In Sal Castro’s world, the old joke doesn’t begin, “How many people does it take to change a light bulb?” It begins, “How many light bulbs does it take to change people?” And as the chief engineer at one of New York City’s largest residential complexes knows, the punchline is: “About 1,850, give or take.”
That’s how many bulbs it takes to illuminate the common areas and elevator banks of North Shore Towers’ three 33-story buildings. The 1,844-unit co-op, located in Glen Oaks, Queens, near the Nassau County line, is a gated community that has its own golf course, zip code and self-generating power plant.
Castro jumped into the job of replacing bulbs for the hundreds of brass sconce fixtures when they started dimming after well over a dozen years of continuous use. He shopped around with the general manager, Glen Kotowski of Charles H. Greenthal, and the general superintendent, Steve Cairo, looking for the best solution that combined safety, aesthetics, energy efficiency and value.
After weighing the options, Castro, who has been in charge of preventive maintenance and corrective repair at North Shore Towers for 36 of his 44 years there, took a page from the old engineer’s handbook that says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The team replaced about 1,850 energy-efficient LED (Light-Emitting Diode) lights that had been in use since 2006; what they didn’t replace were the type of light bulb or the manufacturer.
“When you enjoy problem-free lighting from bulbs kept on 24/7 for 14 years straight, and get raves from residents and staff who love the color rendering and brightness cast from the brass sconces, you don’t tinker with success,” Castro says “It was a no-brainer to go with a new generation of LED tube bulbs from LEDtronics for our existing fixtures.”
The illuminating project, completed a few months ago, was a reunion for Castro and Jeffrey Mizel, the LEDtronics sales rep who had sold him about 1,850 retrofit bulbs in 2006. LED technology was cutting-edge back then, and North Shore Towers was sold on the pros of bulbs that are virtually maintenance free and use only 1 watt – compared to incandescent bulbs, which routinely burn out and require 13 watts.
“It was calculated that we could save 202,794 kilowatt hours per year at an average cost of 8 cents per kilowatt hour,” Castro recalls. “The project cost $39,624 and saved us $16,223 per year, so the bulbs paid for themselves in 2.4 years. That doesn’t even take into consideration the long-range savings on manpower and replacement bulbs.”
Castro is approaching his 45-year service anniversary at North Shore Towers, so he’ll likely be enjoying his retirement by the time the new generation of LED bulbs need to be replaced. “These T5 LEDs look bright and new again,” he says with a proud smile. “We’re looking forward to another 14 years of trouble-free service.”
— By David Dickstein
Originally posted in Habitat Magazine, May 12, 2021