Miller Hall: Lighting the Way (Part 3)

Summer is here and the days have become noticeably brighter. It’s been three months since we’ve been on campus and at Miller Hall. Let’s return in Part III of the Miller Hall behind-the-scenes series.

You walk down Miller Hall’s Edward T. Tokar Graduate Wing and open the door into Classroom 1013. The room is dark. You step in, and overhead lights flicker on, flooding the space brilliantly. Thinking about the meeting that will begin in ten minutes, you go to a table and sit in the swivel armchair.

You may not even notice the lighting but in this case, there’s more than photons at play. The lighting system is closely monitored and constantly enhanced behind-the-scenes at Miller Hall like many other systems that help to keep the building running.

Operating at the scale of Miller Hall

A simple building requires lights otherwise it’s nearly impossible to complete basic operations. A building that operates at the scale of Miller Hall requires thousands of lightbulbs which draw a significant amount of energy and produce a tremendous amount of heat.

According to Director of Building Services Andrew Gilstrap, if every lightbulb were turned on in a regular home at the same time, the house would be too hot to live in. So in a building the size of Miller Hall, it was important to consider how the lighting system could handle energy output, especially during peak usage times.

Before construction started in 2007, the design teams carefully developed the system to meet requirements for LEED’s certification. Hence, all of the bulbs are energy efficient.

“We’re currently upgrading from fluorescent bulbs to LED,” says Jeremy Condron, the Lead Building Automation Specialist on the William & Mary campus. “We’re working on the building consistently trying to get the wattage consumptions down. It’s all about energy.”

The bulbs are on timers or sensors that detect when the room is devoid of life for a certain amount of time. They also have dimmers so that the spectrum of light can be modified. Each room is monitored individually, and everything is controlled on one system that allows adjustments via a computer.

Synchronous systems changing with the seasons

Building management uses Miller Hall’s energy as smartly as possible. Thus, they adjust the lighting in response to other systems in the building.

During winter months, when it is colder and darker outside, the lights are turned on a bit brighter. This generates more heat, putting less stress on the HVAC system which is responsible for keeping the building at the right temperature.

During the summer months, when it is hot and bright outside, the lights are significantly dimmed. That way, natural light is utilized and the air conditioning doesn’t combat as much heat from the internal output.

Synchronizing the systems helps them work together to improve efficiency. The goal is to be savvy so that resources, such as energy, aren’t wasted.

The importance of the bulb room

You’re still waiting for your meeting to begin in Classroom 1013. Other people have entered and are now seated, leaving optimal space around them (they’ve followed this norm since the rise of social distancing). Five minutes to go.

The building shakes. Overhead lights snap off, and emergency lights switch on. A piercing wail slices through the room. Unbeknownst to you, a plane has crashed into the Ukrop Undergraduate Wing. All light bulbs in that part of the building have been destroyed…

Or let’s imagine another disastrous event.

A terrible hailstorm plummets Williamsburg. Large shards of ice slam through the roof into the building. Rooms flood and water seeps everywhere, dripping into floors below… The ceiling lights are compromised. They flicker and die…

In either case, the building has been compromised by dire circumstances. Members of the building management team pull on their boots and race to the scene. They must work together to mitigate the impact.

Their success relies on a key component: light.

Given time, the building will be repaired. Everything will return to normal. However, without light, everybody is working in the dark. In this case, it’s harder to fix the damage. It’s also inefficient for people using the rest of the building. Members of the building management team work hard so that as few people as possible are affected by such emergencies, and operations can continue. Are they prepared to replace a large number of lightbulbs?

Yes. In the basement past the showers, Miller Hall has a bulb room. This space stores a safety stock of approximately five percent of the lightbulbs in the building. The team rushes to this room.

The supplies aren’t only necessary for emergency situations but also for logistical reasons. Since the lighting system is sophisticated, some lightbulbs have to be special ordered. These have a lead time of days or weeks before they reach Miller Hall. The extra bulbs ensure that maintenance doesn’t need to wait to repair the lights in a room.

The room also stores a bulb crusher for efficient disposal. This machine pulverizes the bulbs and captures their components separately so that the materials can be sent to appropriate recycling facilities. This reduces the cost and risk of a safety hazard.

Important future upgrades

Miller Hall is preparing for a lighting system upgrade in the near future. This will improve the current lighting performance and provide more useful metrics.

“We have a lot of data coming from the building,” says Condron. “And once we get it updated, we’ll know more. The integration of the new system that we’d like to put in the building will afford us the ability to get more data on those spaces to know what they’re being used for, if they’re being used, and how much they’re being used. Then they can use that data to know more about whether or not that room is really efficient as a conference room.”

Facilities management also plans to upgrade more light bulbs to LED ones. In particular, they’d like to replace the ceiling bulbs in the Brinkley Commons Atrium. These bulbs are very difficult to access; it costs approximately twenty-thousand dollars to set up scaffolding to reach burnt-out bulbs. When these are replaced with LEDs, they’ll last longer and consume less energy.

It’s all behind-the-scenes

Much work is done behind-the-scenes to make Miller Hall into a very special building. People use the building without being aware that all building systems — even the lighting — have been carefully considered, monitored, and maintained for optimal performance.

Airplanes may crash and hailstorms may happen. However, Classroom 1013 in Miller Hall still does its job. Your meeting finally finishes with a box of Duck Donuts. You are the last to leave. The sensors determine that the room has emptied. The lights turn themselves off and wait.