Are you a business looking to upgrade your lighting, improve your efficiency, and protect the environment? This guide will help you plan each step of the upgrade process from finding your inspiration and estimating costs to choosing the products you need and tightening the final screws.

What if there were a way to save money on your overhead costs, improve employee output, and preserve the heavy investment you’ve already made in your current infrastructure?

Now imagine all of that plus actually getting paid to do it!

That’s the reality of upgrading your commercial lighting. Whether you choose to actually install new features or to retrofit your existing ones with brand new LED technology is up to you, but each option will pay back major dividends regardless of the path you choose.

This primer guide will cover:

  • The importance of lighting
  • The advantages of LED lighting
  • Evaluating your current lighting to understand need
  • Basic financial considerations
  • And more

Let There be Light: The Importance of Commercial Lighting

As the owner or manager of a facility, you understand that all business comes down to one thing: people. Therefore, when considering a commercial lighting upgrade or retrofit, you must understand the impact that the quantity and quality of light within your facility will have upon the people who matter most.

Of course, most lighting projects are undertaken to improve efficiency, help the environment, and save money, but it’s possible to preserve those benefits and reap “softer” benefits such as:

  • Improved employee performance: Lighting has a major effect on performance and mood, with studies showing 68% of employees complained about their current lighting situation.
  • Increasing comfort and improving relationships: No matter how far technology advances, a real human face-to-face interaction is not replaceable. Vibrant lighting increases comfort and allows people to clearly read each other’s facial expressions.
  • Increasing sales: Lucid lighting allows retail stores to highlight products and has shown to increase sales.

This is why LED lighting has taken off in popularity in the last decade: it provides stunning quality while preserving cost savings and other benefits.

Why Your Business Needs LED Lights

Light-emitting diode (LED) technology is a fascinating and rapidly developing technology. The widespread use of LEDs is expected to save the United States alone $30 BILLION DOLLARS in electricity costs by 2027. Here are the immediate benefits your business will reap:

  • Reduced energy costs: According to the Department of Energy, LEDs use at least 75% less electricity and 25 times longer than incandescent lighting.
  • Reduced maintenance costs: Since LEDs don’t produce heat like incandescent bulbs, you won’t spend as much money on maintaining, replacing, and upgrading your lighting system.
  • You get paid to improve your business: Wait, so you mean you get all of these financial and business benefits, AND you can get money back for doing it?
  • Yes, that’s the truth. By reducing your own energy consumption, you are actually helping the utility company increase its efficiency, too. Read our article about LED lighting rebates to learn more.

How to Plan a Commercial Lighting Upgrade

Now that you know why LED lights are the best thing to happen to commercial lighting since we stopped using torches, it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Use the following guidelines to plan and evaluate your project, and to determine the right path for your business to take in order to maximize its benefit and minimize costs.

Evaluate Your Existing Lighting

The best place to start is with what you’ve got already.

  • Count the number of fixtures, lamps per fixture, and input wattage
  • Get a rough estimate of current maintenance costs
  • Calculate your energy usage
  • Calculate your savings based on reduced usage and maintenance
  • Survey employees and customers about the current lighting (for example, are they dissatisfied with lighting in common areas or wings?)
  • Do you plan on any major changes in the near future to your daily operation?

Determine the Purpose of the Upgrade

Your business can benefit greatly from improved efficiency and reduced costs, but the real reasons for the upgrade may vary. Consider:

  • Are you upgrading to meet code?
  • Is this an ambiance issue?
  • Do you want optimize light usage?
  • How much have you invested in current lighting infrastructure?
  • Do you solely want to improve your working environment or is this a necessity?

The answers here will determine your path. Obviously, the more tangible cost benefits there are or the higher the urgency to meet code, the more you can justify spending.


The costs of a full upgrade are challenging, especially if your building requires significant rewiring and construction. The good news is that there are rebates, financing options, and alternative methods of installation (retrofitting). You can even do the renovation in stages to control costs. Consider these metrics:

  • Cost per sq. foot: Warning: these are ballpark figures. According to UCLA the average cost is $5 per sq. foot for a lighting upgrade, but this varies depending on what you need. Large businesses can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Note: average savings increase drastically as well.
  • ROI: Your ROI is savings minus the costs divided by the costs. If you spend $500 but save $1000 a year, then your ROI per year is ($1,000-$500)/$500 or 100% (find us a stock that good!).
  • Payback period: Upgrades can be costly. The payback period is the time it takes for the savings to outweigh the costs. The good news is that, in general, the payback period is only a few years. Here’s a great wiki on calculating the costs.
  • Retrofit vs. replacement: Retrofitting is the process of adding new technology to your existing lighting infrastructure. This avoids replacing what you’ve already got. Many customers see a 50%-75% reduction in costs. Your company’s situation will determine the right choice. Is your infrastructure outdated, dangerous, or just plain ugly? Then replace it. Is it in good shape and you just want better lighting? Retrofit it and save thousands. Here’s a great infographic on the issue.

Upgrading your commercial lighting to LEDs will pay back major dividends, but it is a complex process. With this guide, you are now equipped with the knowledge to make the best decision for your company.