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Why LED lighting is a strong play for multifamily communities

Developers have long touted the importance of multifamily community features and amenities that create meaningful experiences and grow lasting relationships. Sometimes those features come in small or unexpected ways.

LED lighting is one example of a crucial aspect in the drive to build communities where people want to live, work and play. Eaton’s Lighting Division spoke with experts at Crescent Communities, a national developer committed to bettering people’s lives. Greg Coolidge, senior design coordination manager, and Jenny Vallimont, director of stewardship and innovation, said LED lighting is a fundamental part of the conversation as they continue working to shape developments and offices across some of the most vibrant real estate markets in the United States.

Is LED lighting becoming more common in multifamily communities?

GC: Yes. As recently as a few years ago, LED lighting cost about 25 percent more than other solutions, making it difficult for some developers to stay on budget. LEDs are still priced as an upgrade, but the impact to lighting budgets is steadily decreasing, now available at only about a 15 to 18 percent premium.

From a design perspective, options are also far more numerous today. For example, LED bulbs deliver the benefits of LED technology packaged in a standard fixture. We often use LED bulbs in track lighting.

How are multifamily developers integrating LED lighting into projects today?

GC: So far, the biggest play for LEDs is within individual units. For example, multifamily developers historically avoided putting recessed lighting in showers because of fire rating, building box and other problems. Now, low-profile LED “pucks” give us the best of both worlds. They provide the look of recessed fixtures without fire safety concerns and cost far less than true recessed lighting.

Parking garage and ground floor retail spaces are still evolving in the multifamily industry, and because of the increased cost of LEDs, some people are still a little hesitant. But safety is a crucial issue, and LEDs contribute to that effort such that many are willing to give them a second look.

The National Green Building Standard™ certification speaks heavily to improved energy efficiency, and LED lighting helps developers meet those expectations. Now, the number of manufacturers entering the market and falling prices are making it easier than ever for multifamily developers like Crescent to integrate LEDs into projects.

I think LEDs will only become more popular with multifamily developers in the next few years. Right now we’re in a “develop and sell” market, but soon that will shift such that more projects will get to stabilization before they’re sold. This means more developers will be interested in features that improve their bottom line post-construction.

JV: I agree that the conversation will become easier as developers shift toward holding onto properties versus building and selling them. For example, LED lighting is going into a lot of parking garages in Charlotte, North Carolina. But while LEDs increase safety and comfort, they also save owners money long-term. When maintenance needs decrease, operational costs decrease, too.

What are the major benefits of LED lighting in these spaces?

GC: Improved energy efficiency is a huge benefit for owners and tenants.

JV: We did some energy modeling at our Crescent Highland property in Phoenix, Arizona. We changed the pendant lights over kitchen bars to LEDs in an effort to achieve greater sustainability, and we found that changing a single fixture made an incredible impact. If one decorative light can make such a big dent in energy usage, imagine what we can do by changing all of the lights to LEDs. 

GC: Similarly, LEDs require replacement far less often, which boosts tenant satisfaction and reduces maintenance costs. Over time, the sheer man hours needed to replace bulbs that have burned out more than makes up for the higher upfront cost of LED lighting.

JV: It makes me think of municipalities and tough decisions regarding utility maintenance. For example, the city of Charlotte experimented with Bigbelly waste collection services to help make collection more efficient.

Do consumers expect LED technology in multifamily communities?

GC: Many Crescent Communities projects are geared toward millennials. This educated group of consumers knows what they want, and they’re savvy about the environment. In fact, some people will walk away if they believe a community creates an energy consumption burden.

It’s worth noting that halo effect psychology applies here as well. Millennials love technology, and LED lighting is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to boost the overall perception of a community.

JV: People don’t necessarily pay more for green, but they increasingly expect it. There are consumers who won’t come in the door if you aren’t green.

At Crescent Communities, we don’t view sustainability as an add-on. It’s a necessity for developers that want to build high-quality communities. It should be integrated; it should be part of the package.

How have LED products evolved in recent years?

GC: The technology is improving rapidly. Developers like Crescent can choose from more fixture and finish options, and the lights are getting smaller. In modern LEDs, heat doesn’t dissipate from the back of the fixture, but from the lens itself.

But it’s worth noting that there are still manufacturers that don’t make a long-lasting, quality LED. There are LEDs on the market that only last 2,000 hours vs. 50,000 hours, but we see even lower-end products starting to improve.

A quality LED product offers better sizing, better light and more light. Today, you can get a lot of light out of a very small LED fixture. That isn’t possible with incandescent, CFL or metal halide fixtures. In addition, light from an LED remains fairly consistent throughout the life of the lamp, whereas incandescent and CFL products start to dim after a certain number of hours.

How do you define sustainability, and why is it so crucial?

JV: At Crescent Communities, sustainability encompasses far more than environmental concerns. As stewards of our communities, we have a deep appreciation for the beauty and health of our environment, but we also value the company of friends and neighbors and the gift of health and happiness. We feel like it’s our duty to cultivate and preserve these benefits for everyone.

We’re committed to providing shelter but also to building community and changing lives for the better. Choosing LED lighting leads to far less energy consumption, which equates to lower greenhouse emissions. Reducing the need for replacement also results in fewer man-hours and less waste. That’s why LEDs represent one small way each of us can help make the world a better place for each other and those who will come after us.