Drive past hospitals at night and you are sure to see lights glowing in many windows. But as hospital mangers seek advanced lighting technology to reduce energy consumption, that glow is changing.

Healthcare facilities want more from their lighting these days. The most crucial concern has been patient safety—hospitals need to have the right light in the right place and ensure it never goes out. That priority has not changed, but rising utility costs, budget pressures and technology improvements have put myriad lighting options on the table—hospitals are paying attention to these options. Expense is almost as important as safety. Studies have found that lighting can account for up to 40 percent of a hospital’s energy. Making lighting adjustments cannot only reduce overheads, it can improve employee productivity and increase patient comfort.

Hospitals are slowly implementing changes in their lighting systems, bulb by bulb, fixture by fixture. With new construction comes new expectations.

LED solutions

In public areas, many hospitals provide decorative lighting using 15 to 60 watt incandescent lamps.

“It’s there to look pleasant and friendly, for ambiance,” said Tim Wyatt, MaxLite marketing manager, Pine Brook, N.J.

While the atmosphere is appreciated, the high maintenance is not. These lights rack up the energy cost and frequently burn out, requiring someone on a swivel lift to replace bulbs on a regular basis. As an alternative, Wyatt’s company is providing LED lighting, which not only uses less energy but also has a five-year bulb life.

“These work great where you’re using lights to create an effect. They’re very attractive,” Wyatt said.

Tom Leonard, director of marketing and product management at Leviton’s Lighting Management Systems, Little Neck, N.Y., agreed that saving energy has become a very real concern.

“Since [hospitals are] a 24-hour enterprise, there are many areas where they have conservation issues,” he said.

Hospitals are turning to dimmed lighting functions to mute lights in some areas when they aren’t needed or to turn them off in others—such as an administrative area or gift shop at night. Relay controls provide programmed dimming functions. For example, utility rooms and lavatories can be wired with occupancy sensors, so the light can remain off when no one is there.

“In the next five years I see a very broad application of lighting control for energy savings where there is no direct patient care,” Leonard said.

Daylight harvesting

During daylight hours, hospitals are using daylight harvesting in common areas and saving hundreds of dollars a month. Daylight harvesting is part of the construction plan in many new buildings—hospitals are being built with large windows and a lighting relay system to enhance daylight, rather than run lights at the same level, 24 hours a day.

“The ultimate goal is that the lighting is just right and intuitive,” Leonard said. “You just don’t notice it’s there.”

In California, the state’s Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Lighting Research Program—a two-year, $5.2 million research and development program—found that lighting automation is already present in the majority of new hospital constructions as well as schools and public buildings.

The study asked building managers and owners what they wanted in lighting and those surveyed said they want simple, low-cost lighting solutions. When asked, the respondents named occupancy sensors and scheduling systems as their lighting automation systems of choice, followed by lighting control panels and daylight harvesting systems.

Already, automated lighting in hospital construction projects that include automated controls cover more than 50 percent of the floor area. Retrofit applications fall considerably behind new construction in the implementation of automated controls. Nearly 80 percent of new construction projects in these applications over the past two years feature automated lighting controls, while less than half of retrofit projects included them.

Occupancy sensors, as shown above, are the most popular automated lighting-control solution for all major building types and are adopted by both large and small buildings. Respondents said that false-offs and delays are the largest barriers to using occupancy sensors, along with the startup costs.

Scheduling technology options

Scheduling technologies include building energy management systems, time clocks and lighting-automation panels. Building automation systems are traditionally associated with large hospitals of more than 100,000 square feet and prove to be the most reliable. For some, however, the technology is too expensive to install and requires considerable training to use.

In smaller healthcare facilities such as medical offices, lighting control panels offer reliability and cost-effective service. Along similar lines, time clocks are also becoming more prevalent. The initial cost is not as great and electrical contractors are familiar with the available parts and applications support—no PCs or special programming tools.

The PIER study found that standard protocols were in demand from healthcare facility operators that can provide assurance that components of the lighting control system would work together and also provide a common set of base functions and commands accessible to the building automation system.

Integration is another growing trend for healthcare facilities. Lighting automation that can integrate with the building automation system offers centralization between systems so that a technician can control both systems from one area, creating more control and energy cost savings.

While new construction are looking at integrated building automation systems, existing buildings must consider their energy savings on a smaller scale. Hospitals have trimmed maintenance staff and are looking for products that require less maintenance, last longer and cost less to install. An energy-efficient retrofit can save a healthcare facility thousands of dollars a year in electric bills, allowing the system pay for itself in two to three years.

Lighting effects on mood disorders

Beyond the cost savings, there are other incentives to new lighting systems. Research is finding that lighting may affect our health. Patients can be directly influenced by the quality and quantity of light, both as mood swings and in sleep patterns. By making some changes to the color and intensity of light in a hospital, for example, hospitals can allow their patients a better night’s sleep.

While it may still sound farfetched, plenty of people are taking it seriously. The Lighting Research Center (LRC) is part of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So far they point to findings that lighting affects circadian rhythm, alertness, Alzheimer’s disease, sleep disorders, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and other conditions. They have also found that exposure to blue light can reduce sleep disturbances and increase the likelihood of stable, consolidated sleep in seniors.

Lighting manufacturers are watching these studies closely and technology to respond to health concerns are sure to follow. Jeff McDonald, national sales manager for Linear Fluorescent, at Technical Consumer Products Inc., sees two distinct trends that healthcare facility managers face: reducing energy consumption and providing healthier lighting for their patients.

“Because lighting has expanded fairly rapidly it’s confusing [to facility managers],” McDonald said.

For that reason, he encourages hospitals to seek an energy services company such as Johnson Controls to establish the appropriate integrated system. On the other hand, many facilities still prefer to do it themselves. Either way, hospitals have more choices than ever as they face technology that could save money and improve the experience for patients and for their staff members.

While the health affects of lighting are still being researched, “until we get our arms around more facts, it’s hard to incorporate,” McDonald said. “What happens in research often becomes recommended practice, which can eventually become legislation.” EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.