School budgets are tight. Even though there is a national conversation about how to reduce overspending in education, that accusation is more focused on the direct education costs: textbooks, new computers, curriculum programs, and financial incentives for good test scores. The tests themselves are almost prohibitively expensive. But the conversation rarely makes it the infrastructural behemoth that schools are underneath all of the learning tools. Lighting, heating, and plumbing demands shouldn’t be swept under the rug when something goes drastically wrong like in Baltimore earlier this year.
The best way to resolve overspending on utilities isn’t to cut the budget or make do with old equipment. Upgrading your existing systems and investing in technology for reducing annual expenditures overall is far better. It protects against system breakdowns and creates more efficient systems over time. But if your district can only afford a few upgrades this year, here are the best places to start if you want to save on lighting:
Contract with LED manufacturers for bulk rates on universal bulbs.
LED light bulbs are the best option for long-term lighting, both for the actual quality of light and reducing maintenance costs. Traditional light bulbs only last a fraction of the time. That means your district has to pay for replacement parts and maintenance services, especially in high-use rooms. Traditional lights also use more electricity for the less than optimal lighting; even if schools try to implement energy monitoring policies and keep the lights turned off when they’re not in use.
But a conversion to LED bulbs isn’t a switch you can implement room by room. LEDs are more expensive per unit than incandescent and fluorescent bulbs. The best way to reduce the initial increase in spending is to buy in bulk and spread the costs over your district. Manufacturers and suppliers will be willing to negotiate their rates for both larger deals and state-funded contracts that are likely to become permanent fixtures.
Unfortunately, energy efficiency isn’t a popular argument for increasing budgets, no matter what the political climate is like. But LEDs bring more than reduced energy usage and longer-lasting bulbs to the table. The lighting they produce is also better for concentration. The effect of LEDs has primarily been studied in office buildings, but the results are fairly standard. LEDs with a daylight level of brightness can actually duplicate the health benefits of sunlight exposure. These include:
- helping students and teachers maintain natural circadian rhythm. This boosts wakefulness in early morning classes, especially during the dark winter months.
- increasing alertness. Dimly lit rooms decrease focus and attention. Traditional bulbs start to fade and can create reduced levels of brightness even before they need to be replaced. But LED lights provide constant brightness for longer.
- reducing stress, eye strain, and headaches. Conventional lighting can create a lot of glare, especially as classes start to incorporate more computers and longer screen times.
LEDs can help combat a lot of the mental fatigue students have. These three benefits of reducing maintenance costs, reducing electrical waste, and providing health benefits, are each great reasons to try an experimental conversion.
Add sensors to reduce usage costs in large or rarely-used spaces.
If your schools focus on teaching students to make a habit out of turning off the lights, that’s a great start. But it’s not fool-proof. People eager to leave the building for the weekend might forget to double-check the lights. Rarely used auditoriums and extra classrooms might have the lights on for weeks or months before the next group books the space.
But adding sensors that power down the lights after periods without motion are the answer. Sensors won’t break the budget, but adding one to every room and hallway might not be immediately possible. Instead, add them to the rooms where they can make the greatest difference and bring the results to next year’s budget meeting.
Every change your school district makes to reduce electricity usage is good for the environment and for your area’s spending. Even more importantly, it can help students focus better. Go to Energy Optimizers for more ways to get started.