How Health Care Facilities Can Reduce Costs by Installing Lighting Occupancy Sensors

How Health Care Facilities Can Reduce Costs by Installing Lighting Occupancy Sensors

Health care facilities are busy buildings with long hours of use. Hospitals with overnight patients have around-the-clock operations, and good lighting is crucial in the effort to save lives and treat patients. However, all of that lighting leads to significant operational costs that can negatively impact budgets.

Sensors and other adaptive lighting controls can successfully reduce energy consumption and operating costs, even in bustling health-care environments. Lighting controls can also add new amenities and safety features to previously static lighting schemes.1Dynamically controlled systems, implemented using dimmable light sources such as light emitting diodes (LEDs) or fluorescent sources paired with controls, can reduce energy and improve patient and employee well-being.

How to determine if there is savings potential
The lighting demands of hospitals and health-care facilities are complex. However, with a strategic lighting retrofit, a facility can realize a drastic reduction in lighting energy costs while improving performance and ambiance. The first step to determining whether lighting controls offer potential benefits is to conduct an audit of spaces to find areas of low traffic. These may include:

  • Bathrooms
  • Stairwells
  • Private offices
  • Private exam rooms
  • Supply closets
  • Break areas
  • Low-traffic corridors
  • Parking garages and lots
  • Building perimeters without primary entrances

The second step concerns evaluating luminaire options. Health-care facility personnel need to determine whether the lighting systems currently being used are performing to maximum benefit and can be successfully paired with controls. Consider the following:

  • Are the installed lighting systems dimmable?
  • Are the current luminaires already outfitted with lighting controls and/or retrofitted with sensors to turn off lighting when no one is using a space?
  • Are installed sensors functional and working as intended?

These questions represent the cornerstone for determining whether a lighting energy efficiency project will offer a return on investment. Other factors to consider include:

  • Select sensor technologies that will perform in the intended space, looking at available options before specifying
  • Hire contractors with advanced lighting controls experience
  • Train maintenance staff on how the technologies work and how to test performance
  • If passive infrared occupancy (PIR) sensors are installed, be sure they can see the entire space so they don’t turn off lighting when people are in the space.
  • Use dual technology occupancy sensors with PIR and ultrasonic detection in multi-stall bathrooms and in areas where a backup sensing technology can prevent lighting from turning off or dimming when the area is still occupied
  • In laboratory areas with equipment that makes noise, choose sensors that will respond to occupants, but not to sound
  • If wireless sensors are selected, choose products with a 10-year battery life to lower routine maintenance needs
  • When considering new lighting as part of the upgrade, look at options with sensors integrated into each luminaire

How occupancy sensors benefit indoor health-care lighting
Stairwells, hallways, transitional spaces and corridors are all indoor spaces that experience large fluctuations in occupancy. These spaces account for approximately 25% of the lighting energy consumption in the average health-care facility.2 Lighting represents a significant operational cost associated with running a hospital. The average U.S. hospital uses an average of 27.5 kWh of electricity per square foot.3 It is important for the development of more affordable, sustainable health care facilities to invest in energy efficient lighting like occupancy sensors and other adaptive lighting solutions.

Adaptive lighting systems use occupancy sensors to automatically dim lights when spaces are vacant, which reduces energy consumption and offsets peak demand. In addition, by switching to more efficacious sources, such as LED, maintenance costs will decrease due to the extended product life.

How occupancy sensors benefit outdoor health-care lighting
Safety and security are, of course, the chief concerns when it comes to exterior lighting. Motion sensors can play an integral part in building a secure environment around health-care facilities while reducing lighting energy costs. Instead of a static lighted area, occupancy sensors dim and brighten the lights based on activity in the area.4 That means people moving about the facility can feel safer knowing that the lighting system itself can alert them to the presence of other people.

The NorthBay VacaValley Hospital, located in Vacaville, California, made occupancy sensors a central aspect of a 2014 lighting retrofit. That project, which was completed in partnership with the California Lighting Technology Center (CLTC) at the University of California, Davis, earned an award for “Best Use of Lighting Controls in a Single Facility” from the Lighting Energy Efficiency in Parking (LEEP) campaign.5 More importantly, it saved the hospital thousands of dollars a year in energy expenses and reduced its overall energy consumption.

The retrofit demonstrated how adaptive exterior lighting options can save money. The new lighting system led to a 37% annual savings in exterior lighting energy consumption. By installing new LED luminaires and motion sensors, VacaValley and the CLTC showed a remarkable return on investment for modern lighting retrofits that incorporate these two technologies in a networked, adaptive lighting system.

To learn more about lighting retrofits, check out PG&E's eBook titled "The Complete Guide to Working with a Lighting or HVAC Contractor."


  1. California Lighting Technology Center
  2. California Lighting Technology Center
  3. Business Energy Advisor
  4. California Lighting Technology Center
  5. U.S. Department of Energy