Get More From Your Lighting

Why do you have lighting in and around your buildings? It’s not a silly question, and the answers may prove surprising. Consider, for example, outdoor nighttime lighting. If you believe it provides security, you’re right, but that’s not all it does.

The Many Functions of Lighting

Lighting used for security purposes can also perform other functions at the same time. For example, it can improve nighttime safety, reducing the likelihood of slip/trip, vehicle/vehicle and vehicle/pedestrian accidents - also reducing the associated costs.

The same lighting used to provide security and safety can also enhance nighttime aesthetics by illuminating selected aspects of the built and natural environment. Particularly when the buildings involved represent a variety of architectural styles and appearances, lighting can be used to make them blend harmoniously into a whole, achieving what’s called environment integration. Also, by using different types and/or colors of light, nighttime walkway illumination can cut clear, safe pathways for staff and students to use. Lighting can also permit use of areas or outdoor facilities that otherwise could be enjoyed only during the day.

In short, the lighting used to provide security can be made to contribute to many important activities. The point is that budget issues are always important, and informed budgetary decisions can be made only when good information is presented. To say, "We could use better security lighting," is subjective and not readily amenable to budgetary analysis. However, when the issue is broken into key components, many more details emerge, and dollars can be assigned to each. It’s a far different thing to say, "If we provided better lighting here, based on historical data, we could probably save $15,000 a year, and it would cost only $3,000 to obtain it."

Such a strategy results in what the National Lighting Bureau calls high-benefit lighting - lighting designed to optimize performance of the functions it is installed to support. The concept is particularly important in this era of budget cutting and energy conservation because, to the minds of many budgeting authorities, electric illumination is an expense and, therefore, better lighting costs less to operate and maintain.

Money-Saving Examples

While no one can argue that saving money is bad, the savings associated with lighting can be maximized only when one considers the impact of what it is lighting does and can do.

Consider the case of Central Michigan University (CMU). There, the administration decided to improve walkway security lighting, and it had the choice of two highly efficient options, either one of which would have resulted in more lighting than before. The university selected the more expensive of the two options. It provided the most light, but consumed only slightly less energy than the system it replaced. As a result, based on operating and maintenance (O&M) cost savings alone, the retrofit would have taken almost 21 years to pay for itself. However, in this instance, the far higher amount of lighting provided greatly improved seeing conditions for security patrols, thus permitting fewer officers to do more than before the retrofit. CMU was able to reduce security patrol costs, saving so much money that the new system’s payback was calculated at 2.5 years. The new lighting also helped students and staff feel more secure at night and significantly lowered the exposure to the risk of bad publicity, negative image and costly claims and lawsuits.

A similar outcome occurred at Bryant College in Smithfield, R.I., where new parking lot lighting was installed principally for night students and staff. The previous lighting was somewhat dim. Accidents, vandalism and auto break-ins were becoming almost common. The new lighting created a field of security in the lot itself and along walkways between buildings. In this case, the new lighting cut O&M costs by 45 percent and, based on that alone, payback would have occurred in 3.9 years. But far more than O&M costs were involved as a consequence of fewer accidents, less vandalism, less cost for clean-up and repair, less attendant paperwork and more. Total savings amounted to almost three times that derived from O&M reductions alone, resulting in payback in just 1.3 years.

Not all motivations are financial, of course; managers also need to consider the mission of the organization. This issue arose at Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., when officials decided to upgrade lighting at its S. Peter Volpe Physical Education Center. Ballasts in the old system made objectionable noise, and neither coaches nor athletes were pleased with the lighting for hockey, basketball and other activities. Administrators decided to improve the lighting for energy efficiency and to improve the facility. That mission was accomplished, and lighting O&M costs were cut by an astonishing 71 percent. In fact, based on O&M savings alone, simple payback would have been achieved in just 10.9 months. However, not all the effects of high-benefit lighting had been considered.

Because the new lighting had such a dramatic effect on the appearance of the space, four other colleges asked to rent the hockey rink for their own teams’ practices. Administrators agreed, charging a modest amount. The college also received a 50 percent increase in the number of organizations asking to rent the center for various events, boosting rental income still more. As a consequence, the total bottom-line benefit was almost double that of O&M savings alone, and payback actually occurred in 5.7 months.

Lighting has an array of effects, the effect on overall utility and maintenance costs being only one of many. To evaluate lighting only in terms of the cost to operate and maintain it is short-sighted. A lighting system should be designed and built to achieve its purpose: provide maximum support for the activities for which it is needed. By analyzing that purpose, the economic picture becomes more complete.

John Philip Bachner is communications director of the National Lighting Bureau in Silver Spring, Md.

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