There's a new portable lighting solution available to illuminate your jobsite. Balloon lights are now cropping up on various projects, including building, drilling, paving, road repair and other sites.
These self-inflating illumination units are easy to use and extremely portable. As Marc James, product manager with Ingersoll Rand, explains, "You just plug and play."
Assembly of a balloon light is fast; it typically takes about five minutes to unpack, inflate and mount. For example, with Ingersoll Rand's BL2000 balloon light, you simply remove it from the storage case and plug it into a 120-volt/20-amp outlet (wall socket or generator). An internal fan inflates the shroud. "Tiny vent holes will provide circulation for cooling and prevent overinflation," says James.
Airstar Space Lighting's Sirocco Lighting Systems inflate in a similar manner and are equipped with a pressure sensor.
"When the unit reaches 90% pressure, the lamps automatically illuminate," says John Wessels, national sales manager - construction. "In less than two minutes, the system will self inflate."
Multiquip's Moonlight lighting system eliminates the internal fan. Instead, the balloon is inflated with a rechargeable or battery-operated blower. "Eliminating the fan means dirt and other debris are not blown into the unit," says Juan Quiros, manager of product support. "This extends balloon and component life."
Airstar's units, as well as the Ingersoll Rand BL2000, are equipped with a filter in the base that eliminates this concern by preventing dirt and particles from entering the unit.
Most balloon lights offer various configurations that can be mounted to mobile pieces of equipment such as pavers or rollers, tripods for stationary use, wheeled stands or even truck hitches.
What are the benefits?
The greatest advantage of balloon lights versus light towers is the glare-free lighting.
"With a balloon unit, the light is diffused," James explains. "It's softer and has no shadows. More and more DOTs are spec'ing glare-free lighting into contracts, so this is really important for roadbuilding and repair."
Wessels adds, "Unlike traditional lights, these units don't cast shadows. You're not blinded when you look directly at the light, nor is there a reflection off the ground or equipment. These lights make nighttime work not only safer for the workers, but also for drivers."
Balloon lights are also very quiet - or as quiet as the source powering them. This helps during night operations where noise could be a problem.
Another benefit is portability. Balloon lights can be easily transported in their storage cases in the bed of a pickup truck. There are no outriggers to set, masts to crank, or lights to position. They can also move with the job when they're mounted to a piece of equipment or on a wheeled stand.
What are the disadvantages? Traditional light towers will give you a wider area of light coverage and can be tilted to illuminate other areas. And because of a balloon light's portability, you must make sure the unit is secured and properly anchored for safety. And watch out for overhead power lines.
Traditional light towers, which are more costly and not as mobile, still have their place, says James. "It really depends on the application," he states. "Both types have their markets. Balloon lights are not going to replace traditional light towers. They just offer another solution."
Are they fragile?
With the word "balloon" in its description, you can't help but wonder if balloon lights can stand up to severe jobsite conditions, such as wind, rain, temperature variations, etc. But suppliers are quick to state they are quite capable of handling tough conditions.
"The envelopes (outer shell of balloon lights) are made of complex textures to give the balloon a long life," says Wessels. "These textures are ripstop, tight, and resistant to weather conditions - rain or snow."
Most units can withstand winds from 55 to 65 mph. Airstar's Sirocco 2000W, which is designed to mount to pavers and rollers, is wind resistant up to 68 mph.