Illinois University Krannert Center Slashes Energy Costs with LED Lighting

Audience members won’t notice anything different about the look of Foellinger Great Hall when they go to a Chicago Symphony Orchestra concert or hear the Art of Time Ensemble play Beatles music this fall at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

But they might hear the difference. And the Krannert Center staff will surely see the difference in the facility’s energy bills.

Every light fixture in the Great Hall – other than those over the stage – has been changed from an incandescent to an LED light fixture. That’s well over 1,000 light bulbs.

Electrician Joe Butsch and Krannert Center for the Performing Arts lighting director Michael Williams hold an example of the LED light fixtures that were installed in Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center. The facility is making the switch to LED lighting, which is saving money on energy costs. (Photo courtesy of L. Brian Stauffer)

The upgrade in lighting happened as part of a $403,000 grant from theStudent Sustainability Committee. Architecture professor Gaines Hall, who is a special advisor on capitol planning for the College of Fine and Applied Arts, initiated the grant proposal for the lighting project. The lighting upgrade for the Great Hall cost $100,000.

“We couldn’t have done this without the Student Sustainability Committee funding,” said Michael Williams, the Krannert Center lighting director.

The grant money will help pay for replacing all existing house lights in the Great Hall, the Tryon Festival Theatre and the Colwell Playhouse at Krannert Center. The center started with the Great Hall “because it has the most impact” as the largest space, Williams said, and it offered the potential for the greatest energy savings. The switch to LED lights in the Great Hall is saving the university $45,000 per year in energy costs.

The financial savings is not the only gain from the project.

“A huge benefit is there is no sound from the fixtures,” Williams said. “With the incandescents, you can hear this singing sound from the vibration. The audio department does a lot of recording in here, and they were amazed at how quiet the room got (after the installation of the new fixtures).”

The lighting fixtures were original to the building, which opened in 1969. The upgrade replaced 300-watt bulbs in the 37 can lights in the ceiling over the seats with 105-watt LED fixtures – the equivalent of 500-watt lightbulbs.

The big energy savings, though, comes from the wall washes – the lights illuminating the walls of the theater. There are 1,000 light bulbs along the walls in the upper and lower areas of the theater. Krannert Center went from a mix of 120-watt and 65-watt incandescent bulbs to 18.5-watt LED bulbs.

“We’ve been looking at (upgrading to LED lights) for a while, as the technology got better. We’re very concerned with the quantity of light, the quality of the light and the color of the light,” Williams said. “It was really important to myself and (Krannert Center director) Mike Ross that we keep the original aesthetics of the room with the light.”

They looked at eight to 10 different fixtures. Some were the wrong color temperature and made the tan seats in the hall look like they were gray.

The lights they chose “look like incandescents. They have that warm glow,” said Joe Butsch, the Krannert Center electrician who installed the LED fixtures with two other electricians.

The lights over the stage remain incandescent bulbs. The Krannert Center staff discussed the lighting with members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, which plays annually at Krannert Center. They advised against putting LED lights over the stage because it interferes with musicians’ ability to read sheet music, Williams said.

“From a musician’s standpoint, they can actually see the flicker from the LED technology. It upsets their view seeing black against white,” he said.

In addition to the performance spaces, lighting is being changed in the backstage areas and the lobby. When the work is finished, 98 percent of the building will have LED lights, Butsch said.

The lights don’t generate as much heat as incandescents, so the building won’t require as much air conditioning, Williams said.

The LED lights have a lifespan of 10 years, so they’ll also require less labor. Butsch said there were incandescent bulbs burning out every day. He and his workers wait until there were several in an area to change before crawling into the ceiling to replace them.

The lighting control system, which was last updated 19 years ago, was also replaced with a new system. The upgraded system works better with LED lights and gives more control over dimming and brightening the lights.

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