Case History: The Basics of High-Benefit Lighting: Knowing More Means Paying Less

Case History: The Basics of High-Benefit Lighting: Knowing More Means Paying Less 2017-01-07T16:51:06+00:00
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Case Histories: Educational/ Institutional

The Basics of High-Benefit Lighting: Knowing More Means Paying Less

by Cary S. Mendelsohn, CLMC

Four hundred years ago, during the Renaissance, the leading intellectuals were proficient in a variety of fields. Today, we apply the term “Renaissance man” or “Renaissance woman” to those rare individuals who know a lot about a lot. Who better to hold that title than the contemporary facilities manager? Consider the various fields in which the facilities manager must be proficient: plumbing, heating, air conditioning, electricity, structures, digital controls, fire safety, security, team building, insurance, contracts, human resources management, customer relations, budgeting, scheduling…it doesn’t stop.

It’s absolutely impossible for facilities managers to be genuinely expert at each and every endeavor they’re required to pursue. Nor does anyone have any right to expect that facilities manager will devote 100 percent full time and attention to each undertaking. After all, they cannot be expected to put in thirty hours a day, job descriptions notwithstanding. Thus, while facilities managers may be mindful of the dictum that good enough seldom is, they sometimes have to rely on expedience to meet their objectives.

In many cases, expedient tactics work well. The various customers are kept happy, and costs are kept under control. In some cases, however, expedients fail to deliver the full range of benefits otherwise attainable; benefits so substantial they could transform a facilities manager from merely a Renaissance person to an absolute, verifiable, 24-karat genius.

The issue is electric illumination–lighting. If you’re the typical facilities manager, you regard lighting as an expense. It consumes energy whenever it is activated and, indoors, it contributes to heat gains, requiring the consumption of cooling energy. And it needs maintenance, too, plus space to store spare lamps and equipment. You know you wouldn’t be better off without it, but not having it certainly would be of benefit to the bottom line. So, when it comes time to consider the potential of a lighting system upgrade, your marching order might be delivered as, “Give me some ideas about a new system that will consume less energy, produce less heat indoors, and that will be less costly to maintain.” But that’s the wrong approach.

To develop a truly effective, truly bottom-line oriented lighting upgrade spec, you have to adopt a Renaissance-type approach to the topic. Step one is to learn more. This does not mean that you have to add lighting systems design to your list of competencies. You only need to know what lighting is used for within and around your school or campus, consider the impacts of more effective lighting, and, as applicable, calculate the value of the benefits. By doing so, you will quickly come to realize that even so-so lighting is less costly than no lighting, and that High-Benefit Lighting® is the least expensive of all.

High-Benefit Lighting is a term coined by the National Lighting Bureau, a not-for-profit information/education organization established in 1976, and funded by trade and professional associations, manufacturers, and agencies of the federal government. Its goal is to help managers make wise lighting decisions. Making those decisions based solely or even principally on the cost of lighting system operation and maintenance (O&M) is not wise.

To really determine bottom-line values relative to lighting, consider the purpose of the lighting and what optimal performance will mean relative to that purpose. For example, when Central Michigan University decided to convert from mercury vapor to high-pressure sodium walkway security lighting, it had to choose between 150W lamps and 250W lamps. Either would have provided more light, but the higher-wattage lampsÑwhile much more efficient than the existing mercury vapor lampsÑdid little to reduce overall energy consumption. They were selected nonetheless, because they provided so much more light, security personnel could see more of what was going on, faster. As such, the school was able to cut back on its security patrols, without compromising student safety. The value of the labor savings was five times the value of energy savings, creating a 2.5-year payback. Added benefits: students, staff, and visitors (including prospective students and staff) felt safer at night; walkways were given their own identification by virtue of the different color of the light used alongside them; and many felt the new lighting made the campus far more attractive at night.

A similar situation existed at Bryant College in Smithfeld, Rhode Island. There, new lighting in the parking lot significantly reduced the frequency and extent of vehicle to vehicle accidents, vandalism, and auto break-ins. While the new lighting was 45 percent less costly to operate and maintain, Bryant saved almost as much each year on the cost of avoided vandalism and accident cleanup. In addition, those using the parking lot and their insurers saved thousands of dollars annually, and the school greatly lowered its exposure to lawsuits and negative publicity.

Night school students and faculty were far more pleased, of course, and one can easily assume that the impact of the new lighting on one’s decision to learn or teach at the school could only have been positive. Also, in situations such as these, improved security can often lead to lower insurance premiums. Based on O&M cost savings alone, the new installation would have paid for itself in just under four years. However, considering the full range of benefits involved, simple payback was calculated as 16 months.

Other case histories gathered by the National Lighting Bureau underscore similar results. At a Swampscott, Massachusetts elementary school, new lighting not only consumed less energy, it also wiped out minor vandalism, generating a 15-month payback considering the value of damage avoided. At Merrimack College, in North Andover, Massachusetts, much better quality lighting installed in the S. Peter Volpe Physical Education Center cut O&M costs by 71 percent per year. A less costly system would likely have saved even more, and cost less, producing a better O&M-based payback. But Merrimack administrators wanted new lighting that would represent an improvement over what existed.

Because the better system was used, because the physical plant director followed the precepts of High-Benefit Lighting, both the hockey team and basketball team said they could see better and, therefore, practice better. In fact, the lighting improved appearances so much that nearby schools asked to rent rink time; community event and concert managers asked to rent the facility; and so forth. The money saved by the 71 percent O&M savings was virtually matched by the new income created, creating a simple payback of less than six months, while guaranteeing more community involvement and support for the school, happier teams, coaches, and spectators, and more recognition for the school and its facilities.

In classrooms and laboratories, as other case histories show, better lighting can improve eye-hand coordination, making accidents less likely. Research indicates that lighting used to highlight blackboards or displays can help students increase their attention spans. Lighting can also be used to enhance appearances of spaces, improve equipment inspection, and otherwise help achieve results that have important bottom-line consequences.

All High-Benefit Lighting installations are energy-efficient, but energy-efficiency is the last thing considered. The first and foremost consideration is the purpose for which lighting was installed. By achieving that purpose in an optimal fashion, costs can be reduced and, in some cases, income can be raised. As such, when it comes to making decisions about your lighting systems, recognize that many factors need to be considered. Energy conservation and other O&M costs represent just a few of these. And knowing this, you can move to step two of the process: selection of an individual or organization to provide help.

Do not select assistance based on its ability to save energy. Not only might your new system fail to attain the benefits it otherwise could; it might actually provide light that is not as good as it was before, costing far more than it saves. (In one NLB case, the method used to achieve a 50 percent lighting energy savings caused a 28 percent productivity plummet.)

Select a firm or organization that is familiar with High-Benefit Lighting. Bureau sponsors are a good place to start. Many, including the government sources and associations, have excellent publications and other materials available, at little or no cost. The same applies to the manufacturers and even the bureau itself. Some sponsors can also provide no- or low-cost design assistance, often through an individual who has earned the coveted LC (Lighting Certified) designation awarded by the National Council for Qualifications in the Lighting Professions (NCQLP), another NLB sponsor.

Be sure to select individuals who have worked with your kind of facilities before. Let them know what you’d like to see achieved. The extent to which your wishes can be realized will depend on what’s installed right now, of course, and the degree to which it can be improved within your budget. In many cases, the expense associated with High-Benefit Lighting is no different from that required for lighting that would be far less satisfactory.

Third, request a report that evaluates the existing lighting system, and which identifies alternative modifications. To evaluate your options, you will need more than equipment and energy “numbers.” What about the impact on safety and security? Will you be able to reduce security patrols? Will vandalism decrease? What about the risk of auto break-ins, burglaries, assaults?

Will or can aesthetics be enhanced? Will teachers be given new tools with which to work? What are the values involved?

Clearly, your lighting consultant will not be able to answer all these questions. Seek input from the local police or campus security, teachers, students, coaches, and others who are affected by the quality of light you provide.

Fourth, make your decisions with respect to overall considerations and, to the extent practical, monitor continuing results. How is the accident rate affected? How much was saved? Have insurance rates been lowered? How much was saved? Has athletic performance been enhanced? Have new opportunities for income been created? In short, has your awareness of High-Benefit Lighting produced the results that others in your position have achieved? One of the most attractive aspects of High-Benefit Lighting, from the point of view of Renaissance people, is the relative ease with which the additional information can be gleaned.

As this article tries to make clear, lighting is far more than just another aspect of the physical plant budget. It has impacts that go far beyond that, into any number of areas that are affected by your decisions. By gaining some information, and taking the few sure steps recommended, you should be able to outshine even the best the Renaissance had to offer.

Cary Mendelsohn is chairman of the National Lighting Bureau, Silver Spring, Maryland. He can be reached at

Reprinted with permission from the Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers’ Facilities Manager magazine.