By Adam Fortier
We find ourselves today constantly trying to make environmentally conscious choices while struggling with the costs of “going green”. Unfortunately, it seems that the ability to be green comes with a price tag that has many of us struggling between the moral choice and the affordable one. Reductions in your energy consumption could actually save you money while simultaneously decreasing your demand. Lighting alone accounts for more than one-third of the electrical usage in commercial buildings, and while the switch to energy efficient light bulbs was embraced years ago, that doesn’t mean there isn’t more you can do to lower your energy needs while also lowering your utility bill.
Lighting retrofits not only have the potential to drastically reduce your energy demands, but they can also enhance the visual environment by improving the quality of your lighting. While the initial cost of an upgrade can seem steep, many retrofit projects actually pay for themselves in as little as 3-5 years from the incurred savings. Many of the companies and organizations involved with relighting have the ability to project those savings before a project is underway. Using a Lighting Designer, for instance, can increase your savings by 40% when compared to standard one-to-one retrofits and government incentive programs like Efficiency Vermont can further assist in making these types of renovations affordable. While extensive retrofits won’t be able to affect everyone’s bottom line there are several instances where a professionally organized relight could make the most sense economically.
The technology behind lighting has changed drastically over the last decade. High efficiency lamps offer better quality light for longer while using less energy than their predecessors. Continuing to use older lighting could mean you are paying more for less. Additionally, improvements in these technologies have led to the decreased usage of harmful chemicals such as mercury and new legislation has mandated the discontinuance of lamps with high levels of these hazardous materials. Older buildings that still use T12 fluorescent technology, for example, will find themselves more than inconvenienced as the production of these outdated lamps has ceased all together. It is important, now more than ever, to change to newer lighting before you find yourself stuck in the dark.
While darkness may be crouching in on T12 users, most unmodified buildings built before 1990 are actually over-lit. The light level standards then were higher than they are today and the presence of excessive light in low use areas of commercial buildings is an unwanted strain on both the environment and our wallets. Today, Lighting Designers account for day light potential and implement lighting controls and sensors that further allow us the flexibility to reduce our demand without leaving our employees in the dark. It’s no secret that deciphering your electric bill can be as confusing as it is frustrating. Your utility doesn’t only charge you for the electricity you actually use, but they also base their rates on your potential demand during peak hours making the rate you pay dependent on the time of day as well as the time of year. Reducing your overall demand is a key component to lowering these charges, but you can’t turn off the lights and expect to stay productive.
While the indirect costs of inadequate lighting cannot always be measured in numbers, it is important to remember that light affects all of us. The aesthetics of lighting is just as important as its function and finding the perfect balance is a key to keeping customers happy and employees productive. While productivity can be a hard unit to measure, its value is indisputable. We don’t always look at our lighting as a culprit for our workday ailments, but even subtle changes in the levels and temperatures of our lights could mean the difference between needing that midday coffee and skipping those eye drops. Customers will also appreciate the ambience new light provides—even if they don’t realize it.
Older lighting is notorious for giving off higher amounts of heat. If the AC has always been a must in the summer months, new lighting could result in unexpected savings in cooling costs and decrease your potential demand even more. There is a lot of room for improvement in existing lighting systems, especially in the commercial market, and with government incentive programs offering financing options and rebates there hasn’t been a better opportunity than now to upgrade. For more information about lighting retrofits and relighting programs contact your local electrical contractor, efficiency programs and utilities. Many times a simple walk through by a lighting professional can yield viable information on your potential for greater sustainability.
Adam Fortier is a Master Electrician-Lighting Consultant at MEI Electrical Contractors in Jay, VT.