What’s the real cost of block lighting?

Wondering why the energy bills for the blocks you manage are so high? Could lighting be the problem, asks Jamie Willsdon.

Have you ever taken a closer look at the way the energy bills for the blocks you manage are split? If not, you could be in for a shock. More than 70% of the charges for a typical residential block could be accounted for by the lighting alone. Many blocks around the country have outdated lighting systems and a good proportion of these have communal lighting turned on all day and night, even where stairwells and corridors are flooded with natural light.
The cost of energy is only going one way – up. So it’s no surprise that in leasehold apartment buildings, where the bills for communal light and power are passed on to residents as part of their service charge, property managers frequently take the blame for generating sky high fees. Even in blocks with occupancy sensors, many of these units are poorly commissioned. This in turn causes costly damage to lighting, generating additional maintenance charges which, once again, are passed on to residents.
Another common cause for complaint among leaseholders is the issue of failed lights. Outdated lighting installations are prone to failure. Not only does this mean endlessly changing lamps it also sends the wrong message to prospective flat buyers and renters and does nothing to enhance the reputation of the company responsible for managing the block. A poorly lit block only has one story to tell: this building is poorly maintained – avoid it.
Apart from the fact that poor lighting makes a block look run down - reducing its kerb appeal and ultimately its value - failed lights are also a serious health and safety issue. Poor lighting increases the risk of accidents for residents and visitors and raises the very real possibility of legal action being taken against RMC directors and their property managers.
Plan your maintenance – and cut your bills

  • Of course planned maintenance has a key role to play here. It takes more energy to run a failing unit, putting a strain on the rest of the system while reducing overall performance and output. And once lighting equipment has deteriorated to the point of total failure, the only option is complete replacement. The average light fitting, without maintenance, will probably run for between 4-6 years. Then it will need to be replaced at an average cost, including labour, of around £150. The planned maintenance cost, over the same period, would amount to pennies each month. This is nothing new: planned maintenance scheduling has been around for decades but too many property managers still don’t include it as a standard component of their business operation. Programme replacing outdated lighting into the PMS for your block so that lighting is replaced at the same time as the next refurbishment of the common areas. This way any cosmetic damage will be repaired at the same time, keeping cost to a minimum.

So what else can property managers do to save residents money and protect their own professional reputation? Here are some quick wins:


  • Install occupancy detectors so that only movement switches the lights on. A simple recommission can save £000’s in wasted maintenance costs.
  • Correctly commission existing occupancy detectors to maximize saving with natural light and prevent damage to fittings
  • LED lighting
  • Rounteen Servicing visit: Having this scheme in place
  • Take advantage of a FREE Site survey to have your systems evaluataed.

The key issue here is to consider whether or not the lighting installation in a block with high energy charges is fit for purpose. If maintenance call-outs are high this should ring alarm bells. A new LED system with integral occupancy detectors could save residents upwards of 70% in energy costs and, once installed, maintenance should be cost neutral for around five years. LEDs are environmentally friendly and cheap to run, saving your client maintenance time and money. Around 98% of LED fittings can be retrofitted to existing positions with no damage to the day to day running of the building or its existing decor. Of course, every block is different and, as LEDs improve light levels, a lighting design can be chosen in a colour to suit the specific environment. 
Doing the maths
Here is an example of the savings to be made by replacing outdated lighting with LEDs. An underground car park has 50 Fluorescent light fittings that are switched on 24/7. The cost to run is approx.
Day: £22.00
Year: £7970.00
Typical costs for the equivalent LED fittings using integral occupancy detectors are:
Day: £0.40
Year: £145.00
Typical Supply & Installation Cost: £9500
This represents a return on investment (ROI) of just under 15 months - which doesn’t include the ongoing saving of £7500 pa saved simply on wasted energy.  And that’s just the car park.
Developers take note
Unfortunately, wholesale lighting failure isn’t just a problem in older blocks. In new build schemes the problem can be just as bad.   Not enough thought is always given to designing and planning a lighting scheme that will work in tandem with the mechanics of the building and the way in which it will be used by residents. Similarly, too little consideration may be given to specifying low maintenance lighting that will keep costs to a reasonable level. Consequently effective, regular maintenance becomes a challenge. Lighting is specified that looks good for a few months but isn’t fit for purpose. And once the developer has packed up and gone, it’s the block manager and the tenants that inherit the problem.
So what can be done?  The answer is in the hands of developers and their architects. By identifying lighting consultants at feasibility stage who have experience in maintaining block lighting - before design and installation begin – many of the problems faced by property managers and their clients could be eradicated.  Vast quantities of money and energy could be saved and the lighting that looks so enticing to new residents would be just as efficient many years later. With the advent of the trend for developers, such as EcoWorld Ballymore at London’s Wardian scheme, to retain the management of blocks in-house, we could begin to see a different approach to specification. Only time will tell. If this is the case, it would be a positive move towards not only saving tenant’s money but also ensuring that the enormous amounts of energy expended on lighting up new schemes isn’t being unnecessarily wasted.
How many people does it take to change a light bulb?
In the average block of flats, it costs around £45 to change a simple lamp. The lamp itself may not be that expensive to replace but consider what’s involved in the process of getting an engineer to site.

  • Tenant or site manager calls property manager to report light bulb failure
  • Property manager logs report
  • Property manager instructs a company to repair
  • Company logs task and schedules an engineer
  • Engineer repairs fault
  • Engineer reports to company
  • Company raises invoice to property manager
  • Property manager logs Invoice
  • Property manager accounts for cost from block’s account

An alternative is to consider retro-fitting LEDs as a simple – and in most cases straightforward - way to reduce maintenance and cut the cost of block lighting. The return on investment (ROI) is estimated at around 20 months on a typical scheme.
For blocks that do not carry reserve funds or which are strapped for cash, a lighting upgrade need not be an impossibility. Leasing is one option to consider, whereby a new lighting installation is fitted on a buy-now pay later basis. For more information on funding options, go to www.future-lighting.co.uk/finance.

Jamie Willsdon is MD of Future Lighting.

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