Abigail Nehring in Building Operations on April 25, 2013
After taking a course on energy efficiency offered through the his union's Local 32BJ, Papp took the first step. He proposed an in-house project that would replace incandescent bulbs with more cost-effective varieties throughout the building and install dim-down lights in the staircases and motion detectors in the backyard. A couple of years down the road, the old-style bulbs are almost completely phased out of the building's public spaces, and thanks to his a building-wide retrofitting project the co-op is seeing dramatic changes in its monthly electricity bill.
While one alternative lighting choice is compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), Papp looked into light-emitting diodes (LEDs) as an even more cost-effective option over the long term. Unlike CFLs, LEDs do not contain hazardous mercury, and once installed, the bulbs last up to 25,000 hours (10 times longer than halogens) and produce significantly less heat. Papp installed LED strips behind the crown molding in his building's two elevators, where the lights are on around the clock.
It's a habit most of us learn not to question from the time we're tall enough to reach the switch next to the door: When you leave the room, turn the light off. The same principle was behind the project Papp took on in his building's staircases and basement areas. Previously, the staircases at 51 Fifth had two separate fixtures: an emergency light and a regular one. But the building staff replaced both with a single "dim-down" light on each floor.
Papp did the installation in two phases to allow co-op board members to observe the initial energy savings and then decide if they wanted to complete the project. This was an excellent way to warm them to the idea and lighten the burden of the upfront investment on the dim-down fixtures. Con Ed even offered a rebate of $75 per $225 fixture, which means that the building is already enjoying returns on its investment from electricity reduction alone. "The lighting lasts longer, it costs less money, and we save electricity," says Papp.
Papp makes a good case for why all buildings should consider dim-down lighting, an umbrella term that refers to a broad swath of lighting controls that lower and raise the light level as activity is detected in the room. Timers, motion sensors, and photocells all fall into this category. (Photocells allow lights to turn off during the day when natural light is sufficient.)
In part because of initiatives undertaken by board members and in part because of the series of innovative greening laws passed by the city, incandescent bulbs will soon be part of an energy-inefficient past. Rebates from Con Ed are already arriving in the mail. Instead of dreading the electricity bill every month, Papp now takes great pleasure in seeing it dwindle.
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