Outdoor Lighting Maintenance

Overhead view of outdoor lights shining on a basketball court at night

As we ease into the summertime, outdoor recreation activities spike. Many programs take place during the day, but more agencies accommodate busy schedules by increasing their after-dark programming. 


As a result, agencies need to ensure the areas where programs take place are lit appropriately. This begins with understanding outdoor lighting systems and how to maintain them.


Importance of Outdoor Lighting Systems

Outdoor lighting systems allow parks and recreation departments more options in their programming schedules--there's no worrying about what time the sun goes down. The extra time gives visitors more flexibility to participate in sports and activities at their convenience.


For example, increased demand for limited field space causes some leagues to practice or play games well after sundown. Lighting systems need to provide adequate light in specific areas to make programming safer and more enjoyable. 


Outdoor lighting systems:

  • Keeps participants safe by providing appropriate lighting for sports & recreational activities
  • Increases public safety by illuminating potential hazards and security threats
  • Allows more opportunities for outdoor recreation activities and programming income
  • Helps programming/maintenance staff efficiently set up and clean up after evening activities


Drawbacks of Outdoor Lighting Systems

Since many parks and sports fields are made in or near residential areas, using them at night presents the problem of light pollution. While an agency's outdoor lighting may be great for helping an athlete catch a fly ball or spectators to get to their cars safely, it's not always very popular with the neighbors.


Most stadium lights are mounted between 40 to 60 feet high. Street lights and parking lot lights usually get mounted at 20 to 30 feet. Misaligned or poorly designed lighting systems can cause light to spill or glare into nearby homes, streets, and natural areas. Furthermore, the sky glow caused by the lights can be distracting and irritating for residents.


Also, if your facility spills light into unwanted areas, you're paying for that unwanted light. Maintaining the outdoor lighting system helps reduce light pollution and cut down on energy costs.


Outdoor Lighting Systems Components

The components of an outdoor lighting system affect how you maintain the system. Here are the three key components:


Luminaire Assembly 

The luminaire assembly generally includes the lamp, reflector, ballast mounting, cross-arm, and mounting hardware. Of course, this will depend on the type of lighting used. For example, LED lights do not require a ballast--they get regulated by a "driver" inside the LED unit.



There are typically three types of poles used for outdoor lighting:

  • Wood: The least expensive option but often requires the most maintenance. Wind and rain could cause wood poles to warp, which throws off the alignment of a fixture. 
  • Concrete: The "mid-priced" option that can be directly buried. When maintained properly, concrete is more durable than wood. The poles are very heavy and expensive to set.
  • Steel: Steel poles are often the most expensive option, but they require less maintenance, retain a pleasing appearance, and have long lives. New designs make the installation less costly because concrete foundations may not be necessary. 


Electrical System

Compared to other commercial electrical systems, outdoor lighting systems are relatively simple. It should comply with the standards of the National Electric Code as well as any state or local codes. 


The service center should be grounded to ensure the safety of anyone coming near the pole or electrical equipment. Safety disconnects on each pole add another layer of protection for crews maintaining the lights. Also, individual fusing of each fixture prevents multiple lights from failing at once. 


Improving Technology

As you can guess, technology is helping to make outdoor lighting more focused and efficient. For example, a 500-watt light can replace a 1500-watt metal halide sports light. Multiply that by the number of fixtures you have, which could lead to significant savings on lighting expenses. 


Newer technology also offers lower light pollution, dimmable options, glare reduction technology, and less required maintenance. You could even control entire lighting systems remotely from a tablet or mobile device.


Still, not every agency is in the position to purchase new technology or retrofit it into an existing structure. So if your agency cannot afford to make upgrades, it's essential to take care of the system you have. 

The Benefits of Maintaining Outdoor Lighting Systems 

Setting aside a little bit of time to inspect and maintain the lighting system helps:

  • Increase the lifespan of your lighting system
  • Improve the energy efficiency and reduce lighting bills 
  • Ensure the light is aimed correctly and consistent in an area
  • Reduce light pollution in the area 
  • Prevent potential electrocution or other safety hazards


Routine Maintenance Tasks

Here are some tasks to consider scheduling for your crew or contracted help.


Inspecting poles

During regular park inspections, the maintenance crew should check lighting poles for any sign of warping, damage, or graffiti.


Check Lighting Alignment

Wind, severe weather, and pole damage can cause the light fixtures to go out of alignment. Misalignment leads to inadequate or uneven light in a recreation area.


Checking Lighting System Timers

Nobody wants to light up playing fields when they are not in use. If your lighting system uses timers, make sure they are set to reflect current schedules. If staff is needed to be on-site to control the lighting system, be sure there is a uniform way to communicate if something gets rescheduled or canceled. 


Group Relamping

In most cases, it saves time and money to relamp a group of lights rather than replace lights as they burn out. Schedule to have a group of the outdoor lights relamped near the end of their useful lifespan.


Cleaning and Inspecting Luminaire Assembly

At least annually, it is a good idea to remove the lens cap and blow out the bugs and debris that accumulated. Also, when applicable, lubricate lamp sockets and seals when replacing lamps. Inspect the surge control systems to make sure they are working correctly. Also, look for any nicked wiring or cables.


Relamping and inspecting luminaire assemblies may require extra equipment to get to the top of the pole. Equipment rental needs to be figured into the costs of maintaining outdoor fixtures. 


Scheduling/Tracking Outdoor Lighting Maintenance 

Schedule maintenance for your outdoor lights near the beginning of the playing season. Also, plan a thorough inspection of the lighting system at the end of the playing season. 


Periodic spot checks during the season and offseason will alert your team to any potential problems before they may require significant repairs. 


Like lighting technology, maintenance scheduling and tracking are evolving thanks to technology. Software makes it possible to save time, money, and communication breakdowns while ensuring the maintenance team knows what needs completion and when.


Some maintenance software even allows you to have digital copies of owner manuals, manufacturer guidelines, and warranty information readily available for the maintenance team to reference. 


Whatever you use to schedule maintenance crew tasks, it's an excellent idea to pre-schedule outdoor lightning maintenance tasks, so they don't get overlooked.