount of the power they pull (up to 15%) into heat and are highly energy inefficient.


Short Lamp Life

Metal halide bulbs have a useful life of 6,000 to 15,000 hours. LED post top retrofit bulbs last 5-10 times longer. It is no secret that the maintenance and relamping costs associated with metal halide lamps are very high.


Shock Resistance

MH lamps have very fragile glass parts and do not have the ability to withstand shocks and vibrations as well as LEDs. They also have hazardous materials in them and require utmost care during use and disposal.

Advantages of

LED Post Top Retrofits 

LED lights produce their light through semiconductivity, unlike HID lamps that require a fuel source. The lights have multiple diodes, each with its own optic, to ensure high-quality light distribution. What’s more, LED post top retrofits boast the best lifetimes and energy efficiency amongst all post top lights.

Energy Savings

LED post top retrofits have wattages ranging between 25W and 106W and are 35% to 80% more energy efficient than HID lamps. LED lights consume very little electricity and last longer than HID lamps. Because they consume very little power, they help curb the release of carbon emissions in the atmosphere by up to 44,000 tonnes each year.

LED post top lights with sensor light controls are usually triggered by motion sensors which turn them on when required. These light control mechanisms make LED lights more energy efficient.

Light Distribution

LED bulbs have a multi-point diode design that produces a very even lighting pattern. Unlike HID post top light fixtures, they get rid of shadows, poorly lit spots, and brightly lit spots. HID post top lights often have bright spots underneath them (where the light is focused) and the brightness reduces significantly as you move away from the light poles.

A Wider Range of Color Temperatures

The American Medical Association has released a policy statement that aims to help reduce the effects of light pollution on the environment and human health as well. The report recommends that outdoor night lights should have not more than 3000K CCT, meaning that the light should be warmer than cool.

Lower CCTs or warm light colors have less blue light wavelengths that are known to interfere with the human circadian rhythm. White LED lights are known to suppress the production of melatonin (the hormone which helps regulate sleep cycles) by up to 5 times more than warmer CCT lights.

Most big cities use cool white bulbs (with CCTs of 4000K to 5000K) in their post top light fixtures, which are very intense. Such intense lights will cause glare and discomfort, negatively affecting visibility for drivers on the road at night and pedestrians, too.

LED post top retrofits can be dimmed during off-peak hours to cut down light wastage. When coupled with intelligent light systems, they can switch from cool white CCT to warm white CCT (about 3000K) during late hours.

Light Performance

LEDs have a high color rendering index of above 80. Human beings generally tend to feel safer when the lighting difference between daylight and night light is as little as possible. Since the high CRI of LEDs mimics daylight, it will attract more clients to your business premise because they will feel safe enough to stop by at night. LEDs also have consistent light distribution and make drivers and pedestrians feel safer at night.

Long Life

LEDs have enhanced operational efficiency, so they last longer than HID bulbs. They do not use a fuel source that gets depleted over time, so their light output takes years to degrade. Their functional life is in upwards of 50,000 work hours and drastically cuts down relamping as well as maintenance costs.

Important Considerations When Choosing LED Post Top Retrofits

The Type of Fixtures

If you have ample space, IESNA recommends high-mounted and high-wattage luminaires, well spaced for uniform illuminance. In pedestrian zones, shorter mounting heights of 10ft to 20ft are recommended. 30ft to 60ft mounting heights are recommended for larger spaces.

High-mounted, high-wattage post top fixtures disperse light in a broad range so you will require fewer poles. Some municipalities and zones restrict mounting heights for lighting fixtures, so it pays to first ask – especially if you are installing post top light fixtures afresh. IESNA recommends more poles used for low mounting height lights and lower LED wattages to ensure uniformity and reduce light wastage.

Useful Features

Tool-less openings on poles make it easy to unhook snaps that open hinged fixture doors. This makes relamping much easier because juggling a bunch of screwdrivers on a bucket truck is not easy. If, for example, the screws drop during installations or relamping 20 feet down, too much time will be spent recovering them and getting back up again to complete the job.

Sturdy Build

Post top light fixtures are exposed to harsh weather conditions and vandalism and need to be well built with high-quality materials to outlast the abuse. Of the three types of lens materials available, acrylic, polycarbonate, and glass, the latter is very brittle and damages easily.

Polycarbonate lenses are the most durable lenses out there and acrylic lenses come a close second. To ensure that you purchase long-lasting LED post top retrofits, make sure that they have the right Ingress Protection rating.

A well sealed light fixture will have an IP rating of 66 and above, meaning that it is impermeable to dirt and wetness. Its lenses will last longer since dirt and water will not form clumps inside the fixture, reducing its light efficiency and destroying the electrical components.

Spectral Output

Low quality light fixtures that are wrongly placed can obstruct surveillance cameras, compromising a property's security. Always match your light fixtures’ spectral output to your surveillance technology to ensure that the cameras work optimally.

Light Pollution and Trespass

There are many forms of light pollution. One is glare. It is excessive intense light that causes visual discomfort. There is also light trespass that happens when luminaires send out their light to areas where it is not required. Sky glow occurs in urban areas, causing the over-brightening of the sky in residential spaces. There is also light clutter, which is simply the excessive grouping of light fixtures that are very bright and confusing due to their intensity and placement.

The IDA estimates that over 30% of all light produced is wasted. This amounts to an annual loss of 22 billion kWh which can be compared to the cost of 12.9 million oil barrels or 3.6 million coal tons.

Light pollution and trespass can affect the areas adjacent to a commercial property, becoming a nuisance. IESNA advices that post top light fixtures should have a well-controlled distribution of candelas. You should also use LED light fixtures because they disperse their light in one direction, controlling upward light emissions that cause light pollution.


Your post top light fixtures should be on the same level to eliminate the formation of shadows that turn curbs, steps, or clumps of bushes into tripping hazards. The darker areas between outdoor lights decrease the eye's ability to adapt to activities happening in the spots. Post top fixtures should, therefore, be well spaced to minimize dark spots glare and that can impair vision and cause visual discomfort.

People perceive light in relation to its surroundings. Poorly lit outdoor spaces usually tend to look much darker when compared to brightly lit spaces nearby. The distribution of post top light fixtures on sidewalks will also dramatically affect the side walk's usage and appeal.

Different Types of Post Top Light Fixture Arrangements

Staggered Arrangement

Staggered post top light fixtures are usually placed across pathways, sidewalks, or streets from each other. They allow for a lighting arrangement that is informal and can assist in utilizing lesser poles since they cause an overlap of illumination.

Opposite Arrangement

This type of post top light arrangement places light poles formally aligned across a sidewalk, street, road, or pathway. This arrangement can help with the placement of holiday lights or banners when the season calls for it.


The design of the post top light fixtures used should meet your community's standards and preferences. You will need to know factors like how many luminaires you are allowed to use per post, unique colors, materials, or finishes, and the style required – whether traditional, historical, or contemporary. Ensure that your chosen light fixture design blends well with other amenities such as outdoor furniture.

Secondary Light Pole Uses

Banners or Pole Decorations
The posts where the light fixtures are mounted can be used to hold double or single objects. But the objects placed on the posts must not interfere with the mounting height of the lights and must correspond with the lights’ style.

The poles can also be used to hold hanging planters that are non-irrigated. Irrigated planters should have enclosed pipes.

Light Controls

Be sure to purchase LED post top retrofit bulbs with energy management options like timers and photocells. These will turn your post top light fixtures on and off effectively and dim their light output when necessary. For Instance, Cambridge, MA, has LED post top retrofit bulbs that dim up to 50% at dusk and only 30% of their total light output is availed from 10 pm till sunrise.

UC Davis, on the other hand, has 1500 LED post top retrofits with motion sensors. When the streets of the campus are empty, these post top lights give off only 10% of their light output. If a car or a person is detected, the light output increases to 80% or 90% to enhance visibility. These light control systems have afforded both campuses 80% energy cost savings.

The Quality of Illumination

HID bulbs are limited in terms of customization, efficiency, and wattage range, but LEDs are not. They are very powerful and efficient, and a LED light fixture of 6W to 9W is capable of providing as much light as a 60W HID light bulb.

Since with LEDs, wattage does not necessarily quantify their level of brightness, a metric known as a footcandle is used to measure illuminance adequacy. Wattage basically measures the amount of electric power a light fixture utilizes, and LEDs are so energy efficient that they use less power to produce as much light as higher-wattage bulbs. Since you can’t retrofit HIDs with LEDs watt for watt, foot candles are used.

A footcandle (FC) equals one lumen of light per square foot of space. Foot-candles are used to determine the amount of light sufficient for a space. The foot candles recommended by the IES for LED post top retrofits are as follows:

Area Uses fc
High traffic Outdoor lighting used in larger shopping complexes, fast food centers,
large civic and cultural centers, or athletic events
Medium traffic Residential buildings, hospitals, offices, shopping centers
in the community, and airports
Low traffic Religious buildings, educational complexes, industrial facilities,
and neighborhood shopping centers

Tips for Better LED Post Top Retrofit Lighting


Full cutoff LED post top retrofits can replace light fixtures that cause glare or those that disperse light upwards, causing sky glow. LED lights are omnidirectional and are therefore perfect for parking lots, streets, and pedestrian walkways. They send light where it is required the most, eliminating light pollution and light trespass.

Balanced Lighting

Parking lot lighting, according to IESNA, should be designed for the benefit of drivers and pedestrians. A pedestrian or driver at the parking lot's brightest spot should be able to see objects in the darker areas in their field of view. Unbalanced light levels will hamper this effect.

By using white-light-producing fixtures like LEDs, drivers find it easier to identify the colors of their vehicles in the parking lot. Globe lights are sometimes used because of their aesthetic value, but they also direct light above the horizontal centerline, causing light pollution.

When pedestrians or drivers move from areas with intense lighting to regions with poor lighting and vice versa, it impedes visibility. To prevent the impediment of visual adaptation, light fixtures with an excellent color rendering index are recommended.

Light Control Options

Outdoor lighting fixtures require a photocell (photosensor), a light control device that turns lights on and off depending on the level of ambient light. Photocells turn LED post top lights on at dusk and off at dawn. An inbuilt delayed mechanism timer ensures that the lights do not get turned off accidentally at night because of lightning flashes.

Photocells installed in light fixtures in the northern hemisphere should aim north to sense light reflected from the sky. Affordable cadmium sulfide photocells have been the most commonly used photocells, but they degrade faster from sun exposure, losing their sensitivity to light in a few years.

When this happens, they keep lights on longer than necessary, reducing energy savings. Electronic photocells, on the contrary, utilize photodiodes which retain their sensitivity for years, paying for the lights’ initial costs with a reduction in labor and energy costs.

LED luminaires with a cutoff design and white light can utilize light management features or time docks that limit their light output during certain hours of the night. They make an exterior safer and pleasant for the occupants, visitors, and passersby.

Post Top Retrofit Case Study 1

Humility of Mary Health Partners, a Level one trauma care center in Youngstown, OH, previously used 400W HPS lamps for its post top lights. These produced low-quality light that negatively impacted visitor safety and outdoor visibility. The decision makers decided to look for ways to enhance the lighting and also cut down maintenance and operational costs.


The HPS lamps had a very limited lamp life, forcing frequent maintenance due to re-lamping needs. The replacement of these light bulbs required an electrical team, a bucket truck, and a few other items. The facility went ahead and purchased 60 LED post top retrofits that immediately enhanced the quality of outdoor lighting.


The lights were affordable and easy to install because they were compatible with the facility's older steel poles. The center now enjoys 20 foot candles in its ER lot, which is about twice as much as was available before. With LED post top retrofit bulbs being almost maintenance-free, the facility will use the luminaires for 10-20 years and enjoy $8,400 savings in yearly maintenance costs.


Post Top Retrofit Case Study 2

In Washington, West Richland recently retrofitted its 1000 HPS post top lights with LED post top retrofit bulbs. The city also installed an intelligent wireless lighting control management system to further cut down energy costs.


This brought down the outdoor energy usage by 60%. The dimming capabilities of the LED post top lights have further increased the energy savings by 10-20%. The light quality has also improved and increased safety. There are also remarkable savings on maintenance costs and dark sky considerations have been addressed as well.

LED Post Top Installation Infographic

LED Post Top Infographic

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