Parking Garage Lighting Upgrade Saves Energy, Tightens Security

If given a choice, wouldn’t you avoid parking your car in a multilevel parking garage after dark? Why do most parking garages feel creepy and unsafe? Even in the daytime, parking garages can feel a little scary and unsettling. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The right lighting can change everything.

When Joe Stark was the Director of Facilities Management at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Illinois, he was not only responsible for managing the Hospital itself, but the outdoor grounds as well, including a 7-story parking garage. Today, Joe is the Regional Director of Support Services for both St. Francis Hospital and St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago. Both facilities are part of the Presence Health Systems of Hospitals, which operates more than 150 facilities in Illinois.


An Ongoing Maintenance Problem

Every day, Joe says, there were maintenance issues with his garage, the most time-consuming and costly of which was lighting. “My electrician was constantly replacing lamps and ballasts,” Joe says. On top of that, he said reckless driving was a common problem. Every time the electrician needed to change out a lamp or ballast, Joe had to institute the two-man rule to protect him. “So,” Joe says, “You would have the costs of the repairs, the product itself, the labor for the electrician, and then the labor to provide safety for the electrician while he worked.” All of those costs added up. And still, nearly every day, Joe had an electrician in that garage.

Another issue was the quality of the lighting. The existing high-pressure sodium lighting gave out a yellowish quality light and over time, fixtures would gradually become dimmer. Then as lamps were replaced, the lighting was uneven and inconsistent. The experience isn’t exactly reassuring, and can leave occupants feeling uneasy and even unsafe. To add to this, St. Francis is a Trauma 1 Hospital, which means it handles a higher volume of severe trauma patients, including those who have suffered gun shot wounds (GSWs). Because this hospital isn’t far from higher crime areas, it’s an especially sensitive issue.

“We have a lot of activity around the hospital. My staff inside this hospital, my visitors, my patients, everyone who steps foot on this property, it’s my responsibility to make sure they feel safe. So if they walk out to their cars at 11:00 at night or 12 a.m., it’s important that they [feel] safe. Our security officers are unarmed. So if I can put out some serious light, that’s a deterrent for people who want to cause chaos or potential harm to people.”

Joe’s situation was twofold. He needed a more energy-efficient way to light the garage that would also reduce his labor costs, and he needed a better light for the safety and security of the patients, visitors and staff. Finding a solution took a while; years in fact. But once he had a solution, he needed to gain approval for a full lighting retrofit for the garage.

Getting Buy-In

Over the past several years, Presence Health has instituted a sustainability initiative known as Becoming One. The primary objective of Becoming One is to engage teams of employees throughout the Presence system to uncover and propose energy- and cost-saving opportunities. Budget dollars have been set aside specifically for Becoming One proposals, but to gain approval, projects must be able to demonstrate a return on investment within 1-3 years. While Joe’s proposal for the parking garage retrofit would take longer than that, the potential payback in energy savings coupled with the fact that his project would address safety and security concerns helped him gain approval. “I started the research in 2009 and finally found the fixture I wanted and got the project approved in December of 2013. The key, he says, is doing the research and making sure you have the right product for the right application.”

Tap Into Your Local Utility

The fixture (link to specific CREE fixture) they chose has its own motion detector. After 7 minutes, the sensor takes the fixture from 100% output down to 25%. When they originally submitted the documentation for this project, the rebate they expected from the local utility was around $17,000. However, when they were able to demonstrate the energy savings as a result of these motion detectors, they received an additional rebate check from the utility and bringing the funding up to just over $51,000.

By engaging the local utility, the team at St. Francis was able to get additional funding. By working with the right supplier partners, they were able to find the exact product to meet their specific needs. In the end, the facility now has improved technology, lower operating costs and happier employees

The staff members have commented that they feel safer in the garage with the brighter, higher-quality lighting. “The first month,” Joe says, “people would say, ‘yeah, as I was walking through the parking garage all of a sudden the light got brighter.’ Even at 25% the light is still pretty bright and people still feel safer.”

“I’ve had conversations with the security manager, Joe says, “and he has told me they can see a lot better through the cameras with the whiter light versus the yellow light. The feedback overall has been very positive.”

A Win-Win for All Involved

The old lighting system was a constant maintenance issue for Joe and his electrician, who spent a lot of his time in the garage. Joe reports his electrician hasn’t been out in the garage once in the four months since they completed the installation. So not only have they not had to hire a safety officer to protect the electrician from injury, that same electrician has more free time to work on other tasks around the facility.

Moving forward with projects like this one really comes down to budget. Healthcare facilities are always looking for ways to take costs out of their business without reducing staff or compromising their services. This particular lighting retrofit project accomplished these goals and more by improving the technology of the lighting system, saving energy to reduce operating costs, and helping to improve the safety and security of everyone who uses the garage.

Learn more about lighting retrofits.

Look for savings and rebates.