The Heat is On

September marks the beginning of the end of summer-Thank God. This summer has been one of the hottest on record, with prolonged scorching temperatures and record numbers of wildfires. In fact, worldwide-according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration-the past four years have been the hottest ever recorded. And, according to the National Climatic Data Center, which has been keeping records since 1880, 17 of the last 18 warmest years have occurred since 2000.

Now I’m not what you’d call a climate-change crusader-but facts are facts. Things are warming up all over, especially in the western side of the country. This year’s deadly Carr Fire, near Redding, California-the wildfire that spawned a literal “fire tornado”-is still raging even as I write this.

Here, where I live in Colorado, temperatures this year have not crested 100 degrees often, but they have hovered in the mid- to upper-90s for most of the summer-the hottest prolonged heat wave I’ve seen since I moved here in 1981. My poor garden was a stunted mess, my lawn looked like a brown, neglected field, and my electric bill this summer, from constantly having to run the A/C, easily rivals my winter heating bills.

But I really feel bad for all the sign guys out there who work outside in this unforgiving weather-especially in cities like Phoenix where temperatures this July hovered around 115 for weeks on end.

I mean, trying to lay vinyl perfectly on a fender, or digging a sign post, or climbing around in a bucket lift under the hot sun is bad enough, but doing so in this abnormally hot weather has got to be a real challenge.

And what about all those LED-illuminated electric signs out there? LEDs operate best in cool environments, so this kind of weather has got to have a pronounced negative effect on the life expectancy of those signs. LED fixtures need to be designed to dissipate heat, otherwise, they will fail prematurely. And even more so when operating in searing heat-wave conditions.

Temperatures that are on the extremes of what an LED sign is rated for can be damaging-especially for outdoor digital signage screens, due to the sometimes the oven-like conditions inside an LED-illuminated box sign, pylon or monument sign. For installers of those signs the name of the game is thermal management.

A good thermal management system may employ ventilation fans and/or mixing fans to help cool an enclosure. They can be thermostatically controlled to turn on at a point that will protect the LED sign from damaging internal temperatures. A good design will allow fans to keep the system well within the maximum operating temperature. Some larger, multiple-screen monument signs may employ a full-on HVAC system to maintain optimum temperatures.

But now as we come to the end of summer and the blessed, cooling rains return, these summer heat concerns quickly fade away. Still, sign guys who work with outdoor LED signage must continue to sharpen their understanding of thermal management. And guys who must work outdoors in extreme heat must do so with plenty of water on hand. Be careful out there. Next year could be even more intense.

Okay, back to work.

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Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon is the Executive Editor and content manager of GRAPHICS PRO magazine. Before that he was served as editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and Sign Business Magazine.

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