Feature Article - October 2004
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Let There Be Lighting

How to illuminate the world inside and outside your facility

By Kyle Ryan


The new indirect system uses 1,000-watt metal halide lights, which Whitman estimates are used in 99 percent of outdoor sports lighting. Although fluorescent lights are common indoors (they're affected too much by temperature to be outside) because they're cheap, require no start-up time and generally light well, they have to be located in close proximity to the area being illuminated. In a tennis court with pitched ceilings they wouldn't work.

Metal halides have no such restrictions. Part of the high-intensity discharge family of lights, they offer excellent color rendition and last up to 10,000 hours but can be pricey and require a few minutes to start up. On the tennis courts in Homewood-Flossmoor, each one is protected from errant balls by a grid.

Unlike the light bulbs people use at home, HID lights don't burn out—they fade. Whitman recommends changing them when they reach 80 percent of their foot candle output level. In Homewood, where McKinnon estimates the courts are lit up to 20 hours a day, new lamps burn at 80 foot candles (roughly semi-pro by IESNA standards) but drop to about 50 by the time the staff changes them.

"So what we've done is every two years we change out all the light bulbs," he says. "That way it can guarantee even distribution of lighting throughout the building."

Metal halide lamps contain mercury, so staff members cannot just throw them in the garbage. Many types of high-intensity lights contain toxic chemicals, which is why the Schaumburg Park District has a special bulb-disposing machine. Bulbs are crushed then deposited in a 55-gallon drum that's sealed when it reaches capacity. A waste-management company handles the rest.

Sometimes the bulbs are fine, but the ballasts are not. The ballasts regulate the electricity in lamps and are typically located right next to the lamp. When they malfunction, they make an annoying buzzing sound but can be difficult to repair if located on the ceiling. In Homewood, designers moved the ballasts to floor level behind a curtain, which makes them easier to repair and muffles any buzzing noises.

What about the other areas of the Homewood-Flossmoor Sport & Racquet Club? Well, the fitness area at the club is only a few years old and currently uses metal halide lights that work well. The foot candle requirements are significantly lower in fitness areas, so the lights use 250-watt direct fixtures. On the courts, though, it's all indirect.

"You're looking up for the ball up in the air sometimes, so you don't want a light shining down on your face," McKinnon says. "In a sport like hockey or soccer, you might be able to get away with direct lighting."

And they do. The Homewood-Flossmoor Park District operates an ice arena that uses direct lighting with metal halide bulbs. With hockey, when players' focus is on the floor (with a reflective surface, no less), lighting is a bit easier, though imperfect.

"You can actually see the light spot on the rink sometimes depending on what the organization is," McKinnon says. "So it isn't as even as it is with indirect."