A Layman’s Guide to Product Quality.
I’ve always found it interesting that many people treat emergency lighting as an afterthought. Indeed, for many, it seems to be a necessary evil, BS 5266-1 tells them it has to be done, so they do it as quickly and cheaply as possible. Never forget though, these fittings serve one purpose; if everything else fails, they must work, in order to save lives.
To deepen the conundrum, in every conversation I’ve had about Emergency Light Fittings with contractors in the last few years, I’ve asked them if they’ve encountered times where they’ve fitted brand new emergency lights which have failed a 3 hour discharge test within the first two years? Every one of them said they had!
So why does this seem to be acceptable? If so many contractors are experiencing poor products first hand, why is there still a demand for cheap LED Emergency Light Fittings? Why do people change a failed cheap product with another cheap product, when it clearly doesn’t last as it should? Is it the clients or contractor driving the price down, do they think because many fittings look the same, they all perform the same, or do they just not realise that there are alternatives which do actually perform better, and that those differences have a value? Would you pay the same for a car with no brakes as you would for the same car with brakes that work?
Hopefully I can show readers that there are alternatives, and where the cheap LED Emergency Light Fittings are outperformed by newer technology, better quality products, which may cost a little more, but ultimately provide greater value for money.
Are BS 5266-1, BS 1838 & BS 50172 relevant to you?
If you are the owner of a business, or if your job entails any form of responsibility under BS 5266-1, BS 1838 or BS 50172, then this conversation is relevant to you. You may be unaware of much of it, but, speaking personally, as an industry professional, I’ve always seen the regulations as my friend; they’re written to protect peoples’ lives, and if I follow them, they’ll save me from being the one in court if something goes wrong.
If you have that responsibility for your business, and you aren’t familiar with these regulations, it’s a very good reason to seek the advice of a Lighting Design Engineer, or other industry professional, who is familiar with the regulations. In short, you don’t need to know what the regulations say, so long as you know a guy who does, and follow his advice. Remember, if an industry professional specifies a product, and you decide to purchase something cheaper, the legal responsibility falls on you to ensure that the cheaper product matches the specified one in every way. The information that follows, gives you an indication of some of the many ways that cheap LED Emergency Light Fittings may have a much lower specification than another product. Also remember, a consultant engineer or professional lighting designer will always choose emergency light fittings based on their performance, rarely on price, so if you encounter a designed job, there’s likely a reason it’s on there, and swapping the fittings for cheaper alternatives one for one, will rarely, if ever, produce the same lighting levels, and therefore is unlikely to comply with BS 5266-1 or BS 1838.
To understand the market, let’s take a quick overview.
LED Lighting has advanced dramatically in the last 10 years, and LED is now the main light source used for safety, performance and reliability. What has lagged behind is the battery technology, that is until recently with the advent of reliable Lithium-ion technology.
Previously, emergency lighting (as discussed above, it’s often the last consideration in a new build or refurbishment) operated on mains voltage Halogen, fluorescent or occasionally compact fluorescent lamps. These light sources worked well with NiCd (Nickel Cadmium) batteries which have a lower energy density, and they tend to self-discharge so need a constant trickle charge. However, they are cost-effective and were used for a long time in the industry mainly due to their wide temperature range compared with other available technologies such as SLA (sealed lead acid).
Then, along came NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride), an environmentally friendly technology, which although has a narrower acceptable temperature range, typically had a 30 to 40% higher energy density than NiCd. They were also less susceptible to “memory effect” associated with NiCd.
Lithium-Ion batteries (Li-ion) are now the new standard offering terrific versatility, they are the best designed battery cells for demanding emergency lighting performance. Fox Lux Li-ion batteries incorporate battery management technology including automatic battery type detection and temperature sensing, thereby maximising the lifespan and guaranteeing safety.
This battery sensing technology allows the batteries to be charged to 80% capacity, improving battery life. Unlike other battery technologies, Li-Ion doesn’t require a constant trickle charge, so the standby power consumption is virtually zero. The charge is allowed to fall to 79%, and is topped up using electronic pulse charging, so the batteries are only charging a fraction of the time a NiCad fitting would. These two factors combined means that the life expectancy of the batteries is 10 years, and as a result, all of their Emergency Lights come with a 5 year warranty, which includes the batteries.
So to use my car analogy, how many modern cars have drum brakes all round? So why do so many modern LED Emergency Fittings still use decades old technology for the batteries? Is it because it’s cheap?
Lithium is also environmentally friendly; unlike Cadmium, Lithium is not classed as Hazardous Waste. Due to it’s hazardous nature, and the costs of recycling, the use of Cadmium is severely restricted, with emergency lighting being one of the few things it’s still allowed to be used for. The main reason is that there hasn’t been a viable alternative, but now that there is, it’s reasonable to think that NiCad use may be restricted more in the next few years. If environmental concerns are important to you, Li-Ion is the battery technology of choice for you.
From the conversations I have, it appears that most of the “cheap” LED Emergency Light Fittings on the market today, are still NiCad.
With traditional NiCad products, the output drops as the battery discharges, with the quoted lumen output being the initial lumens. As a lighting design engineer, I’ve always found this curious, as lighting designs will have been done based on these initial lumens, so in the case of a real emergency, by the time the fire brigade arrive to rescue people from a burning building, the lighting levels will in many cases be below the required minimum levels!
The good news is that the Li-Ion batteries, and the electronics Fox Lux have designed into their fittings, means that you get a constant output throughout the 3 hours required by law. What that really means, is that if you design a job to meet the minimum requirements using their fittings, you can sleep sound in the knowledge that in the event of worst case actually happening, you’ve done everything in your power to help get those people out, because you’ll still be getting those designed levels after 3 hours.
Annual discharge tests often pose real life issues, because having discharged a traditional NiCad fitting for 3 hours, technically you have no emergency lighting in that area until the fittings re-charge, which can often take up to 24 hours. Fox-Lux have built a feature into their fittings called “Deep Discharge Protection” to counter this. On Self test, the fittings will discharge for 186 minutes, enough to comply with the regulations, but the batteries never fully empty, so if a real emergency happens in that spell after the test, but before the batteries have finished charging, you still have enough output in the batteries to function.
Furthermore, if we take the Fox-Lux Emergency Downlight, the output of the standard open area version, is 170 lumens, and stays at that output for over 3 hours. Compare that with most cheap NiCad Emergency Downlights, which are circa 110lm at the start of the 3 hours, and will diminish throughout that period. If I had done a design on the Fox-Lux product, and you’d bought a cheap Emergency Downlight, you’d need 3 of them for every 2 I’d specified, or chances are you wouldn’t be complying with the minimum lighting levels even at the start of the 3 hour discharge.
Energy Saving & Value for Money
We all associate LED products with energy saving these days, but when you factor in the savings from the Electronic Pulse Charging, the controls which limit the charging and discharging, and the minimal Standby Power, it means that in most cases, these products can pay for themselves in under a year!
Consider this? A cheap NiCad product will probably last less than 2 years, and a decent NiCad product comes with a manufacturer’s recommendation to change the batteries every 4-5 years.
Fox-Lux’s range of products will last 2-5 times longer and consume 6-8 times less electricity that a NiCad version, yet cost you less than many of the branded NiCad alternatives, which it vastly out-performs! I’ve always found it curious that many peoples’ expectancy from LED products is a fit & forget solution, yet so many buy the cheapest product, then are surprised when it doesn’t last as long as they thought!
A cost that people rarely consider when buying cheap emergency lights is recycling, remember that even if your waste provider charges the same for NiCad & Li-Ion, with NiCad you’ll produce at least twice the amount of waste. This cost is environmental as well as monetary.
What this really means for you is that the Fox-Lux products offer you true Value For Money.
Self-Test and Remote Control
The regulations state that emergency Lighting must be commissioned on installation, have routine tests carried out, and everything documented. The requirement to commission applies not just to new installations, but to any fittings being replaced or added to an installation.
ICEL and The LIA (Lighting Industry Association) have emphasised that automatic testing is far more effective and more reliable than manual testing. So, what are the real benefits of self-testing LED emergency light fittings?
Building owners and responsible persons such as facilities managers must be able to prove that their emergency lighting systems are consistently working correctly and must maintain them in full working order. To ensure this, they would usually have to test each unit, keeping specific records of when it was tested. This is a time-consuming and costly task which is often overlooked leaving responsible persons open to prosecution.
Installing self-testing LED emergency light fittings is easy and one of the best and most cost-effective ways to meet safety regulations effectively. These systems remove the need to manually test and record every emergency light within a building – or across an entire estate, saving significant time and money; By reducing labour costs and maintenance time, self-test emergency lighting provides a very short payback period, making them an option that should be considered when starting your project.
Some of Fox-Lux’s fittings come with self test built in as standard, and all products have a self Test version available, but a feature available on all their fittings, is the ability to control them via a hand held remote.
One of the unique features of Remote Control, is the ability to “pre-commission” the luminaires. Not only can the remote control be used to manually carry out functional and duration tests, but also, after a luminaire has been installed and is in the initial charging mode (indicator flashing green), the remote can be used to initiate the first commissioning test before the battery is fully charged. The luminaire will acknowledge the test request and will start the initial duration test once charging is complete. This can save a lot of time when installing and negates the need for a second visit by the installer and means that they don’t need to wait around for 3hrs for the test to finish. In the event that the 3hr test is failed, the indicator will flash red.
In order to maximise battery life, emergency mode discharge will stop automatically after approximately 186 minutes.
It is still possible to run a manual test on the self-test emergency lighting units without affecting the pre-set schedule.
On most new installations, contractors will spread emergency lights across more than one circuit to prevent all the emergency fittings in a space being on the same circuit. Having them all on a single circuit creates a problem when carrying out a discharge test, as it usually means the area would have no emergency lighting for up to 24 hours, often forcing the tests to be carried out at night or on a weekend. However, there are lots of installations out there with just this setup.
The good news is that by using the Fox-Lux fittings and the remote control, you can test any fitting at any time, so the tester can choose to test the fittings on a circuit in two or more groups, at a time of their choosing.
When you shop solely on price for emergency lights, you invariably get a product where someone has bolted the cheapest light source, to the cheapest inverter and the cheapest batteries they could find, in order to meet the minimum requirements. That’s the process any manufacturer goes through to produce a product to a price at the bottom end of their market; you invariably get a product that “Just” meets the minimum standard.
Fox Lux’s emergency products are designed from top to toe as a complete unit, with every component specifically chosen to produce a desired outcome, at a desired quality. That’s the process that a manufacturer at the High Quality end of their market goes through to arrive at a product of a desired quality; you always get a product that greatly exceeds the minimum standard.
There seems to be a false belief in the UK that any LED Light fitting is a good choice for energy saving and the environment. The reality is far different as the products at the bottom of the market are often vastly outperformed by even mid table products! If you consider that many of the cheapest products cost only 20 or 30% less than a product lasting several times longer, it begs the question why anyone would buy them at all. It can only be lack of product knowledge, hopefully the information I’ve provided will plug some of the gaps in knowledge to allow buyers to make a more informed decision. If you would like more information on how to compare LED products, email e for a copy of my LED Lighting Buyer’s Guide.
What all this means for you as a specifier, installer or end client, is the knowledge that Fox-Lux offer a range of products that will exceed your expectations, at a price that will be a lot lower than you think, and will continue to pay you back for a number of years after the cheap option has failed, and had to be re-purchased and re-installed. If you add up all the associated costs, there is no question that these high quality Emergency Lights ultimately provide better value for money than the cheap ones ever could.
Some LED fittings genuinely are a fit and forget. Don’t forget to log your testing though, and also, never forget that with life-saving products, you only get one chance to make a wrong choice.
Fox-Lux’s products are marketed through LUXULTRA Lighting in the UK
Iain Ross MSLL