September 1, 2008
Whether for servicing equipment, running conduit or installing new appliances, flashlights are essential tools for any HVAC professional. While most technicians may think one model is pretty much the same as another, the truth is that flashlight technology has evolved extensively in recent years.
In fact, these days, choosing the right flashlight for a task can make all the difference in terms of speeding installation and repair jobs, pinpointing hard-to-spot problems, keeping workers safe and increasing overall efficiency.
For example, one of the most significant product innovations for HVAC professionals in recent years is the development of tools that feature ultraviolet light for use in leak detection, while improving overall illumination in HVAC units. Many of these new lights are comparable to ultraviolet lights with filters some manufacturers use for illuminating fluorescent dyes, and most are superior to blue-light detection tools.
Some models combine UV light with the convenience of a penlight and the power of a high-intensity LED or light-emitting diode, enabling the technician to see into the smallest crevices in a way that full-sized flashlights cannot. Still other flashlights offer HVAC professionals a choice of both a traditional incandescent flashlight and an ultraviolet light in the same unit, enabling users to select the best lighting source for the job.
Charging upWhen it comes to selecting flashlights for more general HVAC use, one of the first considerations is rechargeable versus battery-powered lights. Rechargeables using nickel cadmium or lithium ion batteries tend to burn brighter than those that use disposable batteries and can be stored in custom charger holders that can be conveniently located in a technician’s truck.
Rechargeables also save money in the long run by eliminating the need to buy replacement batteries. Studies have shown that rechargeable units can save at least $300 over a four-year period - a real consideration for buyers who are watching the bottom line. And for HVAC companies committed to “green” environmental practices, rechargeable batteries also can be recycled easily at many national retail outlets such as Home Depot and Lowe’s.
Of course, battery-powered lights have their uses as well, depending on how frequently and long the light will be used. Disposable batteries, such as alkaline or lithium, have excellent storage life - up to 10 years. They generally offer longer run times for a given bulb power, are typically lower in initial purchase price and easier to keep spares on hand.
However, recycling facilities for non-rechargeable batteries are sometimes hard to find.
Brad Stickels of Stickels Service Co., an HVAC contractor in Fairview, N.C., has long relied on his trusty LED lithium battery-powered flashlight “because it delivers long run times and is good on batteries.”
He and his team also favor headlamps for hands-free convenience and small flashlights that can be carried easily on tool belts.
Brightness and bulbsThe next thing to consider is the amount of brightness, type, longevity and cost of flashlight bulbs. Incandescent, filament-based bulbs, such as xenon or halogen lamps are easily focused, deliver bright light and good performance, and are the best choice for long distances.
LEDs, on the other hand, are virtually unbreakable and can last up to 100,000 hours with a soft focus and short range. Lights featuring super-high flux LEDs provide an even longer reaching, brighter beam that is 10 times brighter than a standard, high-intensity LED.
Like the specialized UV combo light mentioned above, there are also a variety of flashlights that offer a combination of LED and incandescent bulbs, permitting the user to switch light sources according to the task at hand.
Another major development in flashlight technology in recent months is “power” LED chip technology. This advance represents a major step forward in LED bulbs, which despite their durability and long life, have always lagged behind incandescent light sources in terms of overall power and brightness. Power LED technology has both the light output and efficacy to match traditional light sources, enabling manufacturers to replace incandescent, halogen and fluorescent bulb products with LED bulbs that are not only longer lasting and more energy efficient, but also several times brighter than previous generation LEDs.
The result is a bright, intense beam that pierces the darkness while delivering the long run times and indestructibility that characterize LEDs. Made possible by a new development in diode-chip manufacturing, power LEDs are revolutionizing the flashlight industry. Look for more information on manufacturers’ labels.
A sound caseChoosing the right flashlight casing also is important to HVAC technicians. Bodies fabricated from polymer engineering resin materials are virtually indestructible, shock resistant and non-conductive, which are potentially essential considerations, especially in hazardous environments.
Because flashlights can act as a source of ignition, any flashlight used in areas where fire or explosion hazards may result from concentrations of flammable gases, liquids, vapors, dusts or ignitable fibers, also should be properly tested. HVAC professionals themselves should select lights that carry the proper approval ratings for use in such conditions. International third-party testing organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories Inc. and Factory Mutual Research certify the safety of flashlights when operated in specified hazardous environments.
Durability is also an important consideration, as it is not uncommon for a flashlight to be dropped or knocked around on an HVAC job, resulting perhaps in a broken bulb or damaged casing. While this once meant consigning the flashlight to the trash bin, and lost time for the technicians who had to stop what they were doing to get a replacement, that’s no longer the case.
Professional-grade flashlights with features such as non-conductive polymer housing or machined-aluminum casing, an LED bulb or a lens made of shock-resistant borosilicate or polycarbonate, are tough enough to withstand this type of abuse, extending the life of flashlights and increasing worker productivity.
While many HVAC contractors rely on a single, all-purpose light - either a long-lasting battery-powered model or one that features a super-bright LED - for a variety of jobs, there also are other models to consider that may be the right choice. In a confined space, professional-grade headlamps that can be worn on the head or around a hard hat, can give the user hands-free operation. Some lights feature a handy laser pointer for precisely targeting the source of a problem for a coworker or client. Non-UV penlights also can come equipped with bendable, extendable cables that enable the user to see into the tightest spots. And lanterns provide a wide swath of light when needed.
Lighting technology evolves with time and consumer demand. More and more HVAC professionals are requiring long-lasting, lightweight and compact flashlights. So the next time you think about purchasing portable lighting equipment for HVAC use, be sure to select flashlights that offer the right combination of features for the job.
This article and its images were supplied by Eagleville, Pa.-based Streamlight Inc., a manufacturer of lighting equipment for a wide variety of professional uses.