"Changes in Lighting Technology Leave Building Operators in the Dark"

By Nina James

As property managers and owners gradually phase out older building fixtures in favor of newer, more energy-efficient technology, efforts to comply with the broad-ranging Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT) can unfortunately result in offices with less light, not lower bills.

Property Management

While only a small portion of EPACT deals with lighting fixtures, it is one of the most pertinent areas for the commercial property industry. In addition to strict enforcement penalties for domestic manufactures and importers, the legislation has changed building codes for new construction and major renovation projects-opening the door for widespread confusion.

To make matters a little more complicated, the standards invoked by EPACT are subject to periodic revisions and are expected to continue until 2005.

One of the common methods of conserving energy in commercial buildings, especially during the energy crisis of the 1970s, was simply to remove a portion of the lamps in a section of lighting, thereby operating on less light. This technique, as well as installing lower-wattage bulbs, does save on electricity, but it also provides less light.

Another frequent lighting problem arises from replacing individual lamps in a section of lighting as they burn out, resulting in a room with lamps of different life spans-and uneven lighting that is expensive to maintain.

Some of the most common pitfalls in lighting have to do with understanding the anatomy of commercial lighting. The ballast, which operates the bulbs, have been made more efficient in the past few years and incandescent lights are commonly bypassed in favor of fluorescent. Any combination of old and new technology can jeopardize the efforts to save energy and provide quality lighting.

Any attempt, for example to place a lower-watt lamp on an older ballast will usually result in premature failure of the lighting.

While these newer technologies are more expensive initially, the payback comes in the form of longer life spans, lower maintenance and energy bills. Many utility companies also offer rebate programs for companies who use more efficient lighting.

A systems approach to a lighting upgrade entails replacing T12 lamps and magnetic ballasts with T8 lamps and electronic ballasts. According to Osram Sylvania Inc., a light manufacturing company, replacing T12 lamps with T8 lamps and electronic ballasts can save up to $200 in energy costs over the life of the first set of T8 lamps.

Even the common exit sign can operate with more energy-efficient light. Light emitting diode (LED) technology consumes far less wattage per exit sign and can be installed in most existing exit signs with little rewiring.

One of the most important concepts to remember with commercial lighting, it seems, is to choose quality over quantity. Constantine Pergantis, president of Nite Lites (TM), a commercial lighting company based in North Potomac, Md., says, "Most offices are overlit. Before computers were prevalent, workspace was less confined, so offices had to be well-lit. Now, with employees working almost exclusively in front of their terminals, the need to light up the entire office is diminished. The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) has recently reduced the lighting requirements for offices, and favored task lighting as opposed to general lighting."

"Ultimately," says Constantine, "building owners should determine the cost of replacing existing lighting structures, and then calculate the payback period- when reduced electricity bills will pay for the cost of the new lighting. For most buildings, 30-50 percent of the costs will be regained within two years, and often sooner."

Once the cost-savings become apparent to property owners, they are quick to make the conversion. Today's Man, for example, a retail clothing chain undergoing reorganization this year, decided to replace their lighting systems in many of their operating stores. new technologies.

For the time being, however, new technology, lighting codes and energy regulations can confuse even the most technically minded building operator. Thorough research before any major lighting decision can ensure that commercial buildings are getting as most light for their money as possible.

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