By UW Sustainability | Apr 11, 2016

By Mishu Pham-Whipple

Investing in buildings to save energy and money has become the norm across institutional and residential domains. As part of an energy conservation effort, the University of Washington has retrofitted light fixtures across campus and measured significant energy and cost savings. What has yet to be measured, however, is how lighting retrofits improve occupant satisfaction and productivity.

Funded by the Green Seed Fund, a research team at UW - consisting of Amy Kim, Scott Bybee, and James Lew, along with support and permission from Facilities Manager Troy Swanson, Director of Operations Steve Kennard, and Associate Vice President of Office of Planning and Management Gary Quarfoth - explored just that. By conducting surveys, the team evaluated occupants’ satisfaction and comfort of the 12th floor of the UW Tower where 261 new light fixtures were installed with personal controls and dimming capability.

Although data collection and processing is not quite complete, one finding the the team has was that the lights were initially too bright according to some occupants and that rows of lights had to be shut off to make them more comfortable. The lights being too bright may sound like a downfall, but by shutting off rows of lights, the occupants were able to utilize natural light, reduce energy usage, and to work more comfortably, enhancing their ability to work.

PhD student James Lew is wrapping up a detailed analysis of the year long project, expected to be complete at the end of June.

The team noted that the success of the project extends beyond demonstrating that investments in lighting can generate significant energy savings and improve occupant satisfaction, leading to higher productivity, but that the project can be used as a basis to bring more awareness and encourage more retrofitting in other buildings across campus and beyond. The site of the project being the UW Tower enhances the marketability of this project since the tower stands in the skyline as a symbol representing the university to the public. By marketing the project to the right individuals and the general public, funding for property investments is expected to increase.