Warehouse Lighting

Warehousing and distribution is one of the fastest growing segments in construction today. With more and more of us shopping online, companies like Amazon and others are scrambling to put large warehouses and fulfillment centers closer to their customers. This makes obvious sense when you think about our next-day delivery addiction. Warehousing is quickly becoming a competitive advantage for modern merchants. Every system in these warehouses has to operate at peak efficiency to ensure profitability. One often-ignored component that can make a big difference in the operating cost for these facilities is the warehouse lighting.  In this application guide, we'll discuss the requirements and recommendations for picking the right warehouse lighting fixtures for your project.

Considerations for Warehouse Lighting

Facility owners and managers have too much to do to think about how to light their warehouses, but a little research will go a long way to ensuring their design professionals are leading them in the right direction. If you happen to be one of those design professionals, or if you are an electrical contractor that was called in to propose a lighting retrofit project, the following are high-level considerations you should understand before taking on the project.

New Construction vs. Existing Space

The decision to build a facility. lease a new tilt-up shell, or go into an older existing facility is quite likely one of the first that is made when looking for additional warehousing space.  This same decision will guide the lighting design for the project.  At one end of the spectrum, you end up with a facility that is built to suit your needs in every way while at the other, you may feel that the options are limited when working with an existing infrastructure.  Each of these options has their own pros and cons.

While it's true that you have greater flexibility when building a facility from scratch, the time and expense involved can be prohibitive. Chances are that you'll occupy this new space for many years, so care should be taken to ensure the lighting system is designed according to the needs of each space. You're probably not going to rearrange the warehouse layout every year, so the lighting system doesn't have to be as flexible as it would be in other scenarios. These newer facilities have ceiling heights of 35' or higher.  Lighting these buildings requires high lumen fixtures that can punch light down to where it's needed.  Rack asiles in modern warehouse buildings tend to be narrower and taller, which requires specialized fixtures with narrow lighting distributions to make sure that you don't waste energy lighting the top of the racks.

At the other end of the spectrum, leasing an older facility may be faster and get you up and running quickly, but you may be limited in what you can do with the lighting system in these facilities. Many leased facilities were designed to provide uniform lighting with fixtures spaced in a specific grid. The location of fixtures may not make sense if you decide to put racking in place or it may restrict where these racks can be located. If you're paying the utility bill, make sure to discuss the lighting system with the owner before signing the lease.  You may be able to have them retrofit the facility or provide incentives for you to improve the lighting before moving in.

Use of Space by Area

Every warehouse is different and there are many different activities that are done in each warehouse.  Each of those activities will dictate the type and amount of lighting needed to accomplish the task safely.

The following list provides an overview of the types of activities common to most warehouses along with design notes that should guide the lighting choice.

  • Receiving Area - typically open storage and staging with high traffic. Tasks include unloading trucks, inspecting bills of lading, and moving material to other staging areas or more permanent storage. Consider providing general illumination throughout the area to an average between 30-50 foot candles (fc). General purpose LED high bays are a good choice for these areas.
  • Bulk Storage - open storage area with low traffic.  Tasks include reading labels and locating large items. Lighting should be between 15-30 fc of general illumination similar to what is used in the receiving area.  Lumen output or spacing may be modified to reduce the average light level.
  • Rack Aisles - storage of larger items in high-rack systems with movement by forklift or pallet jacks. Tasks include locating and reading labels and maneuvering material handling equipment safely. Narrow spaces may require specific fixtures with special lighting distribution that can light the face of the rack and the floor from a high ceiling. Light to 15-30 fc.
  • Pick/Pack or Shipping Area - area used to pick small items from shelving to be placed into totes or where orders are packed into cartons for shipping.  If items are larger, this may be staging area where pallets wait to be loaded onto trailers or containers. The tasks done in this area typically require more light than general storage area to be able to read orders and material labels correctly. General illumination or task lighting to 30-50 fc would be appropriate.
  • Bay Doors - the opening leading to trailers or containers where workers would be moving material into for outbound shipping. Usually the only way to light the inside of the shipping containers or trailers is with wall-mounted dock lights.
  • Office and Administration - office space typically carved out from the rest of the warehouse with lower ceiling height for general administration of the warehouse facility. Tasks include computer use, filing, copying, and other similar activities.

We'll cover lighting recommendations in more detail in a later section.

Efficiency and Total Cost of Ownership

You may be tempted to pick the least expensive light fixtures that can get the job done, but you would be missing out on an opportunity to truly impact operating cost if efficiency isn't at the forefront of your decision. Lighting can account for over 30% of the energy cost for warehouse spaces.  New LED high bay fixtures can cut that by as more than 60% when compared with traditional high bays.  Those savings are substantial and not to be overlooked.

If moving into an older space, a close look at the lighting system can reveal an opportunity for savings as well.  Retrofitting the lighting system in an existing warehouse is best done before moving in. This lets you have the work performed without interrupting your activities.  The easiest way to retrofit a facility is by maintaining a one-for-one count, but if the locations of the fixtures don't work for your intended layout, adding 10-12' cords or replacing each old fixture with two smaller new fixtures adds flexibility.


Lighting for Safety and Productivity