As the car wash industry continues to grow and evolve, so has the lighting requirements for new builds and remodels. City lighting codes, customer and employee safety, positive customer experiences, and marketing are all considerations when implementing a lighting plan. To help with this process, owners should consider using a site-wide photometric plan to help with light placement and light intensity.

A photometric lighting plan is a software report of where to place lights around your car wash. The light analysis allows you to view the lighting level at the car wash location before construction begins. A photometric plan exists to accomplish five main tasks.

1. Meet Local Lighting Codes

• Cities require you to follow their lighting illumination standards to achieve lighting uniformity across the entire county. A photometric study will make sure your LED lighting layout is compliant with your building department while providing you documentation when the inspectors audit your project.

• Consider working with the city on hours of operation of all lights, using dimmers on motion sensors, using light shrouds to contain light bleed.

• Many code requirements can be found by searching:

2. Allow Decisionmakers to Visualize Lighting Before Construction

• By applying a number value to the amount of light across each square foot of the wash, you can analyze and see ahead of time where your facility will have lots of light and where it will not. This allows you to consider changing to brighter or dimmer lights, adding more lights or removing lights.

• Car washes need to be bright. Target 25-35 foot-candles under vacuum stalls and 10-20 foot-candles for all other exterior locations.

3. Create a Lighting Map for Your Contractors

• Having no lighting layout will confuse your electricians and cause rework.

• Car wash operations can save thousands in extra labor by planning out their lighting implementation beforehand, and the photometric plan is the tool to drive this.

4. Ensure Even Lighting Distribution Throughout the Job Site

• Even light levels reduce eye strain created by hot spots in your lighting plan. You do not want a parking lot with low visual comfort and intense glares. This impacts the safe-feeling a location has.

5. Specify the Correct Light Fixtures

• With literally hundreds of light fixtures available to use, choosing the right fixture to illuminate a space will save in fixture quantity and cost.

• Not all fixtures create and provide the same amount of light or the same type of light throw pattern. Some lights just cast light everywhere. Others can cast light forward or to the sides. Choosing the right optical distribution is key to maximizing the value you obtain.

Dark Skies Compliant

Dark sky is the idea

of keeping light down
low and away from higher levels where
it can be harmful to birds and astronomy.
Often called light pollution, most codes now
require at least some consideration to keeping
the sky dark or Dark Sky Compliant.
These rules help the environment but also save
energy as the light goes only where it is used.

Drawing courtesy of Dark Skies Society.


Spotty distribution and poor lighting levels are major issues in the lighting industry. Many facility managers who are looking to convert to LED lighting end up buying products online without going through a proper analysis. They make assumptions about what should work in their space, and encounter problems once they have bought and installed the new lighting. We end up hearing the following complaints often:
• It’s too bright.

• It’s not bright enough.

• The light is not uniform.

• The light is too bright beneath the fixture.

This is why we generally suggest a photometric lighting plan, or at least a consultation with a lighting designer. Even though some suppliers will suggest that fixtures aren’t all that different from each other — we know that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

One must be very careful with glare. If you are working on high mast poles, it is not much of an issue, but if the light source is located at a lower level, glare can be a major problem for pedestrians and drivers, especially if older customers frequent a parking lot, for instance. Remember, if your customers are unhappy and complaining, it will cost time and money to fix the problem. It may also cause you to lose future business from that customer.

Lighting Terms 101

The cheat sheet

for everything you need
to know in order to be an expert on your lighting:

Lumen A lumen is a unit of light.
By itself it’s useless, but it becomes
useful when it defines the collective lumens
produced by one fixture or bulb. It is the amount
of visible light that a fixture emits.

Foot-CandleA foot-candle is a measurement
of light at a specific location, and one to many lights
can contribute to the specific foot-candle reading
at that location. Foot-candles (or its equivalent LUX)
are the requirement that most are looking
for when they describe a light level for a project, facility,
or location.

On the lighting plan, you will see a series of numbers
located across your property. These represent the
foot-candle readings for each specific point. Example:

You can take light readings using a handheld light meter or an app on your smartphone. A free light meter app gives some reliable basic readings, but if you have a complex light environment or want to be completely sure, we recommend investing in a light meter.

From this, you will get a good idea of how your current lighting is performing, and your current light levels. But you can also use this method to determine things like:

• Are my light levels okay, too bright, or too dim?

• Are my light levels pretty uniform and evenly distributed?

• Would I like to improve the light levels?


A lighting designer will use special software to recreate your job site in 3D CAD format. Once your property has been transferred into a 3D digital format, the designer will place lighting fixtures to achieve specific lighting goals required by the decisionmaker or city.

Each fixture that is placed creates a data point that will be required to pass your city’s lighting ordinance. Our lighting designers have

years of experience that allow them to specify the correct fixtures to get approval on the first submission.

The cost of a photometric plan can be between $2,000 and $20,000. However, these costs can be used as credit when buying products from certain companies.

How to Read a Photometric Plan

A report is generated with dots and numbers overlaid on your site plan — your building’s blueprints. The light fixtures are depicted as dots or as lines that show where the light fixtures should be located. The numbers, as shown in the example left, represent the foot-candle readings for each specific point. Fixtures can be swapped out and plans recalculated to find ideal lighting for the specific environments and area.

There is typically a summary section outlining the aggregate light levels across the entire property. The summary identifies the light levels and distribution ratios of the fixtures outlined in the schedule. It provides some useful information about the foot-candles measurements in the plan, including the average, maximum, and minimum. These numbers are often used to ensure that projects are in accordance with building codes.

An example of the ratios provided is the average/minimum foot-candle reading. This measurement shows us how much the dimmest spot differs from the average.

The max/min ratio is also important, as it shows the overall lighting distribution for the space. Building codes are made so that buildings have an even distribution, which helps with visual comfort and safety.

By familiarizing yourself with these terms, you’ll be able to effectively read your photometric lighting plan, and design a lighting layout that works well for your specific facility.

Beam Angle


beam angle of a lamp is the angle at
which the light is distributed or emitted.
This can be done with additional optics,
or as is the case with LEDs, by engineering
the light in a specific way. LEDs have
an extremely large range of available
beam angles. Sample light throw patterns:


• Maximum Fc — shows the brightest point in the calculation zone.

• Minimum Fc — shows the least bright location point in the zone.

• Average — this is the average foot-candle rating in the calculation zone.

• Maximum/Minimum ratio — obtained by dividing the brightest point with the least bright point in a calculation zone. It demonstrates the overall distribution of lighting for space. Lower ratios indicate that the plan has uniform light distribution. Even light distribution prevents your eyes from contacting and dilating constantly. In other words, it increases visual comfort. Most cities like the lighting plan to have a minimum ratio of about 12:1.

• Average/Minimum ratio — derived by dividing the average Fc rating with minimum Fc rating. This ratio shows you how the least bright point differs from the average rating.

In conclusion, lighting design and upgrading to LED lighting can be a dauting task. If feeling overwhelmed, know that there are resources to help and ways to make the process easy and simple. Using a photometric plan is one way to go about doing upgrades and can help you make a lighting plan that will attract customers and improve your business during evening hours.

Michael Call is vice president of Colorado-based Mile High LED Systems. To learn more about trends and to ensure your lighting upgrades can meet the latest in technology and innovated uses, contact Michael for a free consultation. He can be reached at or at (303) 257-1195.