Contractors See The Light — and It’s Green

Retrofitting can conserve energy and provide quick return on investment.

If retailers, corporations or homeowners ever wondered when the time was right to go green, the answer may be now.

Companies and consumers are often reluctant to make capital investments during dire economic times, but that's precisely when the financial advantages of adopting environmentally friendly building systems prove most beneficial, says Kevin O'Shea, CEO of Elk Grove Village-based union contractor Shamrock Electric. The aptly named Shamrock not only performs green retrofits for a variety of building types, but operates an entire division — Shamrock Green Electric — devoted to installing systems powered by renewable energy.

Even simple lighting retrofits tend to be deferred unless homeowners or companies are undertaking larger projects, though both can recoup their investment in a reasonable amount of time, says O'Shea.

"Often times you'll find you can use the same wiring in place for existing lighting," he says, elaborating that many retrofits require little more than a swap of conventional fluorescent bulbs and fixtures for cool-white fluorescents, the new standard for energy efficiency. "Older CR fixtures typically employ four bulbs drawing 32 watts a piece," he says. "New fixtures employ just two bulbs drawing 27 watts a piece." Resulting lighting is brighter and whiter than that of conventional systems, O'Shea adds.

During the retrofit, additional alterations may be required to enhance the new system or meet new safety standards.

Systems installed within a suspended ceiling, for instance, must be structurally independent, so that lighting remains in place in the event of a ceiling collapse.

Additionally, cool-white fluorescents typically forgo plastic ceiling lenses for reflective dividers that better direct the lighting.

Shamrock electricians generally require no special training for green projects. "We're a union shop," says O'Shea. "Our electricians already know how to do this."