Parking Garage Lighting Upgrade Saves Energy, Even For A Nearly New LEED Building
It is hard to imagine that a parking garage lighting upgrade made to an almost-new LEED facility could result in a 34% savings in electricity costs, but an energy efficient lighting conversion in a parking garage did exactly that for the Primera Terra Home Owners’ Association (HOA) in Playa Vista, California.
LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, http://www.usgbc.org/leed) buildings are, by definition, designed to be highly energy efficient. LEED provides ratings systems and certification for green building design, construction, operations and maintenance, for buildings of all kinds. While there are those who question the results, there is no question that resource efficiency is a highly complex issue that defies a simple approach or metric. The LEED standards are continually under revision.
Some structures, though, are obviously much less complicated to design and analyze. Parking garages in Southern California would be high on that list. Because they are not intended to be living or work spaces, their resource requirements are greatly simplified. With the two big complications of “human occupancy” and “cold weather” not even in consideration, the only real variable technology cost is the energy required for lighting. Even the energy demand is completely predictable once the parking garage lighting is in place, because the lights are on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This makes an energy-efficient design pretty much as straightforward as one can get.
Still, the HOA realized that this relatively new garage could have its operating costs reduced even further. Even though the garage was only four years old, the HOA was very aware of the performance of the lighting: Owners of LEED buildings must report their data on energy and water use for five years after initial certification, so these were numbers the HOA reviewed routinely.
Lighting Efficiency & Design (l.e.d.) had already performed LED lighting upgrades on the recessed can compact fluorescent lighting (CFL) in the outer access corridors of the garage. They audited the vehicle area of the garage and investigated available options. They concluded that a replacement of the “old” 32 W T8 fluorescent lamps in the garage’s 138 fixtures—each with two lamps per fixture—with ultra-high-efficiency 25 W fluorescent lamps would not only save on power costs, but the retrofit costs could be offset by a rebate from the HOA’s utility provider. Because the original fixtures were still new by fluorescent lighting standards, though, the replacement rebate was limited to the tubes; the ballasts did not qualify. After considering their options, the HOA chose to replace the ballasts anyway, feeling that the addition of l.e.d.’s five-year warranty to the overall retrofit project (including the tubes), on top of the value of the new equipment, justified the additional cost.
Extended longevity was also a factor in this upgrade. The new tubes are designed to last much longer than the old ones, with a 46,000-hour life span versus the 12,000 hours of the old T8s—almost four times the life span. This reduced both maintenance costs and the safety risk of temporary darkness due to burnouts. In fact, the new tubes should last the length of l.e.d.’s warranty. The manufacturer’s warranty on the tubes is only four years, so the remaining year granted on the tubes is a bonus for the HOA. How’s that for value?
While the new lamps are, on paper, rated to provide a lower brightness level (lumens) than the old ones, in reality, they are expected to perform otherwise: The older style of 34 W T8 fluorescent tubes lose brightness as they age, while the new, ultra-high-efficiency tubes become brighter early on, then remain constant in brightness. Bear in mind, too, that they also age much more slowly.
In total, the energy costs have been reduced by 34%—amazing savings, considering the young age of the building.
While this project went quite smoothly, it should be noted that it wasn’t immune to the special challenge that parking garages present: Human nature. Something about cars encourages certain people to ignore common sense. To avoid damage to vehicles and make the work as fast and efficient as possible, l.e.d. gave the HOA 48 hours’ notice prior to starting work in each section of the garage. The intent was for the affected residents to arrange for alternative parking for the duration of the work on the section, but some homeowners felt that they were still entitled to park in their assigned spaces as usual. Granted, this issue can hardly be considered unique to this particular project, but it should be borne in mind for anyone planning a parking garage lighting upgrade.
Pushy people problems aside, the Primera Terra is delighted with the upgrade. The president of the HOA reports that the energy-efficient lights look great, and that they are very happy with the work and the lower power cost. Instead of replacing tubes every year and half, the garage lighting will be kept running 24/7 for the next five years, with fewer burnouts, under warranty by l.e.d..