Michael Chotiner

One way that managers of senior living communities can control expenses is to reduce lighting costs.

According to a Department of Energy study, assisted living facilities use more energy per square foot than most other types of facilities. Only food service kitchens, hospitals and grocery stores use more. Of the energy used in assisted living facilities, 43% of the electrical energy is dedicated to lighting systems.

Fortunately, the lighting industry has produced several technologic innovations that make lighting fixtures and bulbs much more energy efficient than they have been in the past. Lighting systems using LED (light emitting diode) technology use up to 80% less energy than conventional incandescent bulbs, and their lifespan is measured in years rather than hours. (See my recent post on high-efficiency bulbs that I wrote for sister publication McKnight’s Long-Term Care News here.)

Although costs for LED systems have dropped dramatically over the past few years, LED bulbs and fixtures still have a higher initial cost than both incandescent and fluorescent lighting. Therefore, many managers are unwilling to make the initial investment to convert to LED lighting. But that strategy may be short-sighted.

Because LED tube lights last about two times longer than fluorescent tubes and consume less electrical energy, the price is lower when costs are considered for the entire life of the system — what is known as the life cycle cost.

An equation to determine life cycle costs might look like this:

Cost to buy and install + Cost of energy to run the system + Maintenance costs (if any) + Replacement costs = Total life cycle costs

Falling costs

Because prices have dropped dramatically, managers who have tried to calculate life cycle costs for LED systems in the past may want to try again. A report comparing LED systems with fluorescent systems released by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in May 2014 showed that for most uses LED systems had a lower life cycle cost over 15 years than fluorescent systems, despite the fact that in 2014 the cost of LED products was much higher than it is today. For example, the report lists four-foot LED tube lighting at $85 to $150 per bulb. Similar products available today range from $15 to $30. Some LED tubes can be installed in fluorescent fixtures, eliminating the need to install new fixtures.

One of the conclusions of the VA study was that “…LED lighting technology is developing quickly. The information and conclusions regarding LED lighting in this study will be out of date within 12 months following publication.”

Other LED benefits

In a 2016 Department of Energy demonstration program, the fluorescent lighting in one section of the ACC Care Center in Sacramento was replaced with LED lights. The purpose was to measure energy savings as well as the effect of the lighting on residents, many of whom had dementia diagnoses.

Some of the results:

  • LED lights reduced energy consumption by 68% in the corridor where the LEDs were installed and 73% at the nurses’ station.
  • The program examined tunable LED lights, which can be programmed to vary the color output of the light. This technology makes it possible to go from bright light with a lot of blue in it, like daylight, to a warmer yellower light using the same fixture and bulb. Because bright lights can interfere with sleep patterns, the lighting was programmed to gradually become warmer in tone as the day wore on into evening. Although the sample size of residents tested was small, the strategy seems to have had an effect. Incidences of agitation, yelling and crying were reduced by 41% after installation when compared with a comparable period before installation.
  • LED rope lights and recessed wall lights were used as night lights in the residents’ rooms. Controlled by motion sensors, the lights were installed under the beds and about 18 inches above the floors. The lights allowed residents to navigate safely to the bathroom without the need to turn on an overhead light that could interrupt sleep patterns. The lights also allowed staff to enter without turning on a bright light. In the bathroom, rope night lights were placed alongside grab bars.

According to Melanie Segar, the ACC Care Center administrator, “ACC will be incorporating many of the lighting solutions piloted in this project as best practices in terms of fall risk, sleep enhancement and non-pharmacological approaches for behaviors related to dementia.”

Lower upfront costs as well as other benefits from LED lighting systems could reduce overall life cycle costs for senior living communities and long-term care facilities and contribute to the well-being of residents.

Michael Chotiner, a home improvement author and former general contractor, writes about DIY, construction and repair topics for The Home Depot. He provides advice on ways to use LED lighting to save money for businesses. Visit The Home Depot to view a full line of LED light bulbs and lighting.

McKnight’s Senior Living welcomes guest columns on subjects of value to the industry. Please see our submission guidelines for more information.