Intelligent Dimming Sconces: A New Way to Save Energy

How To Save Lots of Money While Improving Your Lighting: A Quick and Easy Fix

Knollwood Terrace is an 8-storey 32-unit condominium on Richmond Road facing Lincoln Fields. Partly on account of its small number of units, it has always been particularly attuned to the importance of saving energy.

Ten years ago, in 2013, Knollwood hired a start-up company, Lightenco, to replace all the lights in their common areas with LEDs (halls, stairs, parking garage, library, laundry rooms, trash rooms, etc.). LEDs use a small fraction of the energy that incandescent bulbs, or even fluorescent tubes with ballasts, use, so changing to LEDs saved a lot of money on their electricity bills. Knollwood was certainly ahead of its time for undertaking this change.

However, like almost all multi-family residential buildings — and many other types of buildings — the lights in Knollwood’s halls and stairwells still blazed brightly all night and day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, regardless of whether or not anyone was there to benefit from or enjoy their output of lumens. As a result, even the new LEDs were still wasting many, many kilowatt hours of energy.

Soon after a retired architect moved into the building in 2019, he started having sleepless nights worrying about all the energy those lights were wasting when no one was there! Most people seldom think about that, if at all, but this architect has a deep specialty in energy efficiency. He decided to determine whether the building or fire codes would allow the lights to be dimmed or even turned off during all those unused hours.

Last October, at a “Funding Decarbonization” conference at Ottawa City Hall, he asked this question of Greg Steeves of Lightenco who was exhibiting there. Greg replied “absolutely!” When an incredulous person standing next to them challenged Greg’s answer, Greg enthusiastically confirmed it. So, the architect asked Greg to prepare a proposal to increase the efficiency of Knollwood’s lighting.

Lightenco is an Ottawa company with “an award-winning team of energy solutions specialists who are committed to reduce your operating costs and your carbon footprint while enhancing your lighting system by adding lighting controls for smart energy savings”. 

Over the years lighting efficiency options have improved substantially beyond simply switching to LEDs. After a thorough review of Knollwood’s current situation, and in spite of them having “re-lamped” the building just ten years earlier, Lightenco found enough savings to reduce Knollwood’s electricity consumption for common areas by a whopping 66%! Combined with related reductions in maintenance costs, Lightenco projected that the proposed upgrade would “pay back” its cost in just under five years. That’s like receiving a 20% return on an investment annually!

Lightenco proposed to replace Knollwood’s common area lighting with new LEDs that would dim to 20% of their brightness when no one was present. They also proposed to replace all the LED tube lights in the building with new lamps that only burn 9.8 watts. The tube lights they had installed in 2013 burned 18 watts, or 46% more than the proposed new ones. The old lights were at the end of their service life and needed to be replaced anyway. Finally, almost half of the lights in the stairwells would turn off when no one was there. Of course, the lights that dimmed or turned off would instantly switch to full brightness as soon as they detected any motion.

When the proposal was first presented to the board and subsequently to the owners/residents, it met very stiff opposition. While everyone appreciated the energy savings, people had very serious trepidations and real security concerns about the halls and stairs being too dark when the lights were dimmed. To give people a chance to experience and evaluate the new lighting before making any decision, Lightenco generously offered to install a demonstration. They would replace all the lights in one hall and also on a stairway landing. The residents gladly accepted this offer.

As soon as the lights were installed, all concerns vanished. The board asked all the owners/residents for their opinions about the proposed change and received almost universal approval. Typical comments were: “Nice new lights; feels much safer”; “Useful light even when dimmed”; “If they save energy, it’s meaningful”; “What a difference for the better!!!”; “So much brighter and gives the hallway a more ‘modern’ look”; and “Much more appealing.”

This positive feedback delighted  and convinced the board. Installation took less than 3 days, and Lightenco ensured that all the material they removed was properly recycled. Now that it is behind them, the architect says he is sleeping much better, and he enjoys walking in the halls and taking the stairs. “As you move and the lights come on in front of you, they feel friendly and almost alive,” he says. “I wish all condos would make this change; if we all did it, we could save a huge amount of energy.”

Knollwood has tabulated its energy consumption for the past 8+ years, and is looking forward to seeing the differences in its upcoming energy bills. It is one of the few non-government-owned multiple family residences that is participating in the City of Ottawa’s energy benchmarking program that uses EnergyStar’s Portfolio Manager. This new energy efficiency initiative will also improve its rating there.

-Huston Eubank