Earl's restaurants take the lead in LED lighting


One restaurant will pay back investment in 3.2 years, the other in less than a year

When you're a successful 30-year-old restaurant group claiming pioneering rights for "West Coast Casual" dining, ambiance is a big part of your recipe.

So when Earl's Kitchen and Bar decided to upgrade to more energy efficient lighting, it was a careful process of getting just the right quality of light.

"It's definitely a big challenge," says Doug Scott, senior purchasing and energy manager for the company. "LED lighting seems to be a bit brighter [than traditional incandescent lights]. And you have to upgrade technology to handle dimming."

Scott says Earl's — now boasting more than 60 restaurants across western Canada, Ontario, and the U.S. — aims to be an industry leader in many ways. That includes modeling sustainability and social awareness, so the transition to new lighting had its roots in a commitment to adopt and promote energy efficiency.

"We're continually working to find new opportunities for more energy friendly choices, and it became a no brainer for us to look at our lighting, as we had significant lighting usage in our restaurants," says Scott. "Working closely with BC Hydro, we determined that we wanted to try at least one restaurant with a full LED change-over in our front of house."

That meant testing a variety of LED lamps to find a type that was dimmable and had the right colour rendering. In November 2011, Earl's in Richmond retrofitted its lamps, and Earl's in Whistler then followed suit.

Switching to efficiency: two lighting retrofits in detail

  Earl's Richmond Earl's Whistler
Lighting replacements • Upgraded halogen MR16 lamps to LED MR 16 lamps
• Upgraded 60 watt incandescent to LED A19 lamps
• Upgraded halogen PAR lamps to LED PAR lamps
• Also replaced 32 watt T8 fluorescent tubes with 25 watt tubes in their kitchen/storage areas
• Occupancy sensors added to bathrooms and storage areas
• Upgraded halogen MR16 lamps to LED MR 16 lamps
• Upgraded 60 watt incandescent to LED A19 lamps
• Upgraded halogen PAR lamps to LED PAR lamps
• Upgraded decorative 'chandelier' lamps to LED lamps
Annual electricity savings 22,000 kWh / $1,650 57,000 kWh / $3,881
Power Smart incentive $2,894 $7,689
Project payback 3.2 years, not including maintenance savings 0.8 years, not including maintenance savings

Savings — in more ways than one

Scott says the new lighting maintains Earl's casual dining ambiance — and in "back-of-house" areas, the better light quality from T8 fluorescents has improved the workspace for staff.

Not only are there reduced electricity bills, but maintenance will be significantly curtailed.

"With standard incandescent bulbs, you're changing them pretty much once every six weeks or so," says Scott. "Now, hopefully, with the LEDs, we'll be changing them once every two and a half to five years."

Scott says that despite the higher cost per bulb, Power Smart incentives made the project viable. The Whistler project had a significantly faster payback, with less labour required due to the learning from the Richmond store, and more energy savings potential due to a larger restaurant overall.

Scott says Earl's will assess the two upgrades done so far before working on other restaurants, but he expects a shift to efficient lighting across the entire company.

"It's an ongoing initiative of ours to become as energy efficient as possible in every way," he says. "The best way we can do that for our front of house is with our lighting. It may not be feasible for us to do every bulb, but we will do as many as possible."

He hopes other companies will follow suit.

"We learned from what we've gone through how feasible it is to retrofit. Maybe it doesn't have to be 100 percent of your bulbs at once, but even if it's 50 percent, there's still a savings there in the energy consumption. We hope others will come onboard with initiatives like this."