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Lighting for coastal locations

Author: Peter Hopper
Published: September 18, 2012

Coastal location lights face an environment more hostile than most when they are installed outdoors. All outdoor lighting in Britain has to cope with rain and snow, frequently driven by wind and considerable changes in temperature which can often be quite rapid. Coastal location lights have to contend with an additional hazard, namely airbourne salt.

Salt setback

Salt, as everyone knows, is present in sea water and is corrosive to many materials, particularly metals. When salt remains in contact with steel, as it does when damp or wet, a chemical action occurs between the steel and the salt which results in the steel being eaten away. Therefore, anything made of steel that is either submerged in sea water or exposed to being splashed by it will have a very limited life.

The trouble is, salt doesn’t stay in the sea! When you see foaming waves whipped into spray by the wind and by breaking on shore, what you are seeing is millions of droplets of salt water being picked up by the wind and remaining in the atmosphere to be carried by the wind anything up to ten miles or so inland. Everything in that coastal belt is therefore exposed to a salty atmosphere.

Electrical conductors and connections and a damp, salty environment do not sit well together. Ask any boat owner! It is important therefore that coastal location lights are not only made from corrosion resistant materials but have all their electrical components well protected from the atmosphere.

General misconceptions

One might be forgiven for thinking that stainless steel or brass would be ideal materials to use for coastal location lights but sadly it’s not as simple as that. Stainless steel is a generic term that covers a wide range of grades. Only certain high grades are suitable for the marine environment and these are prohibitively expensive and difficult to work, making them generally unsuitable for the manufacture of lamps. Similarly brass only has adequate corrosion resistance in grades very rich in bronze such as Admiralty brass. Lamps made from that would be priced out of the market!

So we are left with just two materials that are practicable to use for coastal location lights. Mild steel that is protected by galvanising and copper which when exposed to coastal conditions develops a protective coating of its own which tends to give it an antique look.

Preservation

If you already have external lights in a coastal location you can help to preserve them and extend their life by careful maintenance. If they are galvanised, make sure the galvanising does not get damaged in any way. If they are painted, keep them regularly painted so that the paint remains intact. In all cases you need to ensure that all openings are kept sealed against the ingress of damp salty air. The brass connectors will last longer if you keep them coated with non-conducting grease. As long as your coastal location lights are well sealed, a regular wash over with fresh water will help considerably. For safety, do this only when they are switched off!

Recommended lights for coastal locations

For new coastal location fittings Lighting Direct have quite a range to choose from. For wall mounted lamps there’s a Vejers PIR wall lamp in galvanised steel or in copper there is a very nice wall light from the Tin range. The Scorpius Maxi wall light also comes in galvanised steel or in copper. The pick of the Post lights is the Vejers Standard Post - Galvanised.

Living within ten miles of the coast doesn’t mean that any outside lights you install will need unreasonably frequent replacement due to corrosion. It just means you have to take care when choosing your coastal location lights to specify either galvanised steel or copper construction and then look after them once installed. Even then, being situated in such conditions does mean that galvanised or copper fittings may discolour over time.

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