4 Bright Ideas on How to Decrease Energy Costs with Better Lighting

July 26, 2017  •  Allison McGillivray

High electric bills got you down?

Revamping your facility’s lighting policy is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways your organization can lower those energy costs. In fact, a lighting efficiency project has the potential to pay for itself in less than five years.

The problem: overlighting

Light Bulb Robot

Organizations rarely leave their lights on out of carelessness. Though sometimesoccupants or cleaning staff can inadvertently leave lights on (especially internal lights). There are several reasons why organizations leave the lights on including safety and security:

  • Safety: organizations light the entrances and exits to their facilities for occupant safety. If a facility does not have motion sensors in their lighting systems, the organization will often leave these lights on 24/7.
  • Security: Organizations often leave exterior lighting on to discourage nefarious characters from approaching the facility.

You can still maintain proper safety and security procedures, while increasing the efficiency of his lighting system.

Possible solutions

Here are a few ways that you can increase your lighting efficiency and thus decrease your energy costs:

1. Use the Bi-Level Switching technique

Bi-level switching refers to separating your light fixtures to two or more different circuits to be independently controlled. Bi-level switching enables you to reduce light levels but still light spaces as required by certain building codes. You can shut off sets of light fixtures and still receive some light instead of needing to leave all light fixtures on to receive light in a space. This ability enables you to take advantage of natural light and reduce energy use outside of peak occupancy hours. Bi-level switching has been shown to produce 22 percent energy savings in private offices. Bi-level switching is frequently used in combination with solutions below.

2. Install occupancy and vacancy sensors

Motion sensors enable you to automatically turn lights on and off when occupants enter or leave a room. Sensors are especially useful for lighting entrances and exits, as required by many building codes. For example, instead of lighting a stairwell 24/7, set up a sensor so that when an occupant approaches the stairwell door, the light will turn on, and when the bottom door closes, the lights turn off.

Sensors also help prevent entire floors being illuminated when only a few occupants are present. Only the spaces that occupants are currently occupying will be lit at a time.

You can also control exterior lighting with motion sensors. For example, adding these controls to your facility’s parking lot, will prevent occupants from having to walk in the dark, but will also prevent you from having to light the entire parking lot at all hours of the night. Motion sensors can also be beneficial security measures. For example, having lights pop on when a person approaches your facility, might discourage negative behavior.

The downside of sensors is that they must be programmed and placed properly in order to be effective. Working with an energy service vendor (like FMX partner, Dynamix Energy Services) can be helpful to implement lighting changes such as these.

3. Install dimming fixtures, timers, and photosensors

These small changes can have a big impact over time. Dimming fixtures allow you to lower light level across all fixtures as you need (i.e. when it is a sunny day), timers will turn lights on and off at specific times (i.e. after peak occupancy hours), and photosensors will turn exterior lights on at dusk and off at dawn.

4. Switch to LEDs over time

Replacing inefficient light sources with LEDs can provide considerable savings in both reduced energy costs and reduced maintenance. LEDs use up to 85 percent less electricity when compared to incandescents and 40 percent less when compared with fluorescents. They also provide 70 percent more light when compared to fluorescents, which enables you to purchase and maintain fewer light fixtures. LEDs can last up to 50,000 hours or more before replacement is required. LEDs also do not require warm up/cool down periods before they turn on and off.

How to get started

Review building codes

Look up:

  • Which areas of your facility need to be lit and at which times during the day
  • Look up the minimum lighting requirements for these spaces (measured in foot-candles)

Conduct a lighting investigation

Schedule times to observe your facility’s lighting situation:

  • Before peak occupancy hours: Take a tour of your facilities a few hours before the start of the work or school day, while it is still dark.
    • Have lights been left on inadvertently?
    • Are your required lights on like they are supposed to be?
    • Are you meeting (or even exceeding) your foot-candle requirement? (You can measure this with a foot-candle meter).
  • During peak occupancy hours: View occupant behavior during their day.
  • How are occupants using the lights?
  • Are some of the areas over-lit? For example, could an appropriate amount of light be achieved with fewer light fixtures?
  • Do occupants frequently leave lights on after they have left rooms?
  • After peak occupancy hours:
  • How many occupants do you have using your facility after peak occupancy hours?
  • Which spaces are they using?
  • How long after peak hours do they stay?

Here are some common over-lighting problem areas:

  • Emergency exit paths
  • Stairways
  • Hallways
  • Lobbies
  • Entry ways

Establish and communicate a lighting policy

Your investigation should give you a better understanding of how your occupants use your space, and what their lighting needs are. You can use this information to establish a lighting policy. Determine which spaces you are going to leave lit overnight, what degree of control you want your occupants to have with your lighting system (i.e. can they turn common room lights on?), which spaces require motion sensors, etc. You should then communicate these policies to your occupants.

Hire a professional

You can hire a vendor, like FMX partner, Dynamix Energy Services, to come on site and suggest areas where your lighting system could be improved.

How FMX can help

With facilities and maintenance management software like FMX, you can create preventive maintenance (PM) tasks for lighting projects like the ones above and schedule them days, weeks, months, even years in advance. You can even assign these tasks to outside vendors. You can also use FMX to track the overall cost associated with each task.

You can also use FMX to manage your lighting equipment and corresponding inventory. FMX automatically generates an equipment history for each piece of equipment in your site. These histories are automatically updated each time you create a PM or work order and associate it with a particular piece of equipment. You can easily view inventory quantities and associate inventory with work orders and PMs.

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Allison is a product marketing manager at Facilities Management eXpress. When she’s not writing marketing content, she is likely hiking with her dog or cooking delicious Italian food. 

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