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Alight at night: Why office buildings keep their lights on at night

By: Isabelle Kingsley, Category: Lifelong Learning, Date: 16 Feb 2012

 

In a day and age when saving energy is of high importance, there must be a valuable explanation for why office buildings keep their lights on at night.

Turn Lights Off

Stuart Humphreys © Australian Museum

 

As I sat looking out at the city from Darling Harbour the other night, I noticed that nearly all the floors of the big office buildings had their lights ‘on’.

I compared the office buildings to large hotels and apartment buildings that had many of their lights ‘off’— obviously because people occupying those rooms and units turn the lights off when they’re not there. That makes absolute sense, doesn’t it? So why isn’t this same common sense not followed in office buildings?

I started doing some research online to find out. In this day and age when everyone is so conscious of the need to save energy in an effort to reduce carbon emissions, I thought surely there is a perfectly valuable and logical explanation to why all these lights are left ‘on’ at night.

To my surprise, this is what I found from various articles and blogs:

  • Office cleaning
  • Building security
  • Safety — so airplanes don’t hit the buildings

Surely cleaners don’t clean every floor at once all night long, not all lights need to be kept on for security reasons, and high-rise buildings have red blinking antennas on the roof to prevent planes from hitting them. These reasons weren’t convincing, so I dug a little deeper.

I found a study on overnight lighting in London’s non-domestic building stock by the Worcester Polytechnic Institute. Unfortunately, it explained that the data collected “did not provide reasons for overnight lighting”. However, the study did examine literature that suggests the following possible causes:

  • Diffusion of responsibility to others and authorities
  • People forget to turn lights off because they are stressed
  • Lack of motivation

Are diffusion of responsibility, forgetfulness due to stress and lack of motivation proper reasons for most city office buildings to be wasting so much energy every night?

If these truly are the reasons for leaving office building lights on, then the solution is simple ... let’s take responsibility and do something about it.

Take Action

You might work in one of those tall, bright buildings that shine at night. Why not take action and see if you can get the lights turned off on your floor or in the entire building. Here are some suggestions:

  • Talk to your manager, director, or CEO and ask them to encourage everyone to turn off the lights when they leave at the end of the day (as well as their computers and screens).
  • Talk to security and building services to ask if the security guards can turn any remaining lights off during their rounds once everyone is gone OR the office buildings could pay for someone to go through each floor turning off lights after everyone has left to eliminate the “I’m leaving them on for someone” excuse.
  • Suggest installing motion-sensor lighting in your office or building. This will solve the “late-worker around the office” problem as well as turn the lights on in case of crime.
  • If crime is a worry, suggest installing a good security system. Lights and security cameras don’t respond to crime; security systems trigger an actual response. Having just enough light for a security camera is more than sufficient.

If lack of financial resources comes up as a deterrent to installing motion-sensor lighting or a better security system, suggest some research into how much money it costs your office to leave the lights on all night. Investing in energy-saving solutions will likely be a cheaper option in the long run.

Share your thoughts!
 

3 comments

Isabelle Kingsley - 1.03 PM, 28 March 2012

 

It does take a slight extra shot of electricity--called the "inrush current"--to turn on a light bulb. But the amount involved is less than it would take to burn the bulb continuously for even a couple seconds. Check out this article by Scientific American.  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=turn-fluorescent-lights-off-when-you-leave-room
bfabian - 6.03 PM, 05 March 2012
When I bought an energy efficient light bulb recently the person in the shop said that it takes more energy to turn this lightbulb on than to leave it on all night - could this be true?
Mark McGrouther - 10.02 PM, 19 February 2012

 Well said Isabelle!

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