The bright idea

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hend4Churches save by switching to energy-efficient lighting. Sometimes going green can save some green.

While energy-efficient light bulbs are often more expensive than incandescent ones, they can use about 75 percent less energy, saving about $30 over the bulb’s lifetime. While that’s a significant enough savings for homes with a few lamps in each room, the numbers are even more impressive for churches that have to light the nave, the sacristy, bathrooms, basements, side altars, statues, front sidewalks and parking lots.

Dave Henderson’s business, Henderson Wholesale Lamps in Solvay, deals mainly with property maintenance people and larger businesses, but he’s also helped six churches in the Syracuse area update their lighting.

He said one of his first jobs was installing energy-efficient lights at St. John’s Church in Liverpool. But a significant source of savings there wasn’t even in the building.

“St. John’s had a ton of parking lot lights,” he said. “It was like the State Fair over there.”

The surge in power needed to start up all of those light bulbs at once led to a nightly spike in the power bill. Henderson pointed out the savings that could be had by staggering the parking lot lights, and maybe forgoing a few all together, rather than having them all turn on at once.

Besides running on fewer watts, the new light bulbs also last much longer. This is a real benefit when changing so many light bulbs perched in so many precarious places can be a serious undertaking.

Henderson’s company will soon replace the lights at Assumption Church, where a wooden box in the choir loft holds a series of cables and cranks that are mechanisms for lowering each chandelier. He said each light takes about half an hour to get down and back up again.

Then there are the lights perched up in the ceiling of the building. In order to reach these cables, someone needs to step out onto a series of catwalks that hang across the rafters of the church.

Henderson was there when these lights had to be lowered so he could find out how many and what type of bulbs were needed in each chandelier. “The guy that did it was a really big guy, and when he came down he was whooped,” Henderson said, laughing. “It was an experience in terror, but it worked out pretty good.”

Brother Joseph Freitag, OFM Conv., said many of the light bulbs at Assumption had popped and gone out long ago, giving them the chance to try the new light bulbs in some of their chandeliers. “Actually, it looks better than the incandescent ones. They’re much brighter and they’re not as hot,” he said.

These new light bulbs are expected to last 12 years, he said, which means someone won’t have to cling to the catwalk there any time soon.

Paul Wrobel, a parishioner of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, said there were similar difficulties replacing the bulbs around the large statue of Jesus that hangs above the altar. “I mean, who wants to climb up there? No disrespect, but there’s a ring of lights up there and it’s higher than you think.”

Wrobel was a member of the committee of four who worked to put 300 or so energy-efficient lights throughout his church’s building. He said the savings in the electricity bills was enough to pay for the light bulbs within one year.

It was important to the group at the Basilica that the lights not be so harsh as to wipe out the beautiful golds of the stained glass and the rich colors of the woodwork. Henderson loaned them several light bulbs in different shades to try out. Though Wrobel personally liked the white, the group opted to use yellowish light bulbs instead. “I’m an accountant, not an artist,” Wrobel said, laughing.

But no matter the color, he said the building takes on new life when all the lights are turned on.

“All of the sudden you’ve got all the lights working in a building where they haven’t been working for a considerable amount of time,”  he said, “and at Christmas when you come in the church and all the lights will be on, it’ll be remarkable.”

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