Law library lighting pilot project to monitor efficiency, savings

Posted on Thursday, November 4, 2010

By Jim Hynes

How many McGill electricians does it take to change a light bulb in the Gelber Law Library? Only one, albeit on a cherry picker – and that’s no joke, as the lights in question are a good 20 feet off the ground. But even though an electrician’s time could be certainly put to better use, the people at McGill’s Office of Sustainability are not too concerned about how a bulb gets changed. Rather, they’ll be keeping a close eye on how frequently it does.

Together with colleagues in Facilities Operations and Development, the Office of Sustainability is overseeing a pilot project in which the current incandescent lighting in the Nahum Gelber Law Library’s lobby is being replaced with more efficient LED fixtures and bulbs. The Library is the perfect testing ground, they say, as lights there stay on around the clock.

“Grad students and faculty have access 24/7, so the lights are on all the time, and they were burning out continually,” said Kathleen VanderNoot, Administrative Coordinator and Building Director at the Nahum Gelber Law Library.

“For cost reasons, we had to wait until 20 were out before calling someone to come and replace them,” VanderNoot said. “I would actually put in a call when there were about 15 burnt bulbs, and by the time they came there would be between 20 and 25. Sometimes we were left in the dark.”

As part of the project, McGill purchased new LED fixtures from three separate suppliers to replace 250 existing 75-watt ones. The project is using 7-, 9-, and 11-watt bulbs, about two-thirds of which have already been installed. The new fixtures, made of aluminium and containing no mercury or other contaminating materials, are completely recyclable.

“These bulbs run on only a fraction of the electricity needed to power the old ones, so this will save us a huge amount of energy,” said Dennis Fortune, Director of McGill’s Office of Sustainability. “In fact, we’ll recover the cost of the bulbs in 2.7 years on electricity savings alone.”

So what’s the catch? Well, compared to the existing bulbs, which cost about $5, the new bulbs cost between $40 and $80 each. But where the old bulbs had a life cycle of 2,000-3,000 hours, the new ones are supposed to last 50,000 hours. At least that’s what the packaging says.

“What we need to do is get some experience with the life cycle of these lights,” Fortune said. “We’re sampling three different kinds of lights but also the LEDs and the circuit boards inside them. We’re putting them in side-by-side and we want to see how long they’re going to last.

“Unless you keep records, how do you know if you ever get to 2,000 hours or whatever the manufacturer promised? So this is an effort where we’re going to change them all at once and we’re going to measure,” Fortune said. “We want to prove that they’re actually meeting these claims so we can calculate our true savings.”

That will come in handy when it comes time to convince others in the University to replace their lighting too.

“Because the problem is that you are spending five years worth of bulb replacement in one shot,” Fortune said. “So part of our challenge is to show people right here at McGill that this is the right thing to do, and have the data from this trial to back us up. That’s why we think this project is so important.”

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