What’s the deal with… Lights burning all night?

In the past two years GW has amped up its sustainability campaign, trying to make GW a more eco-friendly campus. So then why do some GW buildings such as Lerner Health and Wellnes Center and Duqués Hall have their lights burning long after most of us have gone to bed?

The answer to this question may not be so clear-cut. The U.S. Department of Energy Web site says that the type of lights used in these large buildings – compact fluorescent lights – are most cost effective and efficient in areas where lights are on for long periods of time, less so when they are turned on for short periods.

But according to administrators interviewed, there are other reasons the lights burn through the night. Cleaning crews in University buildings often work late at night and there are safety compliance issues to consider, Juan Ibanez, associate vice president for Facilities, said in an e-mail. D.C. building codes require that the University keep lights on in certain areas such as lobbies and stairwells for security reasons, he added.

Ibanez said there are “nearly 100 housekeeping staff members who work throughout campus at night” who need the lights on as they make their rounds.

Meghan Chapple-Brown, director of GW’s Office of Sustainability, said that the lighting issue presents a challenge that GW is working to resolve.

“Turning lights off is always more energy-efficient than leaving them on,” she said.

Chapple-Brown said different buildings have different needs and are thus on different schedules, making it hard to synchronize energy-saving efforts across campus.

Ibanez noted that in Duqu?s Hall, the classrooms have occupancy sensors so that the lights will go off when there is no one present. These sensors, he said, will also be installed in study rooms and reception areas this year.

Upon taking office, University President Steven Knapp formed a task force on sustainability comprised of students, faculty and staff to examine how the University could become more environmentally friendly.

In its final report of June 2008, the task force noted that Facilities Management installed occupancy sensors in its own building as well as in sections of Funger Hall. It also proposed a revolving fund to subsidize new projects that would make the University more energy efficient, something that GW officials have said will begin this year.

In reality, Ibanez said, the process toward making GW more eco-friendly is only beginning.

“We are always looking for ways to improve in this area, and while we’ve made significant progress over the past couple years, there’s more to be done,” Ibanez said.

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