Advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment.

Vol. 2, No. 1

Wednesday, January 22, 2003

Saratoga Showcase Home Debuts

The LRC's entry in upstate New York's Saratoga Showcase of Homes, a demonstration project for energy-efficient residential lighting, was a dramatic success. The project, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, promoted energy efficient lighting in new residential construction. During the three weekends in September and October that the Showcase of Homes exhibit was open, more than 6,000 people toured the house and viewed the latest in energy-efficient residential lighting products and design.

Patricia Rizzo, project manager at the LRC, says, "We surveyed the people who saw the house, and the response was overwhelmingly positive. People liked the lighting in this house better than that in the other houses on display. In fact, most people said they would pay more to have lighting like it in their own houses--up to $2,000 more. We think that figure might even be higher, but 'up to $2,000' was the highest category on the survey."

LRC lighting designer Jean Paul Freyssinier also worked on the project. "People were extremely pleased with the results," he agrees. "I hope this project helps to overcome some of the barriers to energy efficient lighting for residential applications."

This project was part of the LRC's lighting transformations program, headed by Mariana Figueiro. "We knew that in this project we couldn't design the whole house with ENERGY STAR products because there aren't that many very attractive ones available now that would be suitable for an upscale residence like this one," Rizzo explains. "Manufacturers are doubling the number of ENERGY STAR products coming out next year, though. In future projects we want to use many more ENERGY STAR products so that builders will see that they can replace their regular products with a whole ENERGY STAR package."

The next step is to publicize the project and its results to make builders aware of what can be done and what the customer's response to it will be. Rizzo says, "The LRC's role will be to bring manufacturers, distributors, and builders together so they can communicate about what people want and need, and what it will take to make energy-efficient lighting plans easy to implement."

The LRC began the task of bringing people together at a roundtable for building professionals held after the exhibit ended. Rizzo says, "This event showed us that builders are very happy to hear about new energy efficient products and technologies. Their response was definitely positive."

LRC lighting designer Jennifer Brons helped organize the roundtable and taught some of the sessions. "Our attendees were eager to see and learn more," she says. "We demonstrated some of the products available so that people could see the differences using real equipment instead of just talking about the differences in the abstract. The builders commented that they were particularly impressed with the demonstrations of color temperature and color rendering. Attendees were also amazed at the difference in operational cost between lighting for a typical kitchen and an energy-efficient kitchen."

There were several positive effects of demonstrating with real products and equipment in the Saratoga house. The house has a pair of chandeliers in it, for example, one of which uses incandescent lamps while the other uses compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Rizzo reports that no one could tell the difference. "Another positive thing," she says, "is that people could see that there are alternatives to incandescent downlights. Downlights are good for concentrating light in one place, but they are often misused, or used in applications other than those for which they are best suited. The coves and valances we used with linear fluorescent lamps create a soft ambient illumination without glare and without the interruptions in the ceiling that downlights cause. We were able to achieve the same lighting objective while creating less glare and using less energy. Also, the people we surveyed commented that they liked the fact that it wasn't obvious where the sources were—that the sources were unobtrusive."

Energy-efficient lighting has many advantages that a knowledgeable builder can use to attract customers. For example, CFLs last longer and have to be changed less frequently than incandescent lamps, and that's good for older adults and people with mobility problems. Also, the annual operating cost is only 25 percent as much for a kitchen lighted with energy-efficient products versus one with traditional incandescent lighting. A third example: energy-efficient lamps are now available in a range of correlated color temperatures, so designers can choose either warm or cool light sources to match a given décor.

Rizzo has some advice for builders who want to try using energy-efficient lighting products. "The color rendering index of CFLs should be greater than 80, and the correlated color temperature should be between 2700 K and 3000 K to match what people are used to," she says. "If builders will follow those guidelines it will make for an easy transition from traditional incandescent lighting. Also, they should choose ENERGY STAR products whenever possible, and they should use CFL dedicated luminaires so that future homeowners aren't tempted to return to the old A-lamps."

Choosing energy-efficient lighting for new housing construction is a powerful decision a builder can make that will add value to the homes they build. It makes consumers feel they're getting something special, it can create beautiful and interesting effects, and it doesn't cost much more if builders work it into their initial construction.

Rizzo says, "I hope builders will realize the importance of lighting early in the building process. I also hope they know that ENERGY STAR products are quality products and that the selection has improved immensely in recent years. We need to come to the point where energy efficient lighting is the norm, not the exception."

She continues, "Currently, lighting is the last thing on the list when people build a house. By the time people get to thinking about the lighting, they've often run out of money because they've spent it on other luxury items like granite countertops. Energy-efficient lighting is a luxury item now, but it doesn't have to be an expensive one. Prices of ENERGY STAR luminaires have come down, and in fact they're comparable to standard incandescent luminaires now. The CFL, which is the reason for the added expense in most cases, is often included with the luminaire by manufacturers. Attitudes need to change, and builders can help attitudes change by showing that it's economically feasible to use energy efficient lighting products."

Freyssinier adds, "It will take time, but it's in builders' best interests to move toward energy-efficient lighting. It's a good business opportunity for them because it increases the perceived value of the houses they build."

About the LRC

The Lighting Research Center (LRC) is part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and is the leading university-based research center devoted to lighting. Founded in 1988, the Lighting Research Center has built an international reputation as a trusted and reliable source for objective information about lighting technologies, applications, and products. Its mission is to advance the effective use of light and create a positive legacy of change for society and the environment

© 2003 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180 USA.

Rennselear Polytechnic Institute