LED lights brighten city parking garages

Things are looking a bit brighter inside the city's parking garages these days, thanks to new lights bought with federal stimulus money.
ledlight1_I110215183050.jpgElectricians are hanging LED fixtures from the ceiling on the upper floors of Garage No. 1 along McFarland Street.

"We're taking out these old-style lights," said George Farley, head of the city's 15-person in-house construction department.

You'd recognize the old-style lights they're removing -- utilitarian florescent fixtures with twin 8-foot tubes. Energy efficient in their day, they're now dinosaurs of the illumination world.

"These old ones, the ballasts are hard to find anymore," Farley said. They're originals, installed when the garage was built 40 years ago. Tubes need to be replaced about every two years, at $5 a pop.

The new fixtures, guaranteed for five years and supposed to last twice that long, are almost too bright to look at straight on. They're compact, too, with 42 tiny LED bulbs packed into a squarish box just over a foot long.

Though the first lights went up only about a month ago, Farley has already calculated the energy savings.

"The ones we took out -- high-output fluorescents, 240 watts per fixture -- are on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They cost about 25 cents a day [for electricity]. The new ones are 50 watts and they cost one nickel a day.

"We estimate the savings for this building alone at $27,000 a year."

What's more, the new fixtures light the garages more efficiently by directing their output downward, where it's needed, instead of in all directions.

"If you look at the building at night from outside, it looks like the lights are off," Farley said. "[The light] doesn't come out the sides."

That allows the crew to space the fixtures farther apart. "We're putting in six less per floor," he said. "We haven't even counted the savings for that."

Once they finish the McFarland Street garage, Farley's men have three more garages to tackle. All the lights and related gear -- new wiring and steel conduit -- are being paid for by a $582,300 federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, from the Department of Energy. City officials received the grant allocation two years ago.

"The next one is the [Park Place] cinema [garage]. That's our biggest parking building," Farley said. "Then we'll do the Civic Center and Greyhound."

The city previously put new lights in its two newest garages -- Shanklin (City Hall) and Summers Street -- but couldn't afford the LED system there. Engineering consultants recommended in 2007 that the city replace lights in all six of its parking garages.

Farley said he's impressed by the new lights. "I actually didn't think it would work as well as it does. I mean, I saw it on paper, but it worked out better than I expected. I'm an old electrician.

"The technology, it's the finest it can be," he said. "This is the future, right now."
city of Charleston, West Virginia
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