13 ways to painlessly improve profitability in 2013: See the light
By Jay Fiske

Share this article:  

We've been using incandescent lighting since Thomas Edison developed the first practical light bulb more than a century ago. In today's world where innovation moves at the speed of light, lighting innovation ironically moved at a snail's pace until the last couple of decades. Today, innovation has made lighting the epitome of low-hanging fruit for energy misers. There are basically four types of lighting: incandescent, halogen, fluorescent and light-emitting diodes (LED).


Why type of lights do you primarily use?
  • 1. Incandescent
  • 2. Halogen
  • 3. Fluorescent
  • 4. LED
  • Incandescent lighting — This is the "Thomas Edison special" we grew up with that works by heating a filament wire until it glows. Very inefficient, incandescent bulbs convert less than 5 percent of the energy used into visible light, and their lifespan is only 1,000 hours.
  • Halogen lamp — Halogens, like incandescents, use a tungsten filament, but it is encased in a quartz "envelope" because the filament is so close it would melt glass. The gas inside combines with tungsten vapor. Because the filament gets hotter, there's more light per unit of energy. However, because they emit as much as 90 percent of their radiant heat energy outward, halogens can pose a serious fire hazard when near combustible materials like drapes, paper, picture frames, etc.
  • Fluorescent tube lighting — Instead of heating a wire like incandescent bulbs do, fluorescents energize gasses inside a tube. They are more efficient than incandescents and also give off less heat. Old-school T12 lamps with magnetic ballasts, are now being replaced by higher-efficiency T8 or T5 lamps with electronic ballasts.
  • Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) — A smaller version of the fluorescent tube, these spiral-shaped lamps are screwed directly into an incandescent light socket. They require substantially less energy (wattage) to produce the same amount of light. CFLs last 10 times longer and produce 75 percent less heat than incandescent bulbs. The one disadvantage, like all fluorescents, is the quality of light they provide. However, recent innovations include "warm white" lamps that are becoming widely available.
  • Light Emitting Diode (LED) lamp — LEDs use semiconductor diodes to produce light with very little heat. LEDs can reduce energy by up to 90 percent compared with other light forms. Like CFLs, LEDs have had some challenges with light color quality, but recent innovations have produced LED bulbs that can create more pleasing, warming light colors. They are a bit more expensive, but the cost is coming down. Since they last 50,000 hours, the lifetime cost is considerably less that either incandescents or CFLs.
Now that we have the basics down, following are 10 ways you can use technology to light up your bottom line:
  1. Daylight. The first light source, it remains the most cost-effective and desirable light of all, saving energy while it enhances the health, mood and cognitive performance of staff and provides aesthetic value for customers. Lasso its benefits wherever possible.
  2. Incandescent lights. Replace them with CFLs wherever possible. The benefits are sizable, payback is almost immediate, and anyone who's ever screwed in a light bulb can do it. While the spiral shape is most common, check out ENERGY STAR to see the wide array of options.
  3. Flood lights. Whether for indoor or outdoor use, replace standard flood lights with CFL reflectors. Same light — lower energy cost and extended life.
  4. Tube fluorescents. Replace old-style T12s with smaller, more efficient T8s or T5s and get the same amount of light while reducing the electricity load.
  5. Dimmable LEDs. A perfect fit for the front of the house, although they're priced a little higher that CFLs, you'll recoup your investment within the year. Also, check with your local utility as many offer rebates on this one. The light quality on newer LEDs is superb, and you'll continue to save energy for approximately 50,000 hours. One LED will outlast 30 incandescent bulbs or six CFLs.
  6. Spots. The most widely used decorative lamp in foodservice, the typical halogen spot is about two inches in diameter. Within the last year or so, smaller and brighter LEDs have been developed that provide the same "point-source" lighting without the heat and fire hazard.
  7. Scheduling. Use lighting only when needed. This seems like common sense, but we've all driven by empty parking lots and buildings where all the lights are on, but nobody's home. Think about your lighting needs and schedule it like you do your staff. For example, you may want to turn off signage and take-out menu boards at closing time, but leave parking lot lights on until customers and employees are gone. Then everything can go off except what you need for security.
  8. Timers. This goes hand-in-hand with your lighting schedule and there are a few different options. Traditional time clocks do the job, but they must be manually changed as the seasons change. Adding a photocell that can react to light levels is one option, but the cell must be able to "see" the sky in order to work. For dependability and a "set-it-and-forget-it" option, consider an astronomical time clock that will adjust automatically to correct for ever-changing length of day and night; cost is approximately $200 to $400.
  9. Occupancy sensors. Perfect for areas that get sporadic use, such as store rooms, these sensors turn the lights on when someone enters and turns them off when the room is vacated — another "set-it-and-forget-it" solution. In placing the sensor, make sure it's positioned so it can "see" someone when they enter the room, not behind the door or placed out of site.
  10. Exit signs. ENERGY STAR-qualified exit signs only cost about $40 apiece but they save about $10 per sign annually. That's not big money, but you'll never have to worry about a burned out sign, since it lasts about 10 times as long as the standard sign that costs $30 — that's a real two-fer.
See related stories: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8

Jay Fiske is vice president of business development for Powerhouse Dynamics, developers of the eMonitor energy, asset and water management platform for homes and small commercial facilities. Fiske is responsible for leading the company’s overall sales and marketing strategy, developing and growing market channels, and establishing strategic partnerships.