When Maranatha Assembly of God in Forest Lake, Minnesota learned that they could lower their energy bill through their energy provider Xcel Energy’s “Smarter Lighting for Less” rebate program, they jumped at the opportunity to upgrade to LED house lighting. They focused the upgrade on their sanctuary house lights which was comprised of 48 incandescent recessed fixtures whose bulbs were 500 watts a each, a 24,000 watt system. Initially, the church considered a retrofit upgrade of the existing house lights with an off the shelf LED bulb and pot product. They took a look at one retrofit LED setup in the space and were instantly disappointed in the result.
“The incandescent lights that we had in there were pretty warm and they put out a really warm glow. It is hard to replicate that wamth with LEDs,” says Pastor Bob Headley, Maranatha’s Director of Worship and Media Arts. “The light that was coming from the LED that we tried initially was too much like a fluorescent, it was a whitish kind of light. The angle of the light as it came out of the bulb was also a problem because our incandescents were only 30 degrees. That’s why we needed to have 48 of them in this room. The light coming out of the LED was a 60 degree light so it was really casting a strong presence on the wall. It was a real institutional, clinical kind of a look. Like a hospital is the way some people described it. Not a very warm light.”
Disappointed with how the single replacement LED lamp completely changed the look and feel of the room, they put the conversion project on the back-burner.
Then came Stefan Svard, a Minneapolis based audio visual and lighting integrator and owner of AVE (Audio Video Electronics). Some members of the church staff spoke with Stefan about the stalled conversion project after attending the “Creating Layers in Worship” seminar that Stefan led. In the seminar, Stefan described how lighting can impact the worship environment and that resonated with the staff from Maranatha given their failed LED lighting experience.
“AVE’s mission is to help churches communicate with emotion and power by designing, delivering, and supporting audio, video, and lighting solutions that maximize value at every budget level,” says Stefan. “Maranatha recognized that simple off the shelf LED retrofit bulbs would have presented an unwanted situation in their worship environment.”
“They told me about the rebate program Xcel Energy was spearheading,” Stefan explains. “Standard retrofit LED lights are bright and white, and when you dim them, they are just white, there is no color shift. These were not theatrical lights. Sure it offered them the energy savings. The rebate program certainly helped from the financial standpoint of putting them in, but they really didn’t like the look of them.”
Stefan and his lighting director Jonah Johnson visited Maranatha the following Monday. They brought with them a handful of LED lights and did a few onsite demonstrations. Within 2 weeks they put together a proposal to redesign their house light system. “We presented the design with a photometric layout so that they could visualize what the lights would look like in the room,” says Stefan.
“We ended up selecting the Chroma-Q Inspire Mini. We took out the 48 original 500-watt fixtures which is a total power consumption of 24,000 watts, and we put in only 24 of the Chroma-Q’s.”
The resulting power consumption with the Chroma-Q’s was a mere 1,800 watts. That’s a very real savings of 92.5% of the cost to run the house lights in energy expenses. Stefan further explained that the Xcel rebate program looked at both the total wattage and the total hours of usage. “The rebate from excel ended up being about 20%-25% of the purchase price. This particular program offers 0% financing through a partner for non-profits for 5 years as long as the payback period of the lights would be within 8 or 10 years.”
Stefan estimates the upgrade will pay for itself within 6-7 years. As far as life expectancy of the new lights Stefan expects they may exceed their usable lifespan of 50,000 hours because like most churches, Maranatha regularly dims them during certain portions of each service.
I asked Stefan why Maranatha chose the Chroma-Q Inspire Mini.
“One of the things that we took into consideration is that some LEDs out there suffer from flicker that is commonly seen on camera,” Stefan answered. “Sometimes this is invisible to the naked eye, but they can usually be seen by a camera. Especially a video camera that is recording at 24 or 30 fps (frames per second). A camera speed of 30fps may clash with the on and off switching of the LED and pick it up on the filming. Higher quality manufactures with nicer LED lights don’t do it that way, they either go to such a high frequency that it isn’t detected on camera, or they modulate current. I’ve seen enough of these issues to know what to stay away from. That really narrowed down what light fixtures would work in this setting.”
“The Chroma-Q Inspire Mini is not bleeding edge, but it does what we need it to do very well. The 65 degree beam angle allows for maximum overlap with all of the lights, to really minimize the shadows,” Stefan continues. “That’s one thing that LEDs are generally bad at, versus incandescents, an LED light is going to have a harder shadow than an incandescent light will. It’s in the nature of how it’s made. By putting in the Chroma-Q Mini’s, every position in the sanctuary in the seating area, is getting hit by 3, 4, or 5 different lights at different angles. So now the shadows become much smoother and softer versus having one light cover one area, and another light cover another area, where there would be very hard shadows. It was the high efficiency, the high color index, the wide beam angle, and the fact that they are able to be recessed into the ceiling with a trim ring making them look like a finished product. That heavily influenced the decision.”
After the bad experience with the off the shelf LED, Maranatha’s reaction to the conversion with the Chroma-Q Minis was a positive one. “I would say all in all we’re satisfied and also that the congregation is pleasantly satisfied with it too for the most part,” says Pastor Bob. “We are still getting used to it because it is different from the incandescents in terms of overall warmth but the trade off is that we are going to be paying way less per month in our electrical bills, like profoundly less. The ability for us to bring color into the room creatively brings a lot to our space. Any shade of blue, red, green, purple, pink, including amber, we can manufacture an amber. In terms of creativity, this is far and away a better solution.”
Marantha also has plans to continue converting other areas of the building. “We have a lot of fluorescent up-lighting in there, we have some cove lighting,” says Pastor Bob. “We really just got finished with what we are calling phase 1, but we’re going to continue on as resources become available to do some more LED lighting in the cove just to get some more color in the up-lighting and enhance that a bit.”
So what suggestions does Stefan have for churches who are hoping to become more energy efficient?
“I am very interested in efficiency,” says Stefan. “Lighting is a big low hanging fruit. Do you leave your stuff on 24/7? What about computers? Look at the value proposition over time. Efficiency also means, sound systems. Some will go through three or four sound systems until they find one that really works for them. That is grossly in-efficient. Don’t buy the cheapest gear that you can, when it won’t ultimately meet their long terms goals. You will eventually have to replace it with something else.”
“It’s all about being a good steward. Be smart with your resources.”
Stefan Svard is the Owner and President of AVE (Audio Video Electronics)
images courtesy of AVE