Hotels: Checking Out LEDs

Oct. 28, 2009

Using LEDs in hospitality applications provides safety and savings for clients, and can reduce their energy consumption by as much as 60 percent

LEDs seem to be everywhere – TVs, cell phone displays, etc. And the efficiency of LED technology has architects second-guessing the use of HID, metal halide, and compact fluorescent lamps, especially in hotels (where energy ranks as the largest expense besides labor).

Applications are growing in number as technological advancements render LED objections of the past invalid. “There have been a variety of reasons why LEDs weren’t suitable for use in luminaires in the past,” says Jeff Gatzow, product manager, Everbrite Lighting Technologies, Greenfield, WI. “The LEDs we know from years ago are low-power LEDs that were used as indicator lights in electronic devices and displays.”

It’s time to shed the perceptions created by these red, blue, green, and early-generation white LEDs. LEDs with poor color temperatures have improved – along with the price. “The amount of light you get out of the LEDs has increased dramatically, and the cost has come down,” says Kevin Orth, director of sales, BetaLED, Sturtevant, WI. Today, commercially available white LEDs produce up to four times more lumens per watt than the first products to market.

According to Gatzow, “White LEDs really didn’t mature until probably the last 4 years, when they started to become suitable for use in general lighting applications.”

While LEDs are ideal for display cases and decorative lighting, there are new applications that let the technology really shine. “On the interior, you’re starting to see LED technology being used for downlighting and accent lighting,” says Orth. What does this mean for architects working on hospitality projects? An alternative to dual 26-watt compact fluorescents commonly used in hotel corridor can lights. With the initial cost of the lamps still higher, however, only the long-term owner capable of understanding ROI may be willing to make the change.

“When you look at the hotel property, there are a variety of places that LEDs can be employed for a variety of reasons, and some are going to take off sooner than others,” comments Gatzow. “General illumination in the corridors is probably something that’s going to take time because there’s a cost factor. There are a lot of can lights or fixtures in corridors, and that adds up very quickly.” Replacing a large quantity of lamps with a more efficient source (i.e. LEDs) will result in big energy savings; however, it’s easier to justify the upfront cost of LEDs in hotel applications where tall ceiling heights make relamping inconvenient and expensive.

Specifying LEDs in exterior applications requires a lot less explanation. “Parking structures are candidates because they’re on 24/7 and, therefore, the energy usage is double from what it would normally be when you start cycling the lights on and off,” says Gatzow. The Holiday Inn Express in Brattleboro, VT, retrofitted 26 parking lot and roadway fixtures from 250- and 400-watt metal halide luminaires to state-of-the-art LED luminaires last year. Hotel operators expect to save 23,700 kWh annually, which is roughly 65 percent over the previous metal halide fixtures.

Another application where LEDs make sense, says Gatzow, is in channel-letter exterior signage. Replacing neon tubing with LEDs dramatically reduces energy and maintenance costs, too (because of their long life).

Interest is rising, comments Gatzow. “Among engineers, architects, and lighting designers, there’s a lot of open-mindedness. They’re looking at the technology very closely and very hard,” he says. And, with all the benefits that LEDs have to offer, it’s no wonder.

Benefit No. 1: LEDs are energy efficient, and lighting controls can be used. “When you look at hospitality, both interior and exterior, energy is a huge cost factor in daily operations,” notes Orth. Switching to LEDs in the parking lot can result in a 40- to 60-percent reduction of energy, he says. Add lighting controls to an LED parking ramp and you increase the savings even more. “With occupancy controls, LEDs can provide ambient security lighting so you have visibility within a parking garage area; if somebody enters, whether it’s a vehicle or a person, that fixture will come up to full brightness,” explains Orth. “In that environment, you can get better than 80-percent energy savings in ‘low’ mode.”

Benefit No. 2: Their long life expectancy results in fewer maintenance costs. “A good-quality, 1-watt [white] LED will yield upward of 50,000 hours. Now when we talk about life, we need to qualify that. Life is L70, which stands for 70-percent lumen maintenance. That basically means that, at around 50,000 hours, the LED light output is expected to drop by about 30 percent,” say Gatzow. It’s not likely that you’ll even be able to detect the 30-percent drop in light output, he says. “At 50,000 hours, we’re not saying it’s time to replace the LED,” says Gatzow. “Effective life is probably upward of 70,000 or 80,000 hours on some of the high-quality, high-power LEDs.”

According to Orth, “A technology like LEDs could have upward of five, six, or maybe even seven times the life expectancy of incumbent technology.” As a result, periods between relamping are longer, which results in lower maintenance costs. In hotel ballrooms, conference facilities, or outdoor signage applications, where lamp replacement requires a boom truck or scissor lift, a reduction in service calls is a benefit that hotel operators are sure to appreciate.

Benefit No. 3: Because LEDs dim before expiration, they provide security and safety. In applications like a parking garage, where a burned-out lamp means reduced security, LEDs have real appeal. “When a light bulb goes out, it's dark,” says Orth. “With LEDs, their light just gradually diminishes over time, and chances of a complete fixture failure in a well-designed LED fixture are minimized.”

Benefit No. 4: Installation is simpler. With high lumen output, you may need fewer LEDs. “Because the LEDs are more efficient, your total system wattage is much less, you’re able to get more light fixtures on a circuit, and your voltage drop isn’t as great. In those cases, you may be able to reduce your installation costs because you’ll be able to use fewer circuits [and get] longer runs, which can really be a significant savings in new construction,” says Orth. Installation could be less complex as well. “It's a little bit simpler because the driver is like a ballast. It's a universal voltage, so it’s more straightforward than with an HID source,” he says.

While the initial costs of LEDs remain higher than alternative light sources, the payback in energy savings and maintenance costs provide a strong ROI. Advancements in the technology have made LEDs a realistic, appealing option for hotel applications. “There’s really never been as big of a revolution in the lighting industry in a generation,” says Orth. “This technology is opening up new doors and allowing architects, designers, and building owners to do things they’ve never had the opportunity to do before.”

Jana J. Madsen is a Cedar Rapids, IA-based freelance writer with 10 years of experience in writing about the commercial buildings industry.

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