Reducing Electricity Costs in the Conference Room with Motion Sensor Light Switches

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We talk a lot about efficiency in the office, bringing you some suggestions to save time over the course of your business day, which can cut down on personnel and room rental costs. But there are other ways you can save your company money, including in energy costs. Keeping the lights on is important, but in an empty conference room or seldom-used space, they’re just costing you and your company money. Of course, the simple adage your dad always used about turning the lights off as you leave a room is still good advice, but here, too, technology can help us: today we’re talking about motion sensors that only turn the lights on when the room is occupied.

NPR recently profiled a San Francisco company that discovered its desks and meeting rooms were occupied only a fraction of the workday. Do you know how your company compares in terms of office and conference room usage? Chances are, there may be some room for savings, especially in spaces that are used less often. The EPA predicts the following savings if energy-saving measures are implemented:

Offices: savings of up to 50%

Meeting rooms: savings of up to 65%

Restrooms: savings of up to 90%

When considering making changes in your workspace, consider these two kinds of light sensors, one of which might work better for your boardroom, conference facilities, or office floor plan. 

  1. A motion sensor uses infrared technology to “see” a person in motion and turns the lights on accordingly. Sensors can be programmed to turn off the lights after a preset time (usually 10-20 minutes) in which no motion is detected. This is a passive system.
  1. Ultrasonic sensors, an active system, generate high frequency sound waves and evaluate the echo which is received back. Any motion causes a difference in the echo, which triggers the control. Ultrasonic sensors can detect motion around solid objects like doors, cabinets and shelving.

Take into account the cost of the sensor, and also whether or not it draws power when the lights are off. This site has some great number-crunching about the actual watt usage of motion sensors. Another consideration is the number and placement of sensors. Too few and employees too far from the sensor will constantly have to wave their arms or throw something in the air when the lights go out; or one employee working late near the sensor will keep the lights on through the whole floor.        

There are also some lower-tech solutions for offices looking to cut energy costs. Simply switching to energy efficient lighting can effect substantial savings. Many buildings now require this, especially if they are LEED certified, and it’s an easy, low-impact way to immediately start seeing energy savings in your office. 

Motivating your employees to be energy-smart is an additional way to save more on energy. It sounds old fashioned, but a human turning out a light saves more energy than a fancy sensor, which will wait 10 or 20 minutes after it senses movement to turn off the lights. And your team may bond over this additional shared goal. 

If your company is willing to make a larger investment, you may want to explore occupancy sensors. Occupancy sensors are more complex, and can read more information than simple movement: they can tell when a desk is occupied or when employees in an open office are working individually or in groups. A 2014 study by Condeco found that on average, desks are only occupied 38% of the time, but those workers weren’t necessarily in a meeting, because meeting room no-shows clocked in at 40%. How does your office compare? Condeco’s study, as well as the San Francisco experiment we mentioned before, used occupancy sensors to arrive at that data. Before you know which option is best for your company, do your research. 

Today’s offices are changing rapidly, which can make us feel overwhelmed. Small changes like implementing energy-efficient lighting and motion sensors are an easy way to start saving your company money, and might lead to more advanced strategies like open offices or shared workspaces, which could save in real estate costs down the line. As always, changes in the way a company operates mean communication is more important than ever. Go ahead, schedule a brainstorming session with your team members. You have nothing to lose, and we’ll be here to help!