Sisters of Charity Win Energy Saver Award

by | Oct 29, 2018 | Featured, News

Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque, Iowa


Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Dubuque won the runner up award in the national Interfaith Power & Light Cool Congregations contest last year in the Energy Saver category.

Over the years they have improved the energy efficiency of their campus buildings, but recently they made the switch to L.E.D. lighting earning the national runner-up Energy Saver Award.

The Sisters of Charity Buildings and Grounds director Russ Hemann was met with some initial hesitation as he installed energy saving lighting on their campus, but in the end the incredible savings won everyone over.

The Sisters of Charity campus in Dubuque occupies buildings totaling 330,000 combined square feet on their 108-acre campus that sits high on a bluff above the Mississippi river. They currently house 150 BVM sisters providing independent living, assisted living, memory care, and non-hospital 24-hr nursing care, with more than 250 employees.

Their free energy audit from the local utility in 2015 revealed that by far the greatest opportunity to reduce energy consumption was to re-lamp the entire complex with LED lamps wherever possible.

LED lamps provide 50 – 100 lumens per watt, much higher than an incandescent bulb and often higher than fluorescents or high-pressure sodium lights. LED lamps are more expensive than conventional lamps, but just in energy savings, most lamps will pay for themselves within 3 years and still provide other advantages.

  1. LED lamps do not generate a lot of lost heat saving on the buildings cooling system and aids in the longevity of the lamp. Incandescent lamps lose as much as 80% of the energy through heat loss.
  2. LED lamps will last 50,000 to 100,000 hours, sometimes as much as 20 times the life of incandescent lamps.
  3. Long lasting LED lamps significantly reduces the cost of lamp maintenance over time. Russ used to hire a mechanical lift on a regular basis to change lamps, now maintenance costs are nearly nothing.
  4. LED lamps provide a much wider range of colors and usable light as it is easier to control.
  5. LED lamps are eco-friendly since they contain no toxic chemicals like fluorescents that have mercury in them. Because of the long life of LED lamps, there is a significant savings of material and production resulting in less material disposed of through landfill.
  6. LED lamps can withstand rough use.
  7. LED lamps produce little ultraviolet emissions and almost no infrared light.
  8. LED lamps operate in extremely cold or hot temperatures making them ideal for outdoor lighting.
  9. Durable under frequent cycling and provide a rapid start.

The first part of this project was to re-lamp the Motherhouse Chapel. Working through a General Electric LED consultant, the 100-watt bulbs were swapped out to 11-watt bulbs, thus reducing the amount of electricity required to light the chapel by 89%.


After re-lamping the Motherhouse Chapel, they have continued replacing lamps in larger gathering areas with LEDs. Smaller rooms with 1-3 light fixtures will be upgraded as service warrants. Conservative estimates set the total number of lamps on campus at about 3,000, and now about half of all the lighting is now LED.

Community Room

Outdoor lamps that light up the campus including the parking lot have also been replaced with LEDs. The nurses who visit the facility 24 hrs a day really appreciate the better lighting as they move about the campus.

A side benefit to this project is that many of the maintenance workers, and Russ himself have replaced lighting at home with LEDs.

The most appealing aspect of this project to the congregation was the ease of implementation, reducing energy consumption that also reduces carbon footprint, and the short term of recovering the initial investment. This project has also inspired the congregation to look at other potential projects in the same manner. At this time they are considering some automated light switching and upgrades for some of the older, less efficient HVAC equipment.

And the Sisters are now considering including solar in their proposal for building a new senior living facility on 28 acres of their campus to serve the local community.

Let there be light!

Thanks to Russ Hemann for the majority of the content for this article. He can be reached at for more information.

If your congregation has taken energy saving measures, consider taking part in the national IPL Cool Congregations Challenge!



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