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How to Save Money and Improve Working Conditions: Pay More Attention to Lighting

Lighting is a topic most facilities managers apparently don’t pay enough attention to, at least according to the National Lighting Bureau. In a study from 2003, the NLB found that only 17% of U.S. commercial buildings built before 1980 had retrofitted their lighting systems. That means some 2.2 million buildings in the U.S. stood to benefit from an upgrade.

But that was nearly 10 years ago. Surely all those buildings have been upgraded by now, right? Right?

OK, maybe not.

If you’ve got a data center or other building that may be in need of a lighting makeover – and chances are you do – Schneider Electric’s free online education program Energy University, can help.  In the course Lighting I: Lighting Your Way, you’ll learn about the four principles of efficient lighting design, the importance of getting the correct level of light, the four basic types of lamp families and how to improve energy efficiency through upgrades and various sorts of lighting controls.

The course is full of lighting tips that you likely haven’t come across, such as the idea that you don’t need as much ambient light in areas where lots of visual display terminals are in use, and how lighting vertical room surfaces can create a “cave” effect that makes the ceiling appear higher and creates a more open, vibrant space.

But probably the most valuable part of the course is the discussion of the various types of light bulbs, lamps and how to figure the long-term costs of your lighting decision.

You’ve probably noticed that light bulbs are rated for how long they’re expected to last, usually in terms of hours. These tests are determined based on the performance of 100 lamps, some of which are cycled on and off at different intervals. Incandescent lamps are not, however – they just burn continuously during testing. In real life they’ll be cycled on and off, which will shorten their life expectancy. What’s more, the rated life of any given bulb is determined when the 50th lamp burns out. That means, at least theoretically, that half of all lamps will burn out prior to their life expectancy and half will exceed their rated life.

There is an efficient way to deal with that reality, however: replace the lamps well before they’re due to burn out, say at 70% of life expectancy. While you may think such a strategy is wasteful, it actually saves lots of money in labor costs – because it’s far less costly to swap out a bunch of bulbs all at once and be done with it than to repeatedly replace only those bulbs that have burned out. The Lighting Your Way course goes through the cost analysis; suffice to say it’s a compelling case.

So is the case for spending more money up front for bulbs that are more energy efficient and have a longer life expectancy. A 100-watt incandescent bulb, for example, costs about 60 cents whereas a 25-watt compact fluorescent bulb, which provides a comparable amount of light, costs $3.40. But the CFL bulb should last about 10 times longer than the incandescent and uses less than a third of the energy. Over its 4.5-year life span, the CFL will save you about $105 as compared to the incandescent.

Clearly it’s time we paid more attention to the light that is all around us. A good start is to spend about 45 minutes taking the Lighting Your Way course – you’ll be well on your way toward a lighting makeover that will not only save money but improve working conditions for all employees. You’ll find this course, along with many others, in the college of Energy Efficiency on the Energy University site. To register for free, simply visit the Energy University site and click the  “Join” link.


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