Better Lighting Leads to Better Living

Although Duane Feser, Director of Environmental Services for the Sleepy Eye Care Center, has a lengthy job description, it does not include “apply for energy efficiency rebates.” Fortunately, he found a partner in 2019 whose job description does include that task.

Duane began working with Margit Barot, Energy Engineer at Energy Insight, in 2019 to improve the energy efficiency of the care center. The 118-bed facility operated by the Volunteers of America includes assisted living and nursing care/memory care wings.

Throughout 2019, the care center replaced the lighting in residents’ apartments and common areas. It also replaced its central air-conditioner. With the lighting and the heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) upgrades made in 2018 and 2019, the care center has seen savings of approximately 5 percent on its annual energy bills.

Because the lighting upgrades are being done in phases and energy efficiency is viewed as a continuous effort with the long-term future in mind, Sleepy Eye Care Center can expect to see a 15 to 20 percent reduction in their annual electric consumption in the next 3 to 5 years.

The financial benefits of energy efficiency, while meaningful, pale in comparison to the non-energy benefits of brighter lighting and more comfortable rooms, Duane said.

“Our residents are between 75 and 90 years old,” he noted. “As they get older, their eyesight can weaken. Better illuminated rooms and hallways reduce the chance that they will miss a handrail or stub a toe, leading to a fall.

“We want our residents to be as active as long as possible,” Duane continued. “Better-illuminated hallways allow them to get to their activities more easily. Brighter lighting also helps energize the residents and staff. During the winter, lightdeprivation can take a toll on everyone. Brighter, warmer lighting makes people feel better about living and working at the care center.”

Because the city of Sleepy Eye is a member of CMPAS, the care center was eligible to work with Energy Insight to capture energy efficiency opportunities. The campus, which takes up two square blocks in downtown Sleepy Eye, isn’t nearly finished with energy upgrades.

The center is considering installing variable-speed drives on its air-handlers, which would improve air flow while cutting costs. And the LED change-outs are expected to continue.

“It’s been great working with Margit,” Duane said. “He’s a big reason why we started making these efficiency improvements. Margit is the best — he’s extremely helpful, responsive, and easy to work with.”


Margit, along with energy analysts and other engineers at Energy Insight, started with an energy assessment in early 2019. After reviewing the results with Duane, Margit calculated the costs and paybacks of each proposed upgrade, scheduled the work with contractors, filled out the rebate paperwork, and managed the project. Then, when rebates were received, those funds were used to pay for future efficiency projects.

Energy Insight’s services come at no cost to the care center or to the contractors who are implementing the energy efficiency project. CMPAS has contracted with Energy Insight for six years to obtain specialized energy efficiency services that include energy savings calculations for State of MN conservation improvement program compliance. Margit has been at Energy Insight for the same amount of time.

“Duane is one of our most active customers,” said Margit. “The care center is a good example of collaboration, which is how we prefer to work with customers served by CMPAS members.”

First built in the early 1970s, then expanded in the 1980s, the care center’s high occupancy levels lead to higher run hours for lighting/HVAC equipment, which leads to a shorter payback period for the upgrades.

“As a nonprofit, there’s never enough money to go around,” Duane said. “Sometimes, it comes down to being able to make a business case to the people on the business side. We’re glad to be working with Margit and Energy Insight, and we’re particularly grateful to Bob Elston, who was Sleepy Eye’s Public Works Director last year, for letting us know we were leaving money on the table.”