Durham Hall LED

LED lights installed in Durham Hall, May 14, 2019.

Across the Virginia Tech campus, LED lights are being implemented in buildings to save energy, minimize university costs and improve the health of students, staff and faculty.

“LED lights are more energy efficient,” said Ruben Avagyan, Virginia Tech campus energy manager. “We are reducing lighting load in the building by about 50-60 percent.”

In the past few years, the lighting in a variety of buildings has been upgraded. Buildings where lights have been installed include Fralin Hall, Durham Hall and Derring Hall. Hancock Hall and Engel Hall are in construction, while Pamplin Hall, Roberson Hall, Newman Library, Litton-Reaves and the Virginia Tech Greenhouses are in the design phase of being updated.

“These are our worst energy offenders: buildings that have the highest energy cost,” Avagyan said.

According to VT News, these upgrades will save $76,000 annually in Fralin Hall, $128,000 annually in Derring Hall and $135,000 annually in Durham Hall.

In addition to energy improvements, it is estimated that these improvements will benefit the circadian rhythms of students and faculty.

Carla Finkielstein, associate professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, has researched circadian rhythms and the impact of lighting on human physiology.

According to Finkielstein, humans produce melatonin once the sun sets and then throughout the night, which makes them sleepy. In the morning, the bright sun provokes cortisol production, which makes one feel alert and prepared.

This system of light influencing hormone production ties into the idea of utilizing light as a method of promoting better health through natural circadian rhythms.

Troubled circadian rhythms, often those experienced by late-night workers, are more prone to disease and other health complications, indicated through research Finkielstein referenced.

Finkielstein, in regards to LED lighting, stated that “it gives you the opportunity to really re-synchronize your circadian rhythm to something that is more of a normal behavior.”

“The problem is the regular bright light doesn’t have the spectrum that controls the release and suppression of these hormones,” Finkielstein said. “With LED lights, you have better control of the spectrum.”

This spectrum of light, described by Finkielstein, needs to be as close to natural light as possible in order for it to have beneficial effects upon exposure.

Additionally, Finkielstein stated that LED lights allow for customization. In regards to campus buildings, brighter, cooler LEDs will likely have positive effects on productivity, while warmer LEDs will allow one to feel more relaxed and peaceful.

According to Avagyan, brighter, cooler LED lights will be implemented in offices, common spaces, vestibules, classrooms and conference rooms, while dimmer, warmer LED lights will be implemented for lecture halls, auditoriums, art galleries and theaters.

Despite these improvements, student opinions greatly contrast in regards to LED lighting in buildings.

“They’re pretty harsh when you look at them,” said Lauren Chapman, a freshman majoring in statistics.

“From first sight I don’t have a problem with it,” said Stephen Heinichen, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering. “I mean, I wouldn’t do any studying in these hallways.”

Yet, some appreciate the ability of the lights to retain student focus.

This includes Nuvya Baliyan, a freshman majoring in engineering. “It’s really bright too so it (keeps) you awake during class,” Baliyan said. “It makes me like the classroom I’m in. It makes me want to be in class.”

Pegah Ghassemi, a senior majoring in cognitive and behavioral neuroscience, also doesn’t mind the lighting upgrades.

“I like them, it keeps me awake,” Ghassemi said.

Whether it’s to conserve energy, reduce costs or improve health, LED replacements are set to occur across all 160 buildings on campus.

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