A lighting upgrade does more than improve appearance.

Lighting systems account for more than one-third of the electricity used in a typical commercial or institutional facility. Therefore, improvements in efficiency offered by new lamp and ballast designs can make tremendous strides toward substantially reducing a facility's total energy cost. In addition to energy savings, new longer-life light sources and fixture designs can also reduce lighting system maintenance costs.


In recent years, new technologies like dimmable electronic ballasts, energy-efficient lamps, and a wide array of lighting control products have revolutionized the lighting industry. Upgrades involving these and other energy-efficient lighting technologies often pay for themselves in less than 3 yr. Lincoln Plaza is a good example.

Kansas-based Custom Energy recently performed an audit for the Lincoln Plaza in Dallas. Through the audit, Custom Energy discovered several opportunities for the facility to take advantage of newer lighting technologies, within the 1.1 million-sq ft commercial building.

Upgrade details. Replacing lighting fixtures in a retrofit often requires extra time and money that may not be worth the added benefit. Custom Energy determined that was the case with this 45-story tenant-lease building, so it retained the existing fixtures installed nearly 20 yr ago when the building was first constructed. The staff began by upgrading each of the building’s 3-lamp 2-ft by 4-ft parabolic fixtures with a reflector and two T-8 lamp systems running on electronic ballasts. In total, they replaced 48,000 T-12 lamps with 32,000 4-ft T-8 lamps. They didn’t consider T-5 lamps because the existing fixtures could not accommodate lamps of that size.

An integral part of any lighting upgrade is the ballast—electronic fluorescent ballasts increase fixture efficiency up to 30% by reducing ballast losses, fixture temperature, and system wattage. Because they operate at cooler temperatures, they also last longer than standard magnetic ballasts. In all, 16,000 2-lamp electronic ballasts replaced 32,000 magnetic ballasts.

What about lighting controls? Custom Energy didn’t include these in the upgrade because the building is a multi-tenant facility with diverse operating hours. But as power line carrier technology improves, lighting controls may become a viable measure for the facility in the future.

The upgrade also required installing about 4,000 compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) to replace the less-efficient incandescent lamps. CFLs last at least 10 times longer than incandescents. In most lighting situations, replacing an incandescent lamp with a fluorescent lamp significantly reduces the power consumption per lumen over the life of the lamp. The CFLs’ primary purpose throughout the facility is task lighting.

One place where many facilities continue to waste money is their exit signs. Custom Energy addressed this, too. They retrofitted 428 exit signs with LED technology. Unlike ordinary exit sign lamps, LED signs don’t need scheduled lamp changing because the LEDs last about 25 yr, which represents considerable savings in maintenance costs. Their operating cost is lower, too—only 2W per sign compared with the average 40W that a standard incandescent sign consumes. That’s an energy cost savings of 95%.

In the end, James Hardwick, general manager of Lincoln Plaza, expressed his satisfaction with the project. “They were able to replace our outdated lighting technology with new energy-efficient products that provide a superior quality of light, consume less energy and produce savings,” he says. “Our facility’s lighting is more energy-efficient, the light quality has been improved, and the lighting load on our maintenance staff has been reduced.”

Gundelfinger is the national lighting manager of Custom Energy in Overland Park, Kan.