Modern Electrician Podcast

Let There Be Photometrics: Podcast Transcript

Neil Peterson from LED Lighting Supply recently joined Doug Powell for the Modern Electrician Podcast to talk about photometrics and LED lighting’s rapid evolution in the industry.

Doug is a business-owner, electrician, comedian and public speaker who is obsessed with personal growth. His podcast shares the stories and ideas of tradespeople with a dose of humor and motivation.

This episode can be found on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Doug’s website.

Interview Transcript

Doug (00:00):

Hey! What’s up, everybody? It’s your favorite electrician Doug here. Welcome back to the modern electrician podcast.

Happy to have you here. Hope you had a great prosperous week. Hope you’re learning a lot in whatever it is that you’re out there doing. And continuing to grow, out here on the East coast of Maryland, fall is in the air. If you live in a place that doesn’t have fall, I am sorry. I love fall to death. It’s my favorite time of year. It’s just cool. The air gets nice and crisp. You get to wear flannels again and sweatshirts.

For a guy like me, I don’t sweat as much on the job now, which is good for everyone. You know, I’m a sweater. I sweat like I’m keeping a dirty secret. I just sweat. I sweat so much.

Doug (00:49):

You know, I want to give the clients a break. Let’s not look at Doug sweating through his clothes again today. Fall is a great time of year for that reason alone but as an electrician, the fall is really all about lighting because as the seasons change, it gets darker earlier and stays darker longer in the morning, you need lights!

That’s when our clients realize that, maybe they didn’t finish that lighting project because the summer was relaxing, they were chilling, and then it gets cold and they’re like “Oh, that’s right! We need those floodlights done!”.

So the fall is all about outdoor lighting for electricians and indoor lighting as well. Lighting is everything y’all! Lighting makes it all happen. We’ve been trying to light our spaces properly for millennia.

Doug (01:37):

If you go way back in human history, if you wanted to see something at night, something had to be set on fire. Fire for the longest time and was our main source of light. You had to make candles and torches, and transfer fire from one thing to the next, and it burns stuff. It’s not even a very good source of light, you can’t really see in a space that’s just lit by fire. In fact, fire as light was used in different philosophical conversations about how people can be confused by reflection.

Take Plato’s Cave allegory as an example. If you guys aren’t familiar with the cave allegory, it’s basically this story that Plato would tell about these guys that are chained inside this cave and it’s lit by nothing but a fire for their whole lives.

Doug (02:33):

All they see are the shadows on the walls of the cave, created by people moving past the fire and they would give names to the shapes, that was their entire reality and there’s all this philosophical stuff to unpack with it, but I think the real crux of the matter is they just needed better lighting in that cave and then the guys would’ve just seen the people.

I’m not trying to knock on Plato or anything. He just didn’t ever get to experience led lighting, and I really wish he would have, because he probably would’ve said some cool stuff about it.

We want to talk about lighting in this episode of the Modern Electrician podcast and who better to talk lighting with than an organization that not only supplies lighting options, but they also help you look at a space and understand, through various metrics, how to light it exactly the way that you should based on a ton of different variables.

Doug (03:32):

This system is called photometrics and in this episode, I sit down with Neil of LEDlightingsupply.com. They’re one of our sponsors here at the Modern Electrician podcast and we talk photometrics. We get into what are photometrics and how can you, as an electrical contractor, best use them to help your job be successful.

The guys at LEDlightingsupply.com, that’s what they do every day. They talk to electricians just like you, and they use photometrics to help them design the best lighting layout possible for the project. Now, through LEDlightingsupply.com and the Modern Electrician podcast, we’d like to offer a promotion with this episode.

So basically if you’re an electrical contractor and you reach out to LEDlightingsupply.com with the promo code modern, you’ll get 5% off the contractor rate of your purchase. So go to LEDlightingsupply.com, check out what their photometric system is all about and take the guesswork out of lighting design. Neil, Welcome!

Neil (04:42):

Neil: Thank you very much, thanks for having me! So I have always been in technology but about seven or eight years ago I got into lighting controls. And then about six years ago I got into LED lighting just as induction was ending.

LED had really small market penetration back when we started. We thought it was more about educating people about why they wanted to do it. Whereas today they know they want to do it, they just don’t know what they need.

Doug (06:04):

You work for LED Lighting Supply as a consultant for photometrics, right?

Neil (06:13):

Well, I’m one of the owners of the company. We’re very commercial-industrial focused, mainly around ESCOs and contractors, supplying them products. We do that by doing the photometrics and recommending the right product for the application, to give them the light they need.

Doug (06:35):

Is the concept of photometrics, something that has been going on for as long as lights have been installed in commercial and industrial places, or is it a relatively new concept?

Neil (06:47):

Most new developments and buildings that are built require a photometric for zoning, permitting, and all that. You don’t need it for retrofitting. Retrofitting means you’re either replacing the fixture that already exists or you’re retrofitting.

Doug (07:01):

You’re matching the wattage or at least what the LED-equivalent wattage might be.

Neil (07:07):

Yeah, for a 400-watt metal halide high bay you would need around 20,000 lumens plus or minus, depending on the height. Optic will vary depending on the height. We’ve never really had a customer that has done an installation and been unhappy with it.

Other than one time we did a gym, the guy wanted as many lumens as he had with what he had there in the metal halide. He called me a week later and said “It’s too bright”. That was the only time I’ve ever had someone that didn’t believe the photometrics.

Doug (07:39):

Interesting! So he bucked the photometric and was like, I don’t care what your recommendation is.

Neil (07:44):

Yeah, “I don’t care, I want double that lumens, because my metal halide lumens are 120,000 for 1,000 or for a 400 watt they’re like 38,000” He wanted to match that, whereas you really only need 16,000-20,000 LED lumens, They all go in the same direction. We’re supporting the contractor, selling to their customer.

So to provide a report of their environment with their poles or their fixtures hanging, showing the light on the ground, the min-max is very low. It’s a great selling tool for them. I mean, they’re in competition with other people. We really provide a service to allow them to be successful because we’re only successful if they are.

Doug (08:33):

It makes a lot of sense from the contractor’s perspective too, because I mean, when it comes to planning a major job and especially if lights aren’t already in place and you’re not just retrofitting, what’s there, it’s like “How do you know?!”

Neil (08:48):

You don’t, and part of it is educating them about how much light it really is. I mean, what’s fifty foot candles? So what we do is we have a lot of shots of after the install so we can show someone, this is a gym with 45-50 foot candles. This is what you can expect.

So when we do it, we meet with the contractor, we get the information about the environment and If it’s indoors, what are the dimensions? What’s your voltage? What’s the mounting height? Then we run the photometric and provide them multiple options. Some of the customers don’t know if they want a linear high bay or a ufo high bay, we give them the options and then they basically present their customer the different options.

From the deals we quote, we close around 24% of those. But the deals that we do photometrics for have a much higher closing rate. It’s an invaluable tool.

Doug (09:48):

Have you guys developed your own tool or program that you use to calculate photometrics?

Neil (09:58):

For really advanced stuff we have an online tool. For the basic layout and how many fixtures the customer needs, we can quote that. We have a nice template.

But for the real sophisticated, where like for outdoor, what we’ll actually do for a company that has a parking lot, we’ll ask for the address, we’ll go to Google Maps, download that image into the AGI 32, our AutoCAD program and we’ll actually mark where the poles and the lights are, and we’ll do it right on the Google Maps image of the location, on their address, so it’s really a powerful tool.

I can get some samples of some car dealerships we did. Basically, it’s a two-page report, it says the fixtures we used, how many, your averages, your min-max until it actually gives you the fixtures. Then for the photometric, you can zoom in on it. It’s a PDF and you can actually see the foot candles on the ground. And we use foot candles predominantly, we don’t use blocks, but we can do either.

Doug (11:09):

I feel like as far as the electricians are concerned -I guess for me, just being a residential electrician- it’s more what you gain in understanding a given space inside a house. If someone is doing recessed lights in a room, you can take a look and even aesthetically break it into sections and say “This much light!”

Neil (11:31):

Absolutely. We’ve done a lot. Through the Coronavirus, our business kept going. We service a lot of government-military utilities. We did a lot of pole barns and forty by sixty workshops in the backyard.

We did a lot of quick photometrics, mostly with six to eight fixtures that got forty to fifty foot candles, more light than they’ll ever need. You know? So you’ve got a lot of happy backyards! We were probably selling one per day.

Doug (12:06):

Did you guys start as a company that sells lighting, supplies, and equipment or did it start with this photometric concept?

Neil (12:25):

We’ve always done photometrics, but what we quickly figured out was that people didn’t know they needed it. They would say “I need a 300-watt high bay”. Cool. Okay. What are you replacing? How high is it mounted?

When you have a high bay, optics come into play. If you’re up at thirty to forty feet, you don’t want 120-degree optics. You’re going to flood the walls. But a 60 or 90-degree optic works because it throws more light down on the ground.

The photometric shows that. But we got into this business by advising our customers on LEDs in the beginning. And the photometric came into play more on the more sophisticated users because they required it.

Then we translated that to doing it for anyone that needs them. But again, if you’ve got a 400-watt high bay at 20 feet, I can tell you exactly what you need. We don’t need to do the photometrics.

Doug (13:23):

Right. I feel like it’s such an invaluable tool. Like if you’re bidding on those kinds of jobs, that would take all the stress out of it, you would know exactly what to do.

Neil (13:35):

You know what happens now? Because of the way the photometric works, it actually loads the file part number and a bunch of other things. We keep getting these random emails from people saying, I need a price on 20 of these.

When they give us that file name, we know that it’s from one of our photometrics. But it’s interesting, we do two kinds: what we call a quick one and the full-blown. We’ve done 612 full-blown since November of last year.

Doug (14:14):

Is that all in the Massachusetts area?

Neil (14:20):

No, we do all of the U.S. Some Caribbean, some Middle East, where we just drop ship from our factories.

Doug (14:26):

That’s pretty awesome. Is this your first business venture?

Neil (14:31):

No, my partner and I have been around. You know, we found a real niche. You understand that LED lighting still has low penetration. When I drive down the road, I’m always looking at the lights.

Doug (14:46):

Yeah. Right. Me too. I can’t walk past the house without looking at the electrical service.

Neil (14:52):

And we’ve got a long runway on this business, but what we’re really finding is: if you look at the LEDs from five years ago, they were all around 80-90 lumens per watt. The high bays we’re selling today are 150-180 lumens per watt. I can now replace an old 200-watt with a 100-watt fixture.

Doug (15:13):

Is this just an increase in technology?

Neil (15:18):

It’s an increase in technology, both because of the drivers and the efficiency of the LEDs. This new 100-watt puts out the same light as the 200-watt before at half the energy usage.

Doug (15:36):

Do you think LED lighting technology is just going to continue to adapt and grow and be predominant? Do you see anything taking its place in the future? Is there any technology like that?

Neil (15:55):

I really don’t. And the reason I don’t see it is that you’ve seen in just a couple of years, the prices have gone down by half or a third. You can get a 400 watt high bay replacement now for a hundred bucks, which was $300 several years ago, and sellers are banging rebates out big time.

If you understand the rebates: everything we sell is DLC premium. Usually, for a $100 fixture, you can get a $150 rebate. But, back to your question, I think not for a while because the next technology will be that much more expensive.

Doug (16:53):

Do you have your thumb on the pulse of what might be the next technology coming through that would potentially compete?

Neil (17:00):

I think what you’re gonna see is the drivers going away. If you look at an LED system, the driver is the weak point. When you have an LED failure, 99.9% of the time, it’s the driver. So if you look at the Meanwells, Inventronics, Phillips, they’re all working on that technology to bring the price down and to make it much more efficient.

So I think we’re going to see driver changes because the LEDs have been changing. It’s just the lumen output per chip has gone up dramatically. It’s doubled in the last couple years

Doug (17:33):

And the ability to control the color temperature and everything. It’s insane.

Neil (17:39):

Now what you’re seeing in the market is you’re finding more and more products coming out where their color temperature and wattage is selectable. We have a new line of strip lights and stairway lights where the four-footer can do 20, 30, 40, and 50 wide, 3000K, 4000K, 5000K.

It’s less expensive than the previous version, which was fixed because what’s happening now is that this SKU is now 12 SKU’s all in one. And there’s an eight-foot version too, all selectable. Most of our mid-range products are going to wattage and color temperature, selectable over the next year. Because you can’t stock everything.

Doug (18:24):

Right. That makes sense. Do you, do you guys think you’ll ever get into the residential lighting side of the business?

Neil (18:31):

No, we’re commercial industrial. 100%. It’s a different marketplace. I mean, it’s the same effort to service a homeowner. Quite honestly, they’re better to go to Home Depot or Lowe’s if they want to buy light bulbs.

They can turn it on and see it. But your warranty is different, you only are getting a one year warranty. All of our products are a 5-10 year warranty. They’re designed for industrial applications. We do explosion proof fixtures, we do high mast.

Doug (19:04):

I was looking at your website. You do vapor tights and all kinds of stuff.

Neil (19:07):

Yup. Big industrial focus.

Doug (19:11):

Alright. So, say I’m bidding on a job and I need your services. What do I do? What information do I need?

Neil (19:20):

Well, first of all, we promote to a 20,000 person database. We send out a newsletter every 2-3 weeks, educating people on product and solutions.

But basically we need to know the parameters. You know, what’s the size of the building. What’s the building height? How many fixtures do you currently have? How do they mount, what’s the voltage cause that can impact the fixture? Then what the space is really used for. So we can then determine the real light level they should be having.

So if it’s a warehouse, you only need about 30 foot candles. If it is light manufacturing then 40-45 foot candles. If it’s fine manufacturing, it could be up to 60 foot candles. And so we take that data and we run the photometric. We then come back to them with a report with the products quoted that we’ve recommended. And then if they want us to make some changes, we can.

Doug (20:25):

Right. That makes sense. Yeah. I can see the, I can imagine the equation that exists. You just have to punch the information in to get what you’re looking for.

Neil (20:34):

On our website, we have a tool where if you tell us the size of the space, you have, it’ll tell you how many you need to fill the room.

Doug (20:42):

Really. And you can just do that on the website?

Neil (20:44):

You can just do it on the website. When you find a product, there’s an option you can select to run the photometrics.

Doug (21:44):

So tell me a little bit about yourself. When you said you worked in the tech industry, what did that mean?

Neil (21:49):

I was in Silicon in operating systems. I worked for a company that was acquired by RIM and we did all the navigation systems for Honda’s, Toyota’s, and Chryslers. So it’s all the brains within the hands-free systems and entertainment systems, which are still there today,

Doug (22:12):

Were you really into that sort of thing growing up? What was available to you growing up?

Neil (22:17):

When I was a kid we had a PDP-8 at school and we played with that, with the old tape running through it.

Doug (22:23):

Yeah. PDP-8, like an old, like a reel-to-reel video or what?

Neil (22:28):

A reel-to-reel computer. I was never the technology program type of guy. I was the guy that conceptually understood it and was able to deal with customers and find their needs and recommend solutions to them and then bring people together.

It’s very similar, the whole environment of analyzing requirements then coming back with what is really required.

Doug (22:52):

You can translate all of that into something that you can articulate to people. They can understand it. It’s a skill. How long did it take you to figure that out? I would imagine getting into it, you’re probably just geeking out on what you were getting into.

Neil (23:10):

I mean, in my career I’ve changed market segments probably four or five times. What you find is that when you move into it, it does take a little period of time, but the concepts come very quickly. Lighting’s all numbers.

And before that, I was in rugged chassis’ for military applications for the big drones that have computers in them. We built the chassis that those computers went into. And lighting’s all the same, it’s all just watts and amps.

Doug (23:46):

Yeah, it’s all calculations.

Neil (23:47):

The interesting thing about LEDs that people don’t understand is that the amp usage goes way down when you use an LED, right. Compared to a metal halide fixture.

Electricians say, “I’ve only got a 20 amp system.” If you had that many t there before, and you’re going to replace them with LEDs, you’re going to have a lot of amps to spare.

Doug (24:09):

Exactly. Are metal halides still being sold today? Like, is that something that’s still in demand

Neil (24:19):

Only what’s in the channel, because in many cases they couldn’t be manufactured anymore because of the mercury inside of them, and the PCB ballast.

So if you go and try to buy a ballast now for a 400-watt metal halide, they’re a couple hundred dollars. You’re much better to spend $100-$150 on a new LED that’s the same price as the ballast you would have replaced.

Doug (24:42):

Yeah, those old halide fixtures are like dinosaurs. Like when you get into one, that’s been up there since the seventies, the technology is scary as shit! Like if you’re, if you’re in a facility that’s, that’s 277/480 and you’re up in a bucket truck, those things will explode.

Neil (25:04):

You gotta be real careful. And they’re hot too.

Doug (25:07):

And they’re heavy. The transformers alone, the drivers in there are very, very heavy.

Neil (25:15):

And the high-pressure sodium is a real nasty thing

Doug (25:19):

And that yellow light from a high-pressure sodium bulb. I guess that was the eighties when that was really popular?

Neil (25:28):

Even earlier than that. And the real problem is, if you ever look at one of those, the CRI is so low. In our standard high bay fixtures we have an 80 CRI.

So what that means is what you see is so much clearer compared to a high-pressure sodium or metal halide. I mean, LED is the way to go for price, efficiency, energy savings, and the clarity and safety of the lighting.

Doug (25:54):

It’s a better technology for sure.

Neil (25:57):

You just gotta watch the dark sky compliance. So the unit isn’t shooting light up too high.

Doug (26:05):

It’s funny to see old electrical technologies still functioning in modern society because technology is on this exponential curve and it’s leaving in the dust, things that were popular even 20 years ago.

Neil (26:23):

Companies like us are focused on the retro, the existing fixtures. The GE’s, they are after the new construction. The local architecture, they’re charging big bucks to get it designed. That’s where they’re used. That’s not where we focus.

There’s so much untapped marketplace out there. I think that the market can’t even be at 30% penetration. There’s still a ton of old technology out there that over the next 10 years is going to get upgraded.

Doug (26:54):

I would imagine that undertaking a massive retrofit of your parking lot lights is no small task. It’s a massive investment.

But I would imagine there have to be, like you were saying, rebates to some extent. And then if you’re looking at the life of the lights and the reduction in your cost per watt-hour, is there some calculation that you offer?

Neil (27:26):

Yeah, we’ll do an ROI for people. An LED pays for itself in 18 months, and then it’s all profit back to them. It could even be less, depending on how much the install costs.

There are a lot of great contractor companies out there that do big projects. But even the small ones, I mean there are a lot of strip malls with those old orange lights.

Doug (27:59):

Yeah, they’re everywhere. The company I worked for before I went out on my own, one of the things that they did was parking lot light retrofits.

You would come across a scenario where somebody was a part owner in a building or sort of real estate investor in the DC area. The sell was challenging because it’s like, I know that you just want to get that light back on.

But these lights are garbage and they’re dying and it probably makes sense to take this on.

Neil (28:44):

Yeah, photometrics are great outside? A lot of towns require you to have a photometric just to show that you’re not going to bleed into all the other properties around you.

We don’t only do new outdoor fixtures. If a fixture is in reusable condition, you just gut it and put the LEDs in it. We have a lot of people that do that, it’s a big part of our business.

Doug (29:06):

Interesting. And you guys, I thought I saw on your website that you do sports arena court layouts, like a basketball court layout?

Neil (29:15):

Yeah, but we don’t do pro lighting, but we do a lot of schools, a lot of driving ranges, rodeos. You’d be amazed in the Midwest and the Southwest how many people have rodeo places in their backyard or public spaces where they’re upgrading.

We’ve got some really neat floodlights that you put optics on that have multiple heads so that you can really light up a field.

Doug (29:48):

I think I’ve seen some of those. They almost look like an abdomen, right? They’re like one light after another stacked on top of each other?

Neil (29:57):

Yeah, they’re a really great fixture. Very cost-effective, really rugged, and adaptable. You can have a slip fitter adapter, you can get a visor for it, we can change the optics on it.

For those applications, we find that 60 or 30 is the prime optic depending on the amount of time.

Doug (30:14):

Okay. You guys are like an electrical contractor’s secret weapon.

Neil (30:18):

We are, I’ve got a bunch of contractors I’ve been dealing with for years and we’re there, you know, especially when it’s not easy. I mean, I had a guy that I worked with for years in California and he said, you guys are a little more expensive sometimes, but this is the reason I come to you.

And he needed something the next day in California, but I didn’t have it. He got it. He needed high voltage drivers and he didn’t have them. So we found them for him.

Doug (30:50):

So what do you guys see for your future? What’s the goal?

Neil (30:53):

We see our business growing, we really loving what we’re doing. Even with the coronavirus, we were able to keep going. Our business was accepted to the Inc5000 because of our growth.

Over a three year period we had like 94% growth. As a New Hampshire company, I think there are only 27 companies in New Hampshire that made the list. So we’re, you know, we’re having success, we’re enjoying it. We’re expanding, we’ve hired some more salespeople, we’re taking it to the next level.

I don’t know if Cory mentioned to you, we did have a brand change a couple of weeks ago. We were MyLEDLightingGuide and the research told us that Google thought we were an educator.

We were back in the beginning, but now we’re LED Lighting Supply. And the name is much more relevant to what we’re doing today. We’re not just educating people anymore. We’re providing them a service.

Doug (31:56):

Yeah. Okay. That makes sense. Even when providing a service, you are educating.

Neil (32:05):

But Google’s one of our important partners. We’re on page one for all the important keywords. There’s a real battle for that.

Doug (32:16):

That was my chat with Neil from LEDLightingSupply.com. Go check them out, and use the promo code “modern” and receive 5% off your contractor price with your purchase.

Thanks so much Neil for taking the time. Thank you guys for listening. I hope you learned a lot with that episode. I know I did. Go check out ledlightingsupply.com and see what photometrics is all about, and stay tuned because there are more modern electrician podcasts coming your way.

Got some awesome conversations coming up. I chat about perfectionism and learning to let things go with a professional sculptor. We’ll talk business management with Tom from ServiceTitan, and I’ve even got a conversation coming up with a surfer/ motocross rider/second generation “Sparky” who’s only 23 years old out in Hawaii.

That’s all coming up. Stay tuned. Don’t forget. Check out the website: modernelectricianpod.com. It’s new on the website. You can donate to our Patreon account and become a patron of the modern electrician podcast. Let’s help grow this thing and push it forward. I’ll see you all next time.

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