When opening her apartment door, Emily was surprised to see that the hallways were already lit. She recently bought this apartment because her realtor had told her that the condo board was proactively “green,” something that she, as a millennial, genuinely cared about. Her realtor had highlighted that they recently replaced all light fixtures with LEDs on motion sensors. Emily had to think about it for a minute and then went back into the apartment, while leaving the door wide open. After a few minutes, all except one fixture turned off. The fixture by the elevator remained lit but had dimmed from where it was before.

This is how properly designed and installed light fixtures on motion sensors work! And the fixture by the elevator does not only turn the light down when unoccupied, but it is also on an emergency battery. This means that in the event of a power outage, it will continue to operate.  

Does it make sense to you to keep the lights on 24/7 in unoccupied spaces? That’s how many, if not most, multi-family common spaces are lit. Understandably, this practice might be common and warranted in lobbies and entrances. But should this also be the case in basements, hallways, stairwells and parking garages that in many cases are less often or rarely occupied?  After yet another blackout in New York, one can wonder when coop and condo boards as well as rental building owners will wake up and 1) save money on electricity expenses and 2) lessen the strain on the electric grid!  

Boards and building owners often choose to not replace old fixtures that often date back to when the buildings were built. Many fixtures are over 50 years old, very inefficient, and often using as much as 150 watts per fixture. By comparison, a new LED fixture on a motion sensor uses less than 20 watts, some as low as 9. Despite some nostalgic charm, most of us would not keep a 50-year old refrigerator or air conditioner, but for some reason, this appears to be the case with light fixtures.

We have retrofitted many buildings with this type of measurement. Savings range from 25-65%. Payback periods are typically between 1 and 5 years.

Recently, we suggested retrofitting the fixtures to a coop board that turned down our suggestion. Their reasoning was that their hallways were pitch black during the last NYC blackout. This is exactly opposite of how these lights work. As per current lighting codes, an emergency battery-operated fixture needs to be installed within a certain distance of entrances. These fixtures will prevent any space from ever being pitch black, something that this particular board seemingly should have appreciated.

In New York, ConEd provides incentives for the replacement of old fixtures with efficient ones. It is not known how long these incentives will last, but it is probably a fair assumption to say that they won’t last forever. As part of the Climate Mobilization Act, buildings will start incurring fines in the tens of thousands of dollars, in 2024. According to Gothamist, this affects 50,000 buildings. A reasonable assumption would be that since these fines are quite substantial, after the first fines have been issued buildings will scramble to make these upgrades. One should wonder if ConEd would still have incentives at that time.

Another important aspect of this situation is that some of the electricians that install these retrofits have increased their prices by as much as 50% over the last couple of years. Typically, the installation cost accounts for 50% of these retrofits, net of ConEd incentives for the material.

Some boards question why they need us to help them perform this upgrade. Their reasoning is that their property manager already works on their electric cost and have enrolled them in bulk-purchasing their electricity supply at a reduced cost. This is only one (extremely minor) part of the equation. Reducing the unit cost of supply by a couple of pennies or so helps reduce the electric bill by what, 5%? While we would never turn down an extra 5% savings on anything, reducing how much electricity is used by as much as 65% obviously has a much more substantial impact, not only on the cost for the coop, condo, or rental property owner, but also on the ConEd load as well as on the environment.

And that is something that Emily and her environmentally aware friends deeply care about!