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All commercial property owners should be considering converting their existing lights to LEDs, but especially parking lots. There are many advantages that LEDs pose over more traditional parking lot lighting. Parking lot lights are constantly exposed to the elements and endure harsh conditions. They also require regular maintenance to ensure that they are operating at a capacity that supports a safe experience for both pedestrians and drivers.

Switching to LED lights will greatly lower energy consumption, but that’s not all they’ll do. LED lights, unless specifically designed to, do not emit UV rays. This ensures a bug-free parking lot and a much more pleasant pedestrian experience. LED lights are also much more durable than other types of bulbs, which means fewer maintenance requirements and lowers the probability that the light will break, significantly. As we often say, LEDs allow you to do less with more. So, making the switch to LEDs just makes sense. 

 However, the actual process of upgrading to LED can be confusing because it’s not a straight swap. So what do you need to know? What should you consider? How do you get started? Here’s a comprehensive guide on what you need to know about LED parking lights.

Lights Parking Lot

Replace 150 Watt

led linear high bay fixture for warehouses

Replace 150W HID

Replace 250 Watt

led linear high bay fixture for warehouses

Replace 150W HID

Replace 400 Watt

Replace 400W HID

Replace 1000 Watt

led high voltage

Replace 1000W HID

Parking Lot Retrofit

LED Shoebox Retrofit Kit

Parking Lot Retrofit

1. Do you NEED to upgrade your parking lot lights to LED?

If we’re being honest, unless your lights are extremely degraded, you probably don’t NEED to upgrade to LEDs. However, if you want lower energy bills AND better lights, yes you need to upgrade to LEDs. Payback is a simple calculation that determines, based on the savings, how long it will take you to recoup your investment.

LEDs, though an initial investment, have an extremely low payback period, which means you make your money back in no time. In order to calculate payback, there are several different costs to take into account.

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Cost of the Fixture

Initially, LEDs are more expensive than other bulbs. However, because of their low energy consumption and minimal maintenance requirements, they end up being much less expensive.

LED warehouse lights

Cost of Disposal 

Fluorescents and Metal Halide lights both contain mercury. Mercury is a poisonous chemical, and you need to take special precautions when disposing of any product that contains mercury.  

Warehouse light installation

Cost of Installation

We’ll get into the details of retrofitting later, but purchasing new lights of any kind will come with some sort of installation cost. LEDs are relatively simple to install, but this cost is still worth considering. 

leds for rebates

Possible Rebate

In many cases, utility companies will offer you a rebate for converting to LED lighting. Not only could you be saving money on your monthly electric bill, but you also can earn money.

Calculate Your Savings 

Step 1:
Calculate current wattage of your fixtures, including ballast draw. Luckily, this is a pretty simple calculation. Take the wattage of the bulb and multiply it by 1.15. That will give you the power consumption of each fixture.

Step 2:
Calculate your cost of electricity. It’s your cost per kw/h, which typically ranges between .06 to .30.

Step 3:
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.

LED Parking Lot LIghts

2. Are there existing lights or do you need to add lights?

Regardless of whether your fixtures allow for retrofitting or not, if you have existing lighting in place it will be less costly to switch to LEDs than if you’re starting from scratch. This is true for any type of lighting.

The reason for this is simple. If you are installing lights organically, you’ll require costly electrical wiring. And, for parking lot lighting, you’ll need to install poles and map out a lighting scheme. 

 Using a quality general contractor or electrical contractor in your area is the best way to tackle this project. But it is still a good idea to be informed about both your current lightning and the new LEDs you’ll be installing. 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 salesperson 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. Understanding parking fixture mounting options

It’s not the flashiest part of the process, but being knowledgeable about your mounting options is essential. Nothing is more frustrating than getting your lights out to your facility only to find out you need a slip fitter when you thought you had a trunnion mount.

Your electrician will have to leave and reschedule, and you’ll be left deciding between buying new lights or replacing the mounting on the lights you ordered. Knowing what you have, and ordering the right parts, will save you time, money, and aggravation.


Parking Lot Light Mounts

Slip Fitter

This type of parking lot light mount allows for the fixture to be mounted on a bull horn. The slip fitter inserts onto the tenon, which is usually around 2 3/8″ in diameter.


This type of mount bolts to a pole, arm, or wall and is most often associated with floodlights. It is considered the most flexible because the trunnion adjusts to accommodate different installation needs. A trunnion is also occasionally referred to as a yoke mount.

Straight Arm

This type of parking lot light mounts bolts to the light pole itself. 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. What distribution pattern should you consider?

Establishing a distribution pattern is especially important for parking lot lighting. Lighting a parking lot ensures that both drivers and pedestrians have a safe experience. You need to make sure that regardless of where they are in the parking lot, it is well-illuminated. You can add optics to your parking fixture to change the distribution of the light so that it suits your needs. But, how do you choose which one is best for your parking lot?

The best way to do this is with photometric software. This will allow you to model lighting layouts using different lights and different optics with real-time results. These light designs allow you to compare lights and optics to ensure that your space has the best light distribution.

The two most common types of parking lot light distribution are Type III and Type IV. 

Type III Parking Lot Lighting Distribution

Type III distribution for general roadway lighting applications and parking areas. Its throw is taller than Type II, but the side to side throw is much shorter. These are perfect for lighting the perimeter of a parking lot. 

Type V Parking Lot Lighting Distribution

Type V produces a circular distribution that has equal light at all positions. It is great for flooding large areas, like parking lots, with light. We suggest this lighting distribution for the center of the parking lot.

  light distributon

Free Parking Lot Lighting Plan

We offer Free Parking Lot Lighting Plans. Why? Because lighting plans provide you with light and distribution levels for your commercial parking lot or area. This essentially removes a lot of the risk in purchasing LED. 


Type Distributions

5. To Retrofit or To Not Retrofit?

LEd Parking Lot Lights

A retrofit kit allows you to replace your old lighting with LED bulbs without having to replace the fixture itself. When you purchase a new LED light, it includes everything to replace your existing fixture. This includes a new arm, trunnion, or slip fitter bracket in addition to the light fixture. 

 However, there are plenty of instances where replacing the entire light fixture isn’t the best option. If they’re in good condition and has been well-maintained, or if it was purchased particularly for its aesthetics, you’ll want to retrofit. Retrofitting is replacing the old light engine with a LED light system, inside your existing fixture. It is a bulb and ballast replacement but leaves the look of the light intact. 

Retrofitting is less expensive than installing completely new fixtures, and there are no downsides. The lights will last just as long with a retrofit kit as they would if you replaced the entire fixture. If your lights are degraded or extremely outdated, you’re likely not a candidate for retrofitting. But otherwise, it’s always worth asking. 

 Things to Consider Before Retrofitting

cost of fixture/retrofit

size of rebate payback 

condition of your existing fixtures

cost to install versus retrofit

cost to dispose

Even with all this information, it can still be difficult to make a decision. We’ve gathered a quick list of the most common types of parking lot lighting and our suggestions for both replacing and retrofitting those lights.

Retrofit or Replace 400W Metal Halide Shoebox



Retrofit or Replace 1000W Metal Halide Shoebox



6. What LED wattage should you choose?

A watt is defined as a unit of power, equivalent to one joule per second. But because LED lights are so much more efficient than other bulbs and can produce equivalent lumens using less energy, watts are not a good comparison. Instead, you should focus on the lumens, or the amount of visible light, that the fixture produces. 

Even amongst LEDs, there is a variance of power consumption. This means that there is never a straight swap between two lights, even two LED lights. Instead, use the following checklist to ensure that you are getting the appropriate light. 

  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 so move on. DLC Premium is the highest efficiency qualification and offers the biggest rebates and savings. A standard DLC symbol means it is not as efficient as a DLC Premium product, but the initial price will be slightly lower. 

What does this translate to in terms of watts?

110 lumens / watt, you need:

90 Watts to produce 10,000 lumens.

181 Watts to produce 20,000 lumens.

454 Watts to produce 50,000 lumens.

130 lumens / watt you need:

76 Watts to produce 10,000 lumens.

153 Watts to produce 20,000 lumens.

384 Watts to produce 50,000 lumens.

160 lumens / watt you need:

62 Watts to produce 10,000 lumens.

125 Watts to produce 20,000 lumens.

312 Watts to produce 50,000 lumens.

7. What is the best color temperature? 

Surprise, surprise. There isn’t a blanket answer for every setting. Each project has different needs so everyone’s answer to this will be different. Warmer colors tend to be better for ambiance while bluer tones lend themselves well towards task lighting.

Light color temperature is measured by the Kelvins scale. For parking lot lights to be at their most effective, we recommend sticking somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 Kelvins. 

Kelvin Color Temperature Scale Chart

8. What is CRI?

CRI (Color Rendering Index) is a measurement of the quality of light. So, lumens are quantity and CRI is quality.  Light quality is extremely important because it affects how you perceive the world around you. For example, if you ever stood in a white shirt under High-Pressure Sodium, a white shirt might look yellow. HPS fixtures tend to hover around 20 CRI. LED lights, on the other hand, offer a much higher quality of light, and tend to be around 70 CRI. 

 What CRI should you select? Well, that depends on the setting. For a parking lot, we recommend anything about 70 CRI. There’s no need to go over the top with light quality here because unlike a news studio or lab, you don’t need to clearly see every single color.


9. Rebates 

Rebates administered by utility companies and vary by every utility company.

Why would a utility company give out a rebate for converting to LED lighting? It’s simple. There’s only a finite amount of electricity that a utility company can produce. By lowering your energy consumption, you’re taking pressure off the power company to supply more power, which takes both time and money. 

 So, when customers consume less, it’s actually better for the utility company. LED lighting has been a big part of this. By simply replacing a 400W Metal Halide with a 100 Watt LED, you can reduce your energy consumption by 75%… That’s a pretty big difference. 

 But, not all rebates are created equal. It’s up to each individual utility facility to determine what rebates they will offer.  In the Industrial and Commercial lighting sectors, the  DesignLights Consortium or DLC is what asses a LED’s efficiency. The DLC sets the standard by which lights are tested, and if the light passes, it becomes DLC Qualified. There are two different standards: DLC and DLC Premium. DLC Premium is for the most efficient LED Lights. Usually, utility companies offer bigger rebates for DLC premium fixtures.

10. Energy-saving controls for your parking fixtures

Sure, just installing LEDs can help you save money on your electricity bill, but you can take it a step further with energy-saving controls. These will automatically turn the lights off and on, ensuring that your parking lot lights aren’t on if they aren’t needed. 

Photocells for dusk to dawn operations

The bottom line is that unless it’s extremely stormy out, you don’t need parking lot lights during the day. It makes sense to manually turn the lights on and off when needed, but it’s a waste of manpower and doesn’t account for sudden storms or other interference. A photocell timer will turn your lights on at dusk and lights off at dawn, regardless of the time of year or season. Photocells are special because they rely on the amount of light to indicate whether to turn the lights on and off. 

Motion Sensors and Dimming

Lighting is always important, for appearance, safety, and security but that doesn’t mean they need to be at 100% capacity 100% of the time. If there isn’t anyone in the parking lot, do the lights really need to be on at all? Motion sensors are a great solution to this problem, and they’ve come a long way. Instead of just turning the light off, a motion sensor can adjust the brightness in real-time. Motion sensors are perfect for security purposes. 

LED Parking Lot Lights


How many lumens do I need for a parking lot?

We have found that a range between 15,000 and 25,000 lumens to replace 400W HID and 40,00 to 55,000 lumens to replace 1000W Metal Halide are the best lumen ranges for parking lot lights. The real answer lies in performing a photometric study for your area, which we provide for free.

What are the best color temperatures to use for LED Parking Lot Lights?

The two most popular is 4000K and 5000K. 5000K is a good replacement for Metal Halide. Many states have rules that only allows for 4000K or lower.

What are the best optics to use in LED Parking Lot Lights?

By far, the most popular are Type 3 and Type 5. If you’re unsure which one is best for you, we can run a free photometric to show you which optic and lumen package works best for you. Keep in mind, choosing the correct optic can make a dramatic difference to the end result of your parking lot. Using Type 5 optics in the middle of a parking lot provides great area distribution. Using Type 3 on the edges of a lot ensures the light ends up in the lot and not the area directly behind the light.

What kind of lights are in parking lots?

The most common lights is a shoebox light. Shoebox lights have been a standard parking lot fixture for decades. Before LED, they were powered with Metal Halide and High Pressure Sodium bulbs. Since LED, Shoebox Lights have become more stylish, appealing and thinner.

Last Updated: 11/24/2020
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