Are LED Lights Right For Your Next Project?

In a time where so much importance has been placed on “Going Green,” LED lights seem like the natural energy efficient and “Green” choice to make when you are replacing your old bulbs and/or are starting a new project from scratch.

Earlier this month, BUILDINGS published an article that might make you reconsider using LED lights for every single green project/retrofit that you undertake.

Please take a moment to read BUILDINGS’ article and tell us what you think!



LEDs: When and Where?

Avoid project pitfalls by understanding LED limitations

By Janelle Penny

The directional properties of LEDs and their affinity for cool climates have allowed the technology to expand into a wide spectrum of applications, from parking lots to indoor uses.

Not all applications are completely LED-ready, but there are several instances where you can reap considerable energy and cost savings from the reduced maintenance requirements and energy-efficient function.

“Traffic signals are a perfect example. There certainly is energy savings, but the payback comes through maintenance, not having to get a guy out in the intersection in a cherry picker and shut the street down,” explains Ron Steen, vice president of business development for solid state lighting developer Xicato.

Despite their rapid growth in popularity, LEDs aren’t always the answer for some applications. HID, which still boasts high efficiency, is frequently the best choice for roadway lighting and very high ceilings that require large amounts of light, says Jeff Spencer, director of commercial product management for Juno Lighting Group by Schneider Electric.

Induction lighting is another ultra-efficient option, though their lifespan (frequently rated around twice that of a comparable LED fixture) is balanced out by a price tag that’s cost-prohibitive for many budgets.

Ideal Opportunities for LEDs

To determine whether your next renovation or remodeling project could benefit from LEDs, consider these factors:

  • What temperature will the fixtures be exposed to? Early on, LEDs were suited only for cold climates due to their susceptibility for heat. Even today, high- heat applications can still pose a problem. “Over the furnaces in a steel mill is a pretty rough environment,” says Jeff Quinlan, vice president of technology for lighting manufacturer Acuity Brands. “We’ve put lots of LEDs in refrigerators and refrigerated warehouses, but LEDs are not good for ovens.”
  • How many hours will they run? LEDs gained popularity for parking lot lighting because their long-lasting capabilities led to fewer replacements. But think about places where you might use a single incandescent. “In a janitor’s closet, it’s not uncommon to see an incandescent light hanging off a pull string, and it’s on for 10 minutes a day,” Quinlan says. “It’s about delivering superior value from total cost of ownership. It’s hard to argue about a light that’s only used for a few minutes a day.”
  • How difficult are they to service? Because their location makes them difficult to access, atriums, extremely tall ceilings, and roadway lighting projects can all benefit from a reduced need for replacements.


“There are also some applications where the designer is looking for the ambiance they can get from the warm glow of a dimmed incandescent,” Spencer explains. “They like that the incandescent lamps get warmer when they dim, as opposed to staying the same color temperature with less light like LEDs.”

Retrofit projects may also pose a problem, depending on what type of fixture you’re trying to fit LEDs into.

“LEDs are still not viable replacements for fluorescents in troffers,” says Paul Ford, vice president of design engineering for The Lighting Quotient, an architectural lighting equipment manufacturer. “It hasn’t fulfilled expectations.”

Lighting developers are focusing on LEDs, OLEDs, and other relatively new technologies instead of improving traditional sources, Spencer says.

“One of the challenges end users need to consider today is how to know when it’s time to replace their LED sources,” Spencer says. “Since LEDs keep getting dimmer, it’s not as obvious when they’ve reached a light output level that’s too low for the application. We’re introducing a lumen depreciation indicator that will let the end user know when their fixture has reached 70% lumen maintenance.”

Expect lighting controls to become easier to install and more effective to use, Spencer adds. The demand for efficient, user-friendly lighting will only increase, and in the meantime, one basic rule of thumb will help you determine if you have the right lighting installed in a space.

“Lighting done right is invisible, regardless of what technology it uses,” says Michelle Murray, director of corporate communications for Cree. “If you walk into a well-lit space, you shouldn’t even notice what the light levels are or how the light is generated. If the light feels too dim, bright, uneven, or glary, the lighting design wasn’t done properly.”


Janelle Penny ( is associate editor of BUILDINGS.


Can Thermostats Be Clever AND Hip?

Please take a moment to read the following article (courtesy of the New York Times,)  about how one company is rethinking the thermostat:


A Thermostat That’s Clever, Not Clunky


Steve Jobs may have transformed a bunch of industries, but his great skill wasn’t really inventing. Instead, he was the world’s greatest makeover wizard. He’d look at some industry, identify what had been wrong with it for years, and then figure out how to make it beautiful and simple and joyous.

Nest Learning Thermostats, above, with color-coded high and low temperatures.

The latest in technology from the Times’s David Pogue, with a new look.

The Nest indicates the time needed to reach 72 degrees. The thermostat was designed by teams that worked on Apple’s iPod.

Now that Steve’s gone, who will look around for worlds that need changing?

Well, how about Tony Fadell? He seems to have the pedigree. He helped design the iPod. He ran the iPod and iPhone divisions of Apple for years.

He’s got that spot-what’s-wrong-with-it gene.

With his new company, Nest, he has decided to reinvent a tech item that hasn’t seen much innovation in decades: the thermostat.

Don’t snicker. This isn’t trivial. According to Nest, there are a quarter of a billion thermostats in this country alone; 10 million more are bought each year.

Half of your home’s energy is controlled by this ugly, beige tool. Most people never even bother to program their programmable thermostats. As a result, their houses actually use more energy than homes without them. Two years ago, the federal government eliminated the entire programmable thermostat category from its Energy Star program.

The Nest Learning Thermostat ($250) doesn’t introduce just one radical rethinking of the thermostat; it introduces four of them.

RADICAL CHANGE 1 The look. The Nest is gorgeous. It’s round. Its screen is slightly domed glass; its barrel has a mirror finish that reflects your wall. Its color screen glows orange when it’s heating, blue when it’s cooling; it turns on when you approach it, and discreetly goes dark when nobody’s nearby.

Sweating over attractiveness makes sense; after all, this is an object you mount on your wall at eye level. A thermostat should be one of the most beautiful items on your wall, not the ugliest.

RADICAL CHANGE 2 The Nest has Wi-Fi, so it’s online. It can download software updates. You can program it on a Web site.

You can also use a free iPhone or Android app, from anywhere you happen to be, to see the current temperature and change it — to warm up the house before you arrive, for example. (At this moment, vacation-home owners all over the world are wiping drool off their keyboards.)

RADICAL CHANGE 3 Learning. The Nest is supposed to program itself — and save you energy in the process. When you first install the Nest, you turn its ring to change the temperature as you would a normal thermostat — at bedtime, when you leave for work, and so on. A big, beautiful readout shows you the new setting and lets you know how long it will take your house to reach that temperature. That information, Nest says, is intended to discourage people from setting their thermostats to 90 degrees, for example, thinking that the temperature will rise to 70 faster. (It doesn’t.)

Over the course of a week or so, the thermostat learns from your manual adjustments. It notes when that happened, and what the temperature and humidity were, and so on. And it begins to set its own schedule based on your living patterns.


Energy savings. Let’s face it, $250 is a lot to pay for a thermostat. But Nest says that you’ll recoup that through energy savings in less than two years.

The mere act of having a correctly programmed thermostat is the big one, of course. Why should you waste money heating or cooling the downstairs when you’re in bed upstairs? Or when you’re away at work all day?

But the Nest’s smartphone-based components offer other goodies, like Auto Away. The Nest contains two proximity sensors (near and far), which detect whether anybody is actually in a room. If the sensors decide that nobody’s home, they let the temperature drop or rise to an outer limit you’ve defined — say, 65 in winter, 80 in summer — even if that absence isn’t part of your normal schedule.

This feature is useless, of course, if your thermostat can’t see the room — say, if it’s in a closet or behind an open door. But often I’ll return from a day trip, having forgotten to turn down the heat, and see Auto Away on the screen. Good ol’ Nest!

Nest says that turning down your thermostat by even a single degree can save you 5 percent in energy. To that end, it offers a little motivational logo: a green leaf. It glows brighter as you turn the ring beyond your standard comfort zone. As a positive-reinforcement technique, it’s a lot more effective than an exhortation from Jimmy Carter to put on a sweater.

This all sounds spectacular, of course, and mostly, it is. But feathering my Nest wasn’t all smooth sailing.

First, of course, you have to install the thing. Nest goes to extraordinary lengths to help you out. The elegant package includes a screwdriver and the Nest itself has a built-in bubble level. YouTube how-to videos and tech support are available.

But in the end, replacing a thermostat is not a job for a novice. It involves cutting power to your existing thermostats (after figuring out which circuit breaker is responsible); removing your old thermostat (revealing an ugly, gaping maw in your wall); hooking up about four colored wires (nasty-looking and very short); covering up the gaping maw with the included rectangular base plate (necessary only if the maw is larger than the Nest, which is likely); and snapping the Nest into place.

Nest’s installer performed the surgery on my downstairs thermostat as I watched; I did the deed myself on the upstairs one. It took about half an hour to install each thermostat. If you don’t feel up to the task, Best Buy will send somebody to do it for you at $120 (plus $25 more for each additional Nest).

Second, my test Nests were cuckoo for the first couple of weeks. They’d decide for themselves to blast the heat to 73 degrees — at 4 a.m.

That was a little alarming. You know those sci-fi movies where our machines turn on their human overlords? Yeah, like that.

The company chalked my problems up to first-release bugs, and had me reset my thermostats. (The software is very iPod-like. You turn the barrel to choose from the colorful on-screen menus, and you click inward to make a selection.) After two such resets, the Nests are now working perfectly and saving me money.

The software has room to improve. For some reason, the Nest’s own screen shows you a lot more about what’s going on with your thermostat than the Web site or the phone apps. For example, the Web and the app don’t show you when Auto Away kicked in or when you manually adjusted your thermostats. (The company says it will remedy that situation soon.)

The Web site is beautiful, but programming your Nests using its Schedule tab is clumsy and tedious. It takes too many unnecessary clicks to introduce a change in the schedule.

I found some bugs, too. For example, if you have multiple Nests, just coming back home doesn’t disengage the Auto Away mode automatically; you have to click each thermostat’s screen within two minutes. (Bizarre.)

Fortunately, software is fixable.

Goodness knows there are cheaper thermostats. And there are other learning thermostats with color screens and Internet connections. But they don’t have the sensors that let them self-adjust. They don’t look like pieces of art. They’re sold and packaged for contractors, not humans.

And they actually cost more: for example, similar models of the Honeywell Prestige and Ecobee Smart Thermostat go for more than $300 on (Can you imagine what the arrival of the Nest and its team of former Apple superstars must be doing to morale at those companies? The Friday beer blasts must be a bummer these days.)

The Nest is gorgeous, elegant and very, very smart. It will keep your house at the right temperature, save you money and do some good for the planet. Put another way, it can make you comfortable in more ways than one.

$4B Better Buildings Challenge and What this Means for the Future of Energy Efficiency





On Friday December 2, 2011, President Obama announced that  nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private-sector money will be put into energy upgrades for federal and private sector buildings, over the next two years. Obama’s monetary commitment to the Better Buildings Challenge, undoubtedly means more jobs, a significant reduction in Carbon Dioxide emissions and huge energy savings on a national level.

Please take a moment to read Commercial Property Executive’s article, that more fully explains the Better Buildings Challenge and what this $4 Billion means for the future of energy efficiency:


$4B Better Buildings Challenge Unites Government, Private Sector

Dec 5, 2011

December 5, 2011
By Scott Baltic, Contributing Editor 

Saying “we can’t wait for Congress to act,” President Obama on Friday announced that over the next two years, nearly $4 billion in combined federal and private-sector money will be surging into energy upgrades to buildings. “Upgrading the energy efficiency of America’s buildings,” Obama said, “is one of the fastest, easiest, and cheapest ways to save money, cut down on harmful pollution, and create good jobs right now.”

This new commitment to the Better Buildings Challenge is the largest so far. The public-sector portion comes by way of a Presidential Memorandum that commits the federal government to $2 billion of energy upgrades to federal buildings, using long-term energy savings to pay for upfront costs, reportedly at no cost to taxpayers.

The private side is represented by 60 organizations, a diverse group of commercial real estate and hospitality companies, manufacturers (such as 3M, GE and Nissan), colleges and universities (including Michigan State), retailers (Kohl’s Department Stores, Supervalu and Walgreens), healthcare systems, municipalities (including Denver, Sacramento and the District of Columbia) and other entities, including the AFL-CIO and TIAA-CREF.

The private-sector partners have committed to invest nearly $2 billion of private capital into energy-efficiency projects and to upgrade energy performance by a minimum of 20 percent by 2020 in 1.6 billion square feet of office, industrial, municipal, hospitality, healthcare and education-related space. The White House’s announcement noted that commercial buildings consume roughly 20 percent of all the energy used by the U.S. economy.

CRE/hospitality players include CBRE, Forest City Enterprises, HEI Hotels & Resorts, InterContinental Hotels Group, Jones Lang LaSalle, Prologis, RREEF Real Estate, Shorenstein Properties LLC and Wyndham Worldwide.

Joining Obama in making the announcement was former President Clinton, whose Clinton Global Initiative in June had signed up 14 entities to the initial phase of the BBC. Those participants include Lend Lease, Transwestern and USAA Real Estate.

The BBC is part of the Better Buildings Initiative. Launched in February by President Obama, and spearheaded by former President Clinton and the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, the larger effort aims to “support job creation by catalyzing private sector investment in commercial and industrial building energy upgrades to make America’s buildings 20 percent more efficient over the next decade, reducing energy costs for American businesses by nearly $40 billion,” according to the announcement.

Jones Lang LaSalle vice president of public relations Craig Bloomfield told Commercial Property Executive that JLL has committed to reduce energy usage by 20 percent by 2020 in 98 million square feet of multitenant space it manages. He noted that JLL was the project manager for the recent energy-efficiency upgrade of the Empire State Building, in partnership with Johnson Controls and the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Despite this newest stride, Bloomfield said, more owners want to retrofit than can afford to do so. “Energy retrofits right now are very problematic” in multitenant buildings, in part because although the owner pays for the upgrade, it’s the tenant who benefits. A better system is needed for financing energy retrofits, he concluded.

Interestingly, Friday also saw the release of a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, titled “Green Building: Federal Initiatives for the Nonfederal Sector Could Benefit from More Interagency Collaboration.” Designated GAO-12-79, Nov. 2, 2011, the report is available at, with a one-page summary at

The report noted that 94 federal initiatives, implemented by 11 agencies, “foster green building in the nonfederal sector,” which includes the private sector as well as state and local goverrnments. The most common green building issue, implemented in 83 initiatives, is energy conservation/efficiency.

“Agencies with green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector,” GAO commented, “may be missing opportunities to, among other things, reach agreement on governmentwide goals and measures for assessing the overall progress of their green building efforts.”

GAO recommends that the Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development and the Environmental Protection Agency “lead an effort to collaborate with other agencies on assessing the results of federal green building initiatives for the nonfederal sector.”

How the U.S. Army is Utilizing Fuel Cell Systems

The U.S. Department of Energy recently published an article that highlights how the US Army is striving for energy efficiency:

November 17, 2011

Energy Department Highlights Commissioning of Innovative Fuel Cell System at U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground

The U.S. Department of Energy today recognized the commissioning of an innovative fuel cell system at the United States Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, which will supply the facility with emergency backup power. The four-stack system is one of the first of 18 fuel cells to be installed and operated at military bases across the country under an interagency partnership between the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense (DOD). A ribbon cutting ceremony held at the base yesterday was led by Major General Nick Justice, Commander of the Army’s Research and Development and Engineering Command, to celebrate the installation of the system at the base’s Building Operations Command Center. Under the partnership, the Departments test how the fuel cells perform in real world operations, identify any technical improvements manufacturers could make to enhance performance, and highlight the benefits of fuel cells for emergency backup power applications.

“Fuel cells are a key part of our portfolio of clean energy technologies, and demonstrations like these help move our innovations from the lab to the market,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Dr. Henry Kelly. “Our partnership with DOD as an early adopter of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies will accelerate our transition to a clean energy future.”

Compared with batteries, fuel cells are a reliable source of backup power because they offer long continuous run times and greater durability in harsh outdoor environments, which makes them ideal power sources for DOD applications. Unlike traditional electricity generators used for backup power, fuel cells use no petroleum, are quieter, and produce fewer pollutants and emissions. Fuel cells also typically require less maintenance than either batteries or traditional generators, and can easily be monitored remotely to reduce maintenance time.

Aberdeen Proving Ground will also install three 5 kW fuel cells to provide critical back up power to its Range Control and Coordination Building, and an 8 kW fuel cell to provide backup power to the Snow Emergency building. LOGANEnergy of Roswell, Georgia, will install and maintain the fuel cells, which were manufactured by ReliOn of Spokane, Washington, and Idatech of Bend, Oregon.

Over the last decade, DOE has invested in research and development projects to advance key fuel cell components such as catalysts and membranes at several companies including 3M, Dupont, Gore, Johnson Matthey, and BASF. This research has helped reduce the costs of fuel cells by up to 80% since 2002, and many of these innovations are now being used in the fuel cell units being deployed by DOD.

Seven other military installations will be installing emergency fuel cell backup power under the Memorandum of Understanding signed between the two Departments in July 2010.

  • Fort Bragg, North Carolina
  • Fort Hood, Texas
  • The U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York
  • Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey
  • Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base, Colorado
  • U.S. Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center 29 Palms, California
  • The Ohio National Guard, Columbus, Ohio.

The $6.6 million project announced in July is a joint effort by DOD’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. DOD will manage the project and DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) will collect performance data for the first two years of this five-year demonstration. The NREL data will be available to fuel cell developers and commercial and government leaders interested in adopting this technology.

By working together, DOE and DOD can help promote scientific and technological innovation and accelerate the deployment of cutting-edge energy technologies that will strengthen American energy security and create new jobs for U.S. workers.

DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy invests in clean energy technologies that strengthen the economy, protect the environment, and reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil. Find out more about DOE’s support of research, development and deployment of hydrogen and fuel cell technologies.