As part of its commitment to sustainability, the California State University system presented the 11th annual Higher Education Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Best Practice Awards in July. The awards program highlights innovative and effective energy-efficiency projects and sustainable operations at California campuses, to serve as models for staff at other campuses.

Two remarkable LED retrofit projects in SoCal garnered the awards in the Lighting Design/Retrofit category. A complex, light-sucking ceiling at Cal State University Dominguez Hills presented challenges for the Facilities Management Department. And a series of legacy lighting systems in the UC Irvine Student Center required thoughtful application of LED solutions to solve several problems at once.

Taken together, these projects prove that LED has definitely graduated to the next level. Between off-the-shelf solutions and mods, LED lighting can save energy and lift derelict indoor and outdoor spaces into showpieces.

UC Irvine Student Center

Project Manager Joseph Fleshman at UC Irvine conducted a multitenant retrofit at the sprawling Student Center; relighting 90% of the indoor spaces. Some legacy systems from the seventies, eighties and 2000s had been retrofit previously, but there were a substantial number of T12 fluorescents still operating. “This project gave us the opportunity to completely wipe the slate clean of fluorescents,” said Fleshman. “By switching to LED technology we get stuff that’s longer lasting, better color, better quality of light, less labor costs – generally a better technology.” He estimates annual energy savings at 972,000 kWh.

UC Irvine Student Center Lobby
LED troffers replaced older fluorescents in the UC Irvine bookstore and throughout office spaces.

General lighting from entirely new 2X4 recessed troffers, LED basket fixtures, provides better uniformity without the “cave effect.” In service areas, surface- and pendant-mounted acrylic wraparounds were retrofit with LED kits (driver with light bars), requiring removal of the lamps and ballasts.

UC Irvine Student Center Lobby
At UC Irvine note the broader distribution of the new LED basket fixtures vs the “cave effect” from the old fluorescent parabolics at left.

The most-recent addition to the Student Center employed 600 CFL downlights for much of the general lighting. Using off-the-shelf four-pin LED lamps, Fleshman cut energy use 50% to 60% per fixture. “The labor cost is very low,” Fleshman said. “Because it uses the existing ballast, it didn’t require a wholesale can replacement.” He explained that the Student Center had standardized its CFL ballasts, so he knew that if one fixture worked, they would all work. The vertical- and horizontal-lamp downlights were carefully counted, as the LED versions are very different.

UC Irvine Student Center Lobby
In the UC Irvine bookstore LED light bars replaced T12 fluorescents in shelf lighting. Not pretty, but works great tucked behind a valence.

The legacy T12 systems were found mostly in concealed indirect lighting in the conference rooms and in shelf lighting at the student store. Fleshman used the same light bar retrofit kit here as in the wraparound fixtures. Not too pretty, but highly effective. “It is a bare lamp installation. By having them hidden you get all this great light output and this great quality light; but it’s not glary at all.”

The T12 shelf lighting in the bookstore was very poor. “You could have a 2700K next to a 4000K next to a 6000K. Because whatever bulb was in stock over the years, when a bulb went out you’d just replace it. So by doing this LED project we were able to standardize around a single color temperature.” The 4000K LEDs provide clean, white light with 90+ CRI. The retail staff, “they’re just thrilled. They’re telling me, This is the lighting that we should have had all along.”

CSU Dominguez Hills

Energy Manager Kenny Seeton at Cal State Dominguez Hills was faced with a thorny lighting challenge of getting light out of a coffered ceiling on the exterior and breezeway spaces of three CSUDH campus buildings. Fluorescent U-lamp fixtures, recessed about 18 inches up into the coffers, provided insufficient lighting, even when they were all working.

CSU Dominguez Hills new exterior lighting
Some areas of CSU Dominguez Hills formerly felt a bit sketchy at night. Lighting now is brighter and more consistent.

“The light was very dark, uneven, and the light didn’t really even get to the ground in places,” Seeton said. The fluorescent fixture had been retrofitted from T12 to T8, but “it was never bright in any of those areas…. It looked like a big, giant waste of money, but it didn’t light up the walkway.”

Seeton had looked for a solution for several years, but all vendors had to offer were pendant solutions. “That would just create a bird’s nest everywhere that you put one of those. It was never an option.” Even newer high-bay solutions would have remained tucked up inside the coffers, wasting light.

CSU Domiguez Hills custom flange painted to match ceiling.
At CSU Domiguez Hills LED troffers bring the light down to the ceiling plane. The custom flange is painted to match the ceiling.

Last year, Seeton settled on a relighting solution using a modified, 2X2 LED flat-lens troffer, brought down to the ceiling plane. A wide custom flange seals each fixture into its concrete coffer. There was concern that the new fixture would interrupt the architecture of the ceiling, but mock-ups proved the concept. Painting the flange to match the ceiling smooths the transitions.

Seeton initially envisioned a one-for-one replacement strategy. “We took out a lot and didn’t put anything back in. What we found out was that once we brought the lights down to the correct level, we didn’t need near as many lights.” His original order to replace the fixtures around one building (plus a few extras) wound up covering all three buildings. CSUDH has standardized on 5000K lighting outdoors, and Seeton estimates more than 101,000 kWh annual savings.

“At nighttime it has more light at ground level than there was before, and it uses a lot less electricity,” Seeton said. The addition of daylight dimming, occupancy sensors for bi-level dimming and intelligent controls saves even more energy. A centralized energy monitoring and management system reports outages and verified energy saving for the incentive from Southern California Edison.

“There were some areas that were kind of sketchy. One faculty member said that in the whole time he’s been here, that one corridor was always kind of scary for students and faculty. And now when you walk in the lights come on, bright white. You feel safe.”

Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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