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What is a Foot Candle?

A great place to start is with the definition. For those of you who may not be familiar with them, a foot-candle is a measurement of light intensity. One foot-candle is defined as enough light to saturate a one-foot square with one lumen of light.

If that sounds vaguely like the definition of a lumen, you aren’t wrong. Both lumens and foot-candles are measurements of light intensity.

While lumens measures the amount of light created by a lighting fixture, foot-candles is a measurement of the amount of light that reaches a surface area.

In accordance with other factors, foot candles allow electricians and facility managers to carefully and thoughtfully develop an effective lighting plan.

After all, it doesn’t matter how much light a  bulb emits if none of that light reaches the desired surface area.

warehouse lighting

Why Are Foot Candles Important?

Foot candles are an extremely important part of designing an effective lighting setup. They are the only way to tell if an area is actually receiving the intended light levels.

And, although this is important in any type of business, it’s especially important for commercial and industrial facilities to have appropriate lighting levels for both employee safety and efficiency.

It’s so important, in fact, that OSHA has specific foot candle requirements for certain spaces and industries.

Foot Candles versus LUX – What’s the difference?

Foot candles and lux are both light measurement readings. They are just represented by different scales. Essentially, 1 foot candle = 10.77 lux and 1 lux = .0929 foot candles.

OSHA Requirements

OSHA, or Occupational Safety and Health Administration , was created to protect workers by ensuring that working conditions were safe and as risk-free as possible.

As a part of their safety initiative, OSHA developed standards to make sure that all commercial and industrial workplaces have lighting that is adequate and effective, without having a glare or being excessively bright.

Glare and excessive lighting, which can cause headaches and eyestrain to individuals’ overtime. Read more about OSHA guidelines from the United States Department of Labor.

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How do lumens become a foot candle?

1. Understanding Lumens

What is a lumen? A lumen is a measurement of light created by one bulb, lamp or fixture. We use lumens to indicate the brightness of a bulb or fixture – how much light it produces. Lumens is a far more accurate representation of the light’s capacity than watts used to make light.

The take-away: lights produce lumens.

2. Converting Lumens to Foot Candles

In the simplest sense, you can install 1 light in a room above the floor and using a light meter, walk around the floor taking foot candle measurements. The amount of light directly under the installed fixture will be brighter than the light in the corners.

Using this same room, install 4 fixtures evenly throughout the room. As you walk around the room, everything is brighter. The light meter is showing higher foot candle measurements throughout the room. The corners are brighter.

That’s all this is. Lights produce lumens, and as you add more lights, the foot candle measurements increase through out the space

The take-away: the more lights you add, the higher the foot candle readings will be.

3. Lumens per Square Foot

What are lumens per square foot? By definition, 1 lumen per square foot is 1 foot candle. This means that:

20 lumens per square foot = 20 foot candles

40 lumens per square foot = 40 foot candles

100 lumens per square foot = 100 foot candles

Just like the conversation of lux above, lumens per square foot is just another representation of what a foot candle is

So why do we think of lighting in terms of foot candles and not lumens per square foot? Mostly because the tools we use to create lighting plans provides us results in foot candles. However, its easily to convert the foot candle measurements we provide to lumens per square foot measurements.

4. Lighting Plan Software – How it works

 Lighting plan software is a computer generated lighting model that understands the physical characteristics of how many lumens a light produces and how it distributes its light. The software allows you to install lights in a software “space”, and run calculations by simulating foot candle readings on the ground. Its extremely accurate, and the report generated provides details on light levels and light balance within the space.

The take-away: we provide free lighting plans for our commercial and industrial customers, electricians and electrical contractors. Scroll to the bottom of this page to ask for yours.

5. Understanding Light Efficiency – this is what saves you money

Even amongst LEDs, not all bulbs are created equal. Though they are all more efficient than options like fluorescents and metal halide options, not every LED is equally efficient.

This is another reason why it’s important to pay attention to the lumens of an LED light instead of the watts. In many cases, a higher quality LED with lower wattage can produce a brighter light than one with a higher wattage.

Let’s explain this showing 2 different LED Lights.

The first fixture produces light at 130 lumens per watt. The second produces lights at 180 lumens per watt.

To produce 20,000 lumens, the first light uses 153.84 watts of electricity. The second light only needs 111.11 watts.

The difference of 42.73 watts. This is what saves you money on your lighting bill.

Both lighting products above create the same amount of light, or lumens.

Efficacy, or light efficiency, is another important thing to factor into a light purchase. A more efficient light may cost more at the time of purchase, but over the life of the product, your utility bill will be lower.

And the amount you save with a lower utility bill will far exceed any additional purchase cost. If you want to learn more about LED lumens and all that goes into them, we’ve summed it up nicely in this post.

Recommended Light Levels

Lighting systems are not equal. What may be ideal for one location may be unsuitable for another. For instance, a big box store does not need the same amount of light as a packaging warehouse. Even if two facilities have the same square feet, the activities carried out may be different. The work performed in a building usually dictates the fixtures required for illumination. This is why a “one size fits all” approach is never recommended when choosing lighting. OSHA requires workplace lighting measurements in foot candles. In this article, we’ll give foot candle recommendations for different types of environments.


Recommended Foot Candles for Manufacturing and Warehouse Facilities

Coarse Material Processing 10 fc
Medium Material Processing 30 fc
Fine Material Processing 50 fc
Extra Fine Material Processing 50-100 fc
Wrapping, Packaging and Labeling 30 fc
Picking Stock 30 fc
Simple Assembly 30 fc
Difficult Assembly 100 fc
Complicated Assembly 100-300 fc
Warehousing – Inactive Area 5 fc
Warehousing – Active – Large Items 10 fc
Warehousing – Active – Small Items 30 fc
Shipping and Receiving Area 30 fc
Maintenance and Shop Areas 50 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Outdoors and Exterior Parking

Entrances 5 fc
Parking Garage – Basic 1 fc
Parking Garage – Ramps 1-2 fc
Parking Lots 2-5 fc
Vehicle Storage 2-5 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Hospitals – Medical Facilities

Hallways 10 fc
Patient Waiting Areas 10 fc
Nurse Stations 30 fc
Lobby Areas 5 fc
Medical Record Areas 50 fc
Stair Areas 10 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Airplane Hangars

General Work / Storage 30 fc
Aircraft Maintenance with some detailed tasks 30-50 fc
Aircraft Maintenance with fine detailed tasks 70-100 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Work Shops

General Work / Storage 30 fc
Production Work with some detailed tasks 50 fc
Production Work with fine detailed tasks 70-90 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Garages and Garage Workshops

Hobby Work 30 fc
Work with limited detailed tasks 30-50 fc
Work with fine detailed tasks 70 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Convention Centers, Exhibition Halls and Venues

Main Convention Area 30-90 fc
Smaller Meeting Rooms 30-50 fc
Stairways 5 fc
Washrooms and Restrooms 5 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Schools

Classrooms 50 fc
College Lecture Halls 50-100 fc
Hallways 10 fc
Smaller School Gymnasiums 30-50 fc
Larger School Gymnasiums 50-100 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Offices

Open Cubicle Space 30 fc
Private 50 fc
Reception Areas 10 fc
Conference Rooms 30 fc
Video Conferences 50 fc


Recommended Foot Candles for Baseball and Softball Fields

Infield Outfield
Collegiate (Televised) 100 fc 70 fc
Collegiate 70 fc 50 fc
High School 50 fc 30 fc
Little League 50 fc 30 fc
Recreational 30 fc 20 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Tennis Courts

College Televised 90-120 fc
Competition Level 50-80 fc
Club Level 30-60 fc
Recreation Level 20-35 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Horse and Riding Arenas

Outdoor Recreational Arena (Starter) 5-10 fc
Outdoor Recreational Arena (Mid-Level) 10-20 fc
Outdoor Recreational Arena (Pro Level) 20-50 fc
Indoor Recreational Arena (Starter) 10-20 fc
Indoor Recreational Arena (Advanced) 20-40 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Football Fields

College Televised 80-150 fc
College 70-100 fc
Large High School 50-70 fc
Smaller High School 30-50 fc
Pop Warner 30-50 fc
Recreational 20-40 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Basketball Courts

Community Center Courts 30 fc
Backyard Courts 10-20 fc

Recommended Foot Candles for Indoor Hockey Rinks

Professional Leagues 100-150 fc
Junior League Televised 70-10 fc
Junior League Un-televised 50-70 fc
Recreational and Local Tournaments 20-40 fc

How to choose the right fixture to meet the foot candle requirements

Now that you have an understanding of what the foot candle levels might be for your project, how does that translate into buying the right fixture, or right type of fixture. That’s where we help. LED Lighting Supply provides 2 distinct services:

1. We provide free lighting plans

2. We supply the lights for your project

Determining the right light to produce the right amount of foot candles is not guess work. We use industry-leading lighting plan software to calculate light levels within indoor and outdoor spaces to meet specific light levels the customer may have. Understanding foot candles is one thing. Picking the right fixture, the right amount of fixtures and achieving the right light levels with even, balanced, non-shadow lighting is another. That is why we provide lighting plans for our industrial and commercial end users, contractors and electricians.

Understanding Lighting Plans

A Photometric Study, or Lighting Plan,  is a report detailing the light levels and light distribution for a location, either indoors or outdoors. It’s done by software that’s was specifically created to do so.

Lighting Plans allow you to simulate a space, add lighting fixtures, and set mounting heights and fixture locations within the software model.

The software calculates light levels and how balanced the light is and produces a report showing average, max, and min foot candles.

For this discussion, the numbers we discuss are the average recommended foot candles. Just as important are the max/min ratio the study calculates. The higher this number is, the more spotty the lighting.

So it’s one thing to hit the recommended average. It’s another to design a lighting solution with even light distribution. A lighting plan study will provide you with this information.

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About the Author

Cory Peterson is Director of Sales & Marketing at LED Lighting Supply where he focuses on improving customer experience and revenue operations. Cory writes about commercial & industrial lighting, along with topics important to contractors and facility managers. In his free time, Cory enjoys traveling, snorkeling, exercise and cooking.

See more posts by Cory Peterson