Lights, controls, savings! (And safety, too)

During COVID-19, consider using the facilities’ downtime to drive cost savings — and create safe, clean spaces for the ‘new normal’


Dan McLaughlin
Director of Sales
Facility Solutions Group (FSG)

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many churches to operate remotely or with a limited schedule. The empty buildings provide parishes an opportunity to make facility upgrades that will last well beyond the pandemic. LED lighting, smart building solutions, and controls can be installed to improve operations, reduce energy and maintenance costs, and improve the overall energy efficiency of the church facilities. These smart solutions can even be changed and monitored remotely — another essential benefit during COVID.

Today, there are more system choices available than ever before. With varying price points and an even greater variety of technology, the options can be confusing. This might be a reason that quite a few churches haven’t upgraded to LED lighting, nor do they have lighting controls in place. This means churches are leaving significant energy, HVAC and maintenance costs savings on the table.

Good, better and best: know your options

Because churches are stewardship-driven, potential cost savings are always compelling. On the investment side, it’s important to point out that not every lighting or energy control system is a budget-buster. There are good, better, and best solutions, with corresponding price points. 

Good: The first option is the easiest and least expensive: retrofit, replace. If you’re just turning lights on and off with a switch (i.e., if no controls system is in place), you can simply replace most of your light bulbs with LEDs. It is a cost-effective option that will still provide a solid ROI.

If you go this route, we caution against buying off-brand bulbs and fixtures just because they’re less expensive. There are no guarantees that these off-brand products will last or that the company will be around to keep the promise of their warranty. While we’re “supplier agnostic” at Facility Solutions Group (FSG) — meaning we deal with many different suppliers — we do limit our relationship to those with proven track records, who can support their warranties in the long term. We’ve been in business for 38 years, so we look for similar longevity in our suppliers. We’re all too aware that while an unknown supplier or brand might offer a five-year warranty, it’s of no use if they go out of business in two years.

Better: In addition to upgrading your lighting to LED, a “better” option is to additionally install some basic lighting controls in your facilities. If a room is unoccupied for 15 or 30 minutes, the lights turn off automatically, saving money and energy. These can be installed by someone on staff, or a professional can perform the installation. The lighting controls add additional energy savings for your church.

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Best: The “best” solution is an LED lighting setup paired with a smart control system. These types of projects are customized; there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Although they come with the largest price tag, they also represent the biggest potential cost savings by far — and this is where we come in to provide the greatest assistance.

While we can perform a lighting economic analysis to determine projected energy savings, as well as how long the upgrades will take to pay off, for a specific church, we can also offer some ballpark expectations.

Generally, when a church upgrades its lighting to LED, it sees a 50 percent reduction in energy costs. Once lighting controls are added, it can expect another 15 to 25 percent in energy savings. At that rate, the system pays for itself within two to four years in a large church — and after that, the church enjoys many years of energy and maintenance savings, at no additional cost. As a bonus, many lighting upgrades can gain your facility utility company incentives depending on the replacement LEDs chosen and the local utility programs.

Disinfection lighting — yes, it’s a ‘thing’!

Cost savings, energy efficiency, and reduced maintenance costs are of perpetual interest for any church leader. However,  right now, churches are spending a lot of time preparing their facilities for the new normal.  Some of their biggest questions revolve around safety: how to ensure people feel comfortable coming back. How will we keep the church safe and disinfected?

What they (and you) might now know, is that your lighting can help in this regard.

As churches focus on sanitizing their facilities, many are turning to disinfectants, antibacterial coatings, and so on. But there’s a chemical-free solution. UV and Germicidal Lighting — which have been in use in hospitals and medical facilities for decades — can provide an additional layer of disinfecting for churches, with minimal labor involved.

UV-C lighting, specifically, can break down the DNA of viruses so that they can’t replicate. You can cleanse a room at night (when no one is in the space) in about an hour. The light disinfects everything it touches. Some solutions are portable; others are permanently installed.

The technology is pretty simple to understand. We have introduced a number of videos that explain, in plain English, the potential uses of this lighting. You can view those at www.uvwebinars.com.

One last word of advice: I’d also encourage churches (especially those with schools) to consider joining a buying cooperative, such as the Association of Educational Purchasing Agencies (AEPA), BuyBoard, or The Interlocal Purchasing System (TIPS). Most are wide-reaching and free to users, including public facilities, schools, universities, state and federal governments, cities, and nonprofits. These buying groups offer negotiated pricing on everything from lighting fixtures to lighting installations, and all suppliers are pre-vetted. As a company, we do quite a bit of business on these cooperatives.

It also pays to check with your peers. National Association of Church Facilities Managers (NACFM) has a great forum where members share their experiences and recommendations.

There’s little doubt that COVID will herald at least some ‘new normal’ operating elements in houses of worship. As these spaces sit empty for the time being, it pays for church leaders to plan to accommodate those changes, while also driving cost savings.

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