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: Parking lot lighting requirements depend on where the parking lot is located. This image is an aerial image of a high school parking lot.

What Are Parking Lot Lighting Requirements?


There are two basic categories for parking lot lighting requirements. The first set of parking lot lighting requirements are your lighting objectives including illumination to provide for safe egress. The second set parking lot lighting requirements are complying with state, county and/or local lighting ordinances. Most communities have ordinances that will influence the design and layout of your parking lighting. Until you know what you want and what your local community’s requirements are, you can’t design your parking lot lighting.

What are your parking lot lighting requirements?

Property owners, developers, and managers, typically prioritize the following parking lot lighting requirements.

Parking Lot Light Fixture Style

Style involves branding. While a stadium of big box store might want 40’ to 60’ poles and high mast parking lot lights, that would not be appropriate for a fine dining restaurant or a country store. Post top lights might be more appropriate for the restaurant. The country store might opt for something on a wood pole. There are lots of styles available for parking lot lights and for parking lot poles.  Be sure to discuss style with a lighting specialist.

Parking Lot Lighting requirements include style

Mounting Height

The mounting height of parking lot lights affects the area over which the light is distributed. Light distribution is directly correlated to the mounting height of the fixture. Light distribution increases with height. As the mounting height increases, the distance between the light poles and light fixtures increases, reducing pole and fixture count and thus cost. Consequently, to control cost, it is a frequent preference to have a mounting height of 20’ or higher. This may conflict with style, so obviously there are multiple considerations.

Average light

What is average light and what is enough light for a surface parking lot? One consideration is how bright the surrounding area is. A general rule is an average of 2 footcandles (fc) and a minimum of 1 fc, although in many instances the minimum fc is lower. Lower fc is acceptable if the max/min ratio is lower as detailed below in even lighting.

Even Lighting

It is also important that the light be even. Measured using a Max/Min Ratio, the calculation is the fc in the brightest area of the parking lot divided by the fc in the least bright area in the parking lot.   A study by the Lighting Research Center at RPI resulted in customers feeling safer and having better visibility even with lower light levels if the light was more even. While the IES recommends a max/min ration of 15:1 for parking lots, the study compared a max/min ratio of 10:1 with a max/min ration of 3:1.

Parking lot light controls

Parking lot lighting controls range from the simple light switch to photocells, occupancy sensors, DALI, and wireless controls. The most cost-effective option is a timer clock combined with a photocell or photocells. Click here to read more about parking lot lighting controls.

What are your community parking lot lighting requirements?

Just about every community has parking lot lighting ordinances that dictate requirements for your parking lot lighting. Ordinances may cover the maximum mounting height for high parking lighting. Other aspects regulated may include fixture design, fixtures style, dark sky compliance, max/min ratios, maximum fc, minimum fc, and the list goes on.

A summary of parking lot lighting requirements that may be mandated through ordinances follows.

Mounting Height

Just about every community specifies the maximum mounting height of parking lot lights. The maximum mounting height typically ranges from 8’ to 20’, with some exceptions for industrial facilities. Even the cement pole mount/pedestal for the light pole might have a regulated height and naturally the height is measured off the surface of the parking lot, not the top of the pole mount.

Full Cut Off

Full cut off requires that there is little to no up light from the lights. That means that the lights can’t be used to project light across a broad area. The light fixture must be aimed down to keep the sky dark. LED parking lot lights have specialized optics so the fixtures can still distribute the light broadly without causing the light to go up.

LED full cut off light fixtures meets lighting requirements

Dark Sky Compliant

Dark sky compliant builds on full cut off. It means that the light fixture has to be full cut off, needs to be 3000 Kelvin or below, and has to have a fixed or have a nonadjustable mounting arm.

Energy Consumption

Ordinances that regulate energy use may be as simple a meeting a federal guideline or as complex as to limit the wattage per square foot of the parking lot based on varying factors An example of the later is CA Title 42.

Maximum Light

Maximum light ordinances regulate the maximum light that can reach the surface of the parking lot. A typical maximum is 10fc, but the maximum light could be set as low as 5fc depending on the community. A low fc requires more fixtures with lower wattage to minimize hot spots, areas of fc above the maximum fc permitted on the surface of the parking lot.

Average Light

Average light is the measure of light across a parking lot. Average light may be the average of each square foot of the parking lot or the average of 5’ or 10’ square areas within the parking lot.

Minimum Light

Minimum light is the regulation of the lowest level of fc that there can be on the parking lot surface. This protects against areas in the parking lot being too dark.

Maximum Minimum Ratio – Max/Min Ratio

Max/Min Ratio is the fc in the brightest area of the parking lot divided by the fc in the least bright area in the parking lot.  An acceptable or community specified max/min ratio might be 15:1, and lower max/min ratios facilitate a lower average fc. One community specified a maximum of 5fc and a max/min of 5:1, which is quite challenging. Ultimately, your community’s ordinance will be the deciding factor.

Max FC at by Entrances and Exits

This ordinance limits the fc on the surface of the parking lot where it meets sidewalks or the street. The objective may be to limit how bright the area is so as not to distract drivers and to ensure the area is bright enough so a driver can see a pedestrian.

Light Trespass

Light trespass is the defined in three ways, the ability to see the light off in the distance, the ability to see the light source a nearby property, and light emitted onto a neighboring property. Lighting ordinances may deal with any number of the three. The ability to see the light off in the distance refers to being able to see that an area some distance away is illuminated such as a sports field, airport, or parking lot. This is less regulated than the other two forms of light trespass. Requiring the light source to be shielded is more common. The most common light trespass ordinance regulates the light emitted onto a neighboring property. Depending on the community this could be anywhere from 1fc on the surface at the line to 0.05fc at 3’ above the surface of the ground by the property line. Click to learn more about light trespass.

Hours for lighting

Hours of lighting regulates what hours the lights can be used. Examples of hours of lighting being regulated include lights to be turned off or dimmed to a specified percentage of maximum light levels 15 minutes after closing, after 10pm, or after midnight and before 6am.


Many communities now dictate the style of fixtures that may be used in the community or sometimes a small area within the community. This is required to maintain the character of an area such as a historical district. An example from one community’s ordinance states, “must have antique globe/coach style light poles and fixtures as approved by the Planning Official.”

Kelvin (k) and Nanometers (nm)

Many communities have parking lot lighting requirements that specify the Kelvin or nanometers. Reasons vary from aesthetic to environmental. Kelvin might be specified at 2200K to keep the feeling of a historic district that was previously illuminated by gas lights. It may limit the Kelvin to 4000K so the light emitted doesn’t appear bluish. Examples of environment specifications for Kelvin and Nanometers include 2200K for dark skies or migration of birds or bugs and 590nm for wildlife and sea turtles.

Some communities require parking lot lights to have 590nm LEDs

Color Rendering Index (CRI)

Communities specify that parking lot lights have a color rendering above a certain CRI. Reasons for specifying CRI include mandating enhanced visibility and maintaining community aesthetics.

Photometric Study and Parking Lot Luminaire Cut Sheets

Virtually all lighting ordinances require a photometric study that results in a lighting plan that includes point-by-point calculations showing compliance with the parking lot lighting ordinance. Along with the photometric study, the ordinances will require a cut sheet for each of the proposed light fixtures.

Click for an example of a photometric study for an apartment building parking lot.

Click for an example of a photometric study report for the apartment building parking lot above.

Some communities require parking lot lights to have 590nm LEDs

How to Meet Parking Lot Lighting Requirements?

Meeting parking lot requirements is as simple.

    1. Determine your parking lot lighting requirements
    2. Get a site plan for your parking lot, preferably in dwg format
    3. Get a copy of the lighting ordinances for your location
    4. Contact an Access Fixtures Lighting Specialist. Call 800.468.9925
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