Commercial Integrator 2023 - 11

800 to 2,000 nits of brightness, whereas
outdoor (in bright sunlight) might require
7,000 nits or more of illumination to
enable colorful, high-contrast onscreen
visuals in bright environments like Phoenix
or Las Vegas. Outdoor LED displays
will also have more ruggedized cabinets
than indoor ones have; inbuilt fans and
ventilation systems ensure a long operating
life, even if temperatures exceeding
100 degrees Fahrenheit literally bake the
displays day after day.
Come with Add-On Costs
Outdoor LED component costs are
typically lower because of the diminished
pixel density. However, outdoor LED
can come with add-on costs that are less
common with indoor LED. For example,
consider the infrastructure costs to secure
display equipment on the side of a building
or to power to a screen along a highway.
Outdoor screens also tend to involve
much more substantial paperwork costs
for local permits and approvals. Many
firms will find this uncommon, unless they
have a history of outdoor signage installations
(whether static or digital).
That brings us to the second major
consideration - namely, permitting and
installation. Although I had some preliminary
understanding of the challenges associated
with traditional outdoor signage
from working with the International Sign
Association (ISA) over the years, I thought
I would rely on the experience of companies
that had a history with outdoor LED
displays and the challenges integrators
might encounter. After several interviews
with subject-matter experts, I decided
to reach out to a firm that has been in the
sign business since 1932. The company
is Watchfire, and it has a well-earned
reputation of talking the talk and walking
the walk for all things LED.
I spoke at length to Dave Warns, its
vice president of on-premise sales, for
more perspective.
I began by asking Warns if specifying
and, most importantly, installing
outdoor signs is very different from
indoor signage. He was quick to say yes.
What follows is a condensed version of
our conversation. Keep in mind that, if
you're someone for whom working with
commercialintegrator.com
outdoor signage is a common experience,
this may be familiar. However, for
others (and you know who you are!), let
this serve to help develop knowledge of
some of the unknowns.
As we began our discussion, foremost
in my mind was whether it took special
certifications to install outdoor signs.
Warns noted, " Installation certifications
vary by state. Some states require a
contractor's license to install electric signs,
including LED displays, whereas others
have no license requirements. " I might
add that traditional signage installers
typically have the required certifications,
but a commercial integrator might or
might not.
Then, I asked if there were different
codes and building permits from state to
state - or even from county to county or
city to city. Warns responded, " Yes, yes
and yes. Applicable signage codes range
from rules established by the Federal
Highway Administration for billboards
alongside interstate highways to municipal
sign codes governing village streets.
However, most requirements for sign
permits are administered by local municipalities.
Sign codes specify the maximum
size of the displays, the maximum display
brightness, whether the displays can
have animation or only static messages,
and the hold-time durations before static
messages can change. "
I was aware that, sometimes, a structural
engineer can be required, so I asked
Warns if this was common. He pointed
out, " Again, that depends on locale. In
New York City, engineering drawings
must be submitted before a sign permit
is issued. Also, areas prone to severe
weather, such as the Gulf Coast, often
have higher standards for engineering
drawings that depict structural capacity
and wind loads. "
Power and Service Issues
Then, I asked if there were special power
and/or service issues to consider. Warns
responded, " Prior to installation of an
LED display, the display's power requirements
must be compared to the available
electrical service. Often, when adding an
LED display to an existing sign structure,
additional electrical service capacity is
needed, which requires a licensed electrician
to complete the work. The power
requirements of LED displays vary based
on size, resolution and manufacturer. "
I wondered about equipment issues.
Warns noted, " The equipment required
to install an LED display depends on the
size of the display and the height of the
sign structure. For a large billboard, both
a crane truck and a bucket truck may be
needed. Big displays normally are made
up of multiple cabinets that must be
stacked onsite, either on the ground or on
the structure. "
I hope that, by reading this short
dialogue, you clearly see that the issue
of codes, licenses and requirements is
complex. Obviously, one size (i.e., state,
county, municipality) does not fit all.
Some communities cite safety concerns as
a reason to strictly regulate electronic signage,
despite the fact that no correlation
to worsened driver distraction has been
demonstrated. In fact, the Federal Highway
Administration released a study that
found that electronic signs are no more
distracting to drivers than static signs are.
Nonetheless, the laws and codes are just
that - laws and codes - so they must
be followed until/unless amended. The
good news is this: There are websites you
can access that explain most (if not all) of
the state and local requirements.
A Lot to Know
Suffice it to say, there is a lot to know
about both indoor and outdoor LED
displays. This is not meant to dissuade
anyone; instead, my goal is to point out
the unknowns and to underscore the
due diligence that's required beyond
simply providing the hardware. In the
realm of outdoor LED, the issues of
designing for the rigors of the environment,
selecting the proper display to
meet the challenges and doing all the
prep work as it relates to licensing, permits
and adherence to codes will be the
difference between failure and success.
I hope this article has added to the
list of things you now know!
Alan C. Brawn, CTS, DSCE,
DSDE, DCME, DSSP, ISF-C, is
principal of Brawn Consulting.
JUNE 2023 Commercial Integrator
11
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Commercial Integrator 2023

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