Energy Efficiency in Co-ops… exciting options for lighting nerds!

As a co-op board member I am always on the lookout for new energy efficiency strategies, including ways to fund them. So I was thrilled to discover a program called Operation Kill-A-Watt, which installs energy-efficient lighting in commercial and residential buildings, with most of the cost underwritten by Con Ed. Less thrilling was the discovery that my building is not in the area they cover – yet. (Eligible neighborhoods in Brooklyn include Lefferts Gardens, Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy, Wyckoff Heights, Cypress Hills, East New York, Brownsville, Greenpoint, Brooklyn Heights, Williamsburg, and Bushwick.) Although it seems that they are currently focusing on expanding in Queens and in Manhattan north of Columbus Circle, I told the rep to contact me as soon as they come to 11226. In fact, I promised to spread the word when Operation Kill-A-Watt comes to Flatbush… so stay tuned!

In the meantime, I encountered a few companies who deal with energy-efficient lighting on the retail level at last week’s Cooperator Expo. Their designs incorporate improved fluorescent lighting technology which is brighter, has better color, and uses less electricity (unlike the really old-school fluorescents, these don’t buzz or flicker); but the breakthrough from an energy efficiency standpoint is the incorporation of bi-level fixtures, which maintain a constant minimum level of lighting but use motion sensors to increase the brightness when an area is occupied. The fixture usually contains two lamps, for example a 12-watt fluorescent (equivalent to 40 watts incandescent) and an 18-watt (equivalent to 60 watts). The 12-watt stays on 24-7 (to comply with safety codes), while the 18-watt is only lit when the motion sensor triggers it, so when occupied the area is lit with the equivalent of 100-watts. This seems like a great solution for areas like hallways, stairwells, and even laundry rooms, which are typically fully lit regardless of whether they are in use.

Other potential lighting ideas include LED exit signs (the bulbs are expensive but last for many years and use almost no electricity), photosensors on common area lights that have good natural light, and solar-powered exterior lighting. The potential for saving both energy and money with these lighting technologies is clear. Much for an energy efficiency geek to get excited about, but the big question still looms: how can cash-strapped co-ops fund these improvements?? Let’s hope that someone at PlaNYC sees the low-hanging fruit in front of them…

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