There's a new portable lighting solution pushing aside the darkness on many jobsites these days (or nights). Balloon lights, which have been around special events and parties for several years, are now cropping up in various applications, including construction, disaster relief, drilling, farming and agriculture, landscaping, paving, road repair and more.
These self-inflating illumination units are easy to use and extremely portable. As Marc James, product manager with Ingersoll Rand, which offers the BL2000 balloon light, explains, "You just plug and play."
Assembly of balloon lights is fast and typically takes about five minutes to unpack, inflate and mount.
With Ingersoll Rand's BL2000, you simply remove the unit from the storage case, and plug it into a 120-volt/20-amp outlet (wall socket or generator). The unit features an internal fan that 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-percent 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, so the end-user would inflate the balloon 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."
Wessels notes that Airstar's units as well as the BL2000 are equipped with a filter in the base that prevents dirt and particles from entering the unit.
Most balloon lights offer various configurations. They can be mounted to mobile pieces of equipment (such as pavers or rollers), on tripods when they won't be moved, on wheeled stands or even to truck hitches.
What's so special about them?
The greatest advantage of balloon lights versus their cousin, the light tower, is the glare-free lighting.
"With a balloon unit, the light is diffused," explains James. "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 concurs that glare-free illumination is a large benefit over traditional light towers. "Unlike traditional lights, these units don't cast shadows," he says. "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 it. This has led to its popularity with special events, but also helps during nighttime activities where noise could be a problem.
Another benefit is their portability. Balloon lights can be transported in their storage cases in the bed of a pickup truck or car trunk. There are no outriggers to set, masts to crank or lights to position. Balloon lights 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 a wider area of light coverage, and you can tilt them 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 those overhead power lines.
Traditional light towers, which are also more expensive and not as mobile, still have their place, says James. "It really depends on the application," he says. "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. All the sources in this article assured us that they are quite capable of handling the tough stuff.
"The envelopes (the outer shell of the balloon light) 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.
Wind stability can depend on how the unit is mounted, notes Quiros. "The end-user should take care to use sandbags or other means to properly anchor the pole or stand to which the unit is mounted. The balloon light is as sturdy as what it's mounted to."
Temperature fluctuations can affect the balloon depending upon what it is filled with. For example, if the balloon is filled with helium, a difference in temperature can make the helium volume vary (think of your child's party balloon filled with helium and what happens when you walk outside into cold air — the balloon will deflate slightly). However, if the balloon is filled with ambient air, it's not as temperature sensitive.
While balloon lights are very durable, normal precautions must be taken to protect the bulb and balloon from abuse. Several models have built-in spring suspension lighting harnesses that allow the lights to sustain heavy vibration during transport without damaging the lamps.
There is minimal maintenance with balloon lights. The envelopes can rip or tear, but most manufacturers supply repair kits with their units. And the only other maintenance concern is bulb replacement, with bulbs readily available from dealers. Bulbs generally last up to 10,000 hours.
Are they right for rental?
Easy to use, portable and inexpensive — it seems like balloon lights would be a perfect rental item.
"For general rental businesses, yes," says James with Ingersoll Rand. "Homeowners, special events and contractors can all use balloon lights."
Wessels with Airstar agrees. "Balloon lights are considered a good rental item, especially for short-term construction projects," he says.
But because they are so inexpensive, some customers, such as contractors, opt to just purchase them instead of rent. While markets vary, rental rates for balloon lights range from $75 to $100 a day, up to $250 a week.
Another benefit for rental: balloon lights aren't a one-trick pony. They can be used for a variety of applications. And while there's already a long list of these applications, James says we're just scratching the surface.
"There are many more applications these light sources can be used for," he says. "They're still relatively new, so as more people become aware of them, you'll start seeing them used in many different ways."
What's the most important thing to take away from this regarding balloon lights? "When you need a true mobile light source that provides silent, glare-free illumination, balloon lights fill that need," says James.
Magnum Light Towers
- 30-ft. all-steel mast offers 360-degree rotation
- Four 1,000-watt metal halide lights
- Mitsubishi engine
- Low oil/high temperature automatic shutdowns
Allmand Night-Lite PRO Series
- SHO parallel lamp fixtures offer up to 50 percent more light output than competitive models
- Center-mounted mast provides operational stability in winds up to 65 mph
- 1,800-rpm, liquid-cooled diesel engine and 6-kW generator package
- Two retractable rear outriggers and tongue jack allow use in winds up to 65 mph
Ingersoll Rand BL2000 Balloon Light
- Self-inflating illumination unit that diffuses a strong, glare-free light over a 360-degree area
- 43.3-in. diameter
- Stands 7.5 to 15 ft. tall with optional mounting stand and covers up to a 15,000-sq.-ft. radius
- 2,000 watts of power supplied by a 10-amp, 230-volt source for one lamp or 20-amp, 110-volt source for two lamps
- Inflates in less than one minute
- Wind resistant up to 63 mph
- Glare-free lighting systems
- Eliminates the fans required by other balloon lights to maintain air in the balloon
- Balloon inflates in seconds and a simple plug maintains air pressure and protects the light.
- For paving projects, security lighting, traffic control and other indoor and outdoor functions
- Can rise to a maximum height of 10 ft.
- Available in 150-, 400- and 1,000-watt outputs and illuminate areas up to 100 ft. from the light source
Terex Portable Floodlight System
- Available on three models: the AL4000, the AL5000 and the LT7000
- Can be set to one of three modes: timer, which turns the lights on at a set time; photocell, which activates the tower based on the amount of natural light surrounding it; and first source, which triggers the machine at a set time or when the light is at a certain level, whichever comes first
GTM Portable Light
- Illuminates up to 100,000 sq. ft.
- Collapses to 2 ft. for easy carrying and storage
- Three-minute installation by single person
- 15-ft. full extension of tower
Genie Light Towers
- TML-4000N features a 55-in. width and the TML-4000 has a 70-in. width
- "Tool-less" Quick-Aim lamp adjustment system and tilt-actuating system allows all four lamps to be easily aimed from the ground
- Parallel (horizontally) mounted metal halide lamps enclosed in durable cast-aluminum fixtures
- Four 1,000-watt lights on each tower
Sirocco 3K HTI from Airstar America
- Glare-free light
- Designed to replace traditional floodlights on light towers
- Can be adapted to existing tower
- Will illuminate 72,000 sq. ft., 360 degrees with 300,000 lumens