Light bulbs might not be the most exciting innovation, but being mindful of the bulbs in your community can produce noticeable rewards.

 

By Aaron Oosterbaan, Technology Researcher, K4Connect – As an advocate at K4Connect (we call ourselves “advocates” instead of “employees” to emphasize our mission to advocate for those we serve), I’ve installed K4Community in many senior living communities.  K4Community helps make residents’ lives simpler, healthier and happier, while saving communities both time and money.

But this article is not specifically about K4Connect products.

This article is about a small technology upgrade your community should do NOW.  Given how easy it is, I’m surprised how many communities haven’t already unlocked the savings from this upgrade.

How easy is the upgrade?

  • It can be completed in one day
  • A single maintenance worker can do it
  • Costs about $40 per residence
  • No technical know-how required

This sounds easy and the savings sound nice.  Why else should you upgrade?

Soon you won’t really have a choice
The US Department of Energy claims that 11% of building energy costs are from lighting.  One would reason that continually occupied buildings, such as hotels, senior communities, and 24-hour Halloween stores (does anyone really buy their costume at 4am?) would have even higher lighting costs.

Is it possible to reduce lighting costs without turning out the lights?  Yes! In fact, many countries including the U.S. are beginning to require it. Various federal and state laws started to become effective in 2014 which limit the production and distribution of a late-1800’s technology.  With more restrictive regulations set to begin in in 2018 and 2020, you need to get rid of this energy hog from your community.  NOW.

The lipstick has worn off the pig
This energy hog is the incandescent light bulb.

Most people call incandescent bulbs “standard” light bulbs.  They’ve been ubiquitous in nearly every building for our entire lives.

Invented in the late 1800’s, Thomas Edison’s original bulb has undergone many improvements, but is largely the same design.  Electricity runs across a thin filament which creates light and heat.

How could such a stalwart of modern living be on its way out?

Technology moves ever onward
Incandescent bulbs are very inefficient.  Most of the electricity used – approximately 80% – generates heat instead of light.  Fast forward 200 years from Edison…

I remember the first time I saw an LED light bulb at a home improvement store.  I don’t recall the exact year – it was around 2000.  While claiming energy efficiency and longer life – the $20 price tag made it nothing more than new “technology” available only to wealthy early adopters.

A fundamental shift in lighting has occurred over the past 15 years.  As Moore’s Law would predict, over a decade later that LED light bulb now costs only a few dollars.  It’s ugly cousin, the compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulb, is also cheap.

Image Source: http://moelectriccoops.com/difference-between-leds-and-cfls

These new lighting technologies, specifically LED lighting, is taking the place of the standard light bulb.  While dimmable LED bulbs cost 4x incandescent bulbs, the price increase is far outweighed by the benefits:

Benefits of LED bulbs

  • 20x longer life
  • 6x less energy used
  • No harmful chemicals
  • Available in different hues of white
  • Plastic housings are more durable than glass
  • Produces significantly less waste heat

I recommend LED instead of CFL lighting for a variety of reasons.  First, CFL bulbs have a distinctive ugly spiral shape that (at least to me) doesn’t look good in many fixtures.  Most models aren’t compatible with dimmer switches.  They have a warm up period, so don’t instantly turn on at full brightness.  They aren’t as energy efficient as LED lights.  And some contain mercury, phosphorus, and other toxic chemicals.

How to select the right LED light bulb
Selecting an LED bulb could be an overwhelming task.  Your local home improvement store has dozens of different models in stock.  At K4Connect we’ve spent hours testing most every commonly available LED bulb.  Let’s use those learnings to help select a bulb for your community.

A few of the many LED light bulbs in the K4Connect test lab

Use these criteria when selecting an LED light bulb:

PRICE – You probably don’t need to select a $15 bulb that is Wi-Fi connected, white hue tuning, RGB adjustable, ultra bright, high temperature, IP rated, and has a list of other technical features.  A reasonable price for a high quality dimmable LED bulb is $4, a non-dimmable version can be found for $2.

DIMMABLE – Dimmable lighting can set your senior living community apart from others.  Dimmable LED bulbs work with dimmable light switches, either manual dimmers, or “connected” dimmers (the K4Community resident application can control these kinds of lights)  which allow bathroom lights to turn on dim when a resident gets out of bed at night (and other use cases).  I suggest you future proof your community with dimmable light bulbs.

COLOR – LED light bulbs come in three general colors.  Manufacturers call the colors by different names.  Instead, look for the color temperature which is a number followed by K.

2700K – Soft or warm white. This color is best for comfortable living spaces like living rooms and bedrooms.  The orange glow is designed to mimic an incandescent light or candle.  2700K is a great choice for many senior living communities.

3500K – Neutral white. This color is best in spaces that require a bit more focus, energy, and visual clarity.  It is a good choice for bathrooms and kitchens.

5000K – Cool white. This color is for high activity environments, like offices and airports.  It is designed to mimic a bright sunny day.  I would generally suggest avoiding this option in senior residences.

Some manufacturers provide in-between color bulbs.  For example, a bulb with color temperature of 2850K is a blend of Soft and Neutral white.  Before selecting a bulb, install a few different colors and choose the one that looks best in your environment.

STYLE – Light bulbs come in styles which are identified by a letter and number.  The most common style for residential use is size A – the iconic rounded bulb shape.  A19 will fit most common fixtures.  Another size you may encounter in your community is G, which is a decorative round globe shape common in bathroom vanities.

BRIGHTNESS – Incandescent bulb brightness and wattage are often used interchangeably. People will (incorrectly) describe a bulb brightness as “60 watts”.  Watts is a description of the amount of energy a bulb uses.  Because LED bulbs are much more energy efficient, an LED bulb with similar brightness of a 60-watt bulb may only use 11 watts.  Instead, check your existing bulbs for how many lumens (a measure of brightness) they produce – it is usually stamped on the bulbs.  Find an LED bulb with comparable lumens output.  The most common brightness we see in communities is 800 lumens, which is comparable to a 60-watt incandescent bulb.

BUZZ – It’s a fact that all LED bulbs make noise while operating.  However, the amount of noise varies by bulb and operating condition.  Some under-performing bulbs buzz like an angry hornet during normal use while others are hardly noticeable.  In our extensive testing at K4Connect labs we found bulbs by GE and Cree operate quietly.

FLICKER – LED bulbs create light by flashing multiple times per second.  Ideally, this flashing is not perceivable by the human eye.  Occasionally we’ve encountered a light bulb model which flickers noticeably when turning your head or looking at a white wall.

How to select the right LED light bulb – the easy way
At K4Connect my job is to stay informed, evaluate, and integrate new technology which is applicable for senior living.  After reviewing dozens of different LED light bulbs, I’ve selected a model which we install in senior living communities across the U.S.

GE LED HD series light bulbs.  These bulbs can be found for $4 at big box home improvement stores – potentially cheaper if you buy in large quantities.  They are available in two colors suitable for residential spaces: Relax (soft white 2700K) which is great for bedrooms and living spaces, and Reveal (a hybrid soft/neutral white 2850K) which looks nice in bathrooms and common spaces.  Compatible with many dimmer switches, they don’t noticeably buzz and use only 11 watts of power.

Of course, I’m always testing new products.  If I find another light bulb that compares I’ll be sure to update this article.

Save $10,000 per year
Here’s how replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient LED light bulbs can save your community $10,000 per year.

Let’s assume a community with….

  • 100 residences
  • each residence has 10 light bulbs
  • each light bulb is on for an average 6 hours per day. (The bathroom lights are on only a few hours, while the living area lights are on for 12 hours)
  • The community currently has 60w incandescent bulbs
  • The cost for electricity is the national average of $0.000115 cents per watt hour

Incandescent lighting electric cost:

100 x 10 x 6 x 60 x 0.000115 x 365 = $15,111 per year

 If that community replaced the 60w light bulbs with 11w dimmable LED bulbs:

100 x 10 x 6 x 11 x 0.000115 x 365 = $2,770 per year

A savings of over $12,000 per year!

But that’s not all.

Because LED bulbs have a 20x longer lifespan than incandescent your maintenance team will change far fewer bulbs throughout the year.  Also, without the waste heat produced by incandescent lighting, you can expect lower cooling costs in the summer.

The investment is a $4,000 one-time light bulb purchase, plus a day’s worth of work for a maintenance worker.  (Assuming 5 minutes per residence, a worker could complete all 100 residences in about 8 hours.)

Your community is upgraded with efficient future-proof dimmable lighting.  Residents and staff are less inconvenienced with burnt out bulbs.  Residents comment about the improved color and brightness of the lighting.  Your expense budget looks healthier.

Replacing lightbulbs and cutting your expense is only a very small piece K4Community enables.  Contact K4Connect for many more technology upgrades that will make your community stand out!