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How to Save Money on Office Lighting

by Claire Parker, Staples® Contributing Writer

Think hoarding cheap, inefficient light bulbs saves you money? Think again. Stocking the storeroom with inexpensive bulbs may save a buck at the register, but shelling out a few more dollars on energy-efficient LED light bulbs now can save you some serious dough in the long run.

How do you know what kind of savings you can achieve? We asked lighting experts and small business owners how they upgraded their own commercial lighting, and which choices make both the office space and the balance sheet sparkle.

Make the Change

The U.S. Department of Energy says upgrading just 15 traditional incandescent bulbs to more energy-efficient light bulbs (such as compact fluorescent lamps or LEDs) could save $50 a year. Since lighting can typically make up as much as 40 percent of a business’s energy bill, it’s high time to make the switch.

“Investing in energy-efficient lighting is the number-one action all business owners can implement to save money,” says Bob Resnick, program manager for retrofitting and consulting company E-Tex Energy Solutions in Houston, TX.

Savings can range greatly since there are so many energy-efficient products to choose from, but even the smallest upgrades can reap impressive results. Consider this: replacing traditional incandescent and halogen bulbs with energy-saving incandescents provides 25 percent energy savings over the traditional bulbs. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) save about 75 percent and LEDs save about 75 percent to 80 percent over traditional bulbs, according to the Energy Department.

The additional upfront cost is paid back in reduced energy use and longer product lifetimes, so don’t make the mistake of looking only at the initial cost and installation.

Lighting Rules of Thumb

Joe Pater, utility solutions program manager for MaxLite in Madison, WI, says to focus on three factors when considering cost-effectiveness and overall savings:

  • Energy usage: Check the efficacy or lumens-to-watts ratio. Lumens are a measure of light output. The higher the lumens per watt, the more efficient the fixture.
  • Maintenance costs: Longer lifetime equates to reduced maintenance costs. Traditional incandescents last about 1,000 hours, which translates to about six months of 40-hour weeks, meaning frequent replacement. By contrast, LED products have a lifetime of 35,000 hours to 50,000 hours. Fluorescent products last 24,000 hours.
  • Return on investment: To reap additional savings, select lights compatible with dimmers, motion sensors, photo controls or daylight harvesting. It may add some extra cost to the initial investment, but you yield a much shorter ROI.

Read the bulb package to estimate savings. For example, a 72-watt halogen bulb will last about 1,000 hours, costing about $2 for a few months of light. The equivalent LED light bulb uses 12 watts, lasts 35,000 hours and costs $12 — so the life expectancy of the LED bulb is 10 years and it pays for itself in five.

“The practical implications of this are huge,” says Resnick. “You could reduce your monthly electricity bills by 40 percent using LEDs. Energy-efficient bulbs will consume less energy, and thus lower your monthly electricity bills. The cost savings in the long run often surpass the initial cost of retrofitting.”

Shelby Smith, owner of Elite Autos in Jonesboro, AR, replaced 125 halogen bulbs in his showroom with 100 ENERGY STAR® LEDs, resulting in an 85 percent energy savings. The new lights have fewer failures and put off less heat. “The halogen lights were very hot, and with 125 in the showroom in the summer, it made my AC overworked,” he says.

Look for Incentives

Additional cost-cutting options are available through your local utility companies. “Start with your utility company for advice and tap into any rebates they are offering,” suggests Pater. For example, Puget Sound Energy in Washington State offers paybacks to commercial customers that convert older lighting systems to newer efficient ones, including up to 20 cents per kilowatt saved on custom retrofitted projects.

Calling an electrician or retrofitting professional is a good idea, too. “They will evaluate your current system and develop a strategy specifically for your business needs,” adds Resnick.

So brighten up! Upgrading your office lighting can be as simple as chucking those old bulbs and grabbing a new more efficient box. It’s a radiant decision.

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