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New Lights Shining in Dirksen

The Senate’s largest hearing room will reopen next week after five months of renovations, including the first installation of a new lighting system that officials plan to eventually introduce throughout the Capitol campus.

Senate officials say the switch to light-emitting diodes for Room 50 in the Dirksen Senate Office Building will save the chamber $5,000 on annual energy costs, plus an additional $1,200 on the cost of cooling. The equipment used before — incandescent lights that resembled large stage spotlights — produced almost eight times as much heat, forcing officials to keep the air conditioning artificially high.

Senate Superintendent Robin Morey now plans to install LEDs every time a hearing room is renovated. Next up is SD124, which will be outfitted by the end of January. Nine more rooms will follow that.

The installation is part of a larger effort in the Senate and the House to become more energy-efficient, and both chambers have focused some of their energies on modernizing committee hearing rooms. The Senate has so far renovated 23 rooms, replacing carpets, sound systems and furniture with more updated — and sometimes more environmentally friendly — options. The House, meanwhile, has incorporated such updates as eco-friendly paint, recycled ceiling tiles and motion-detector light fixtures. The fixes helped make the House Science and Technology Committee the first panel to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design award from the Green Building Council.

Dirksen’s Room 50 is the first to get LEDs, at least partly because the technology is now affordable and proven. Acting Architect of the Capitol Stephen Ayers also plans to install LEDs in the House; the company contracted with the Senate, Shadowstone, is already testing its lighting on the House Science and Technology Committee. With a lifespan of 30 years, the lights could save Congress thousands not only on electricity and cooling, but also on maintenance and replacement costs.

On Wednesday, the Senate hosted its 2009 Fall Energy Fair in Room 50 in an effort to showcase the newly renovated room along with other sustainable efforts, such as a new composting program. The LEDs, hanging in strategic places on the high ceiling, resembled mini-stadium lights. But they were perhaps the least obvious of the renovations; workers installed a dais that can fit 31 Members, a new sound system and a raised media box.

Jean Bordewich, staff director for Senate Rules and Administration Committee, said the fairs — held twice a year — help keep staffers informed and highlight the chamber’s ongoing efforts to integrate new technology.

“We see it as an ongoing effort daily, monthly, weekly,— she said. “As we do renovations, we look at how we can introduce sustainability into it.—

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