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Why does the Duke Chapel look yellow at night? Facilities team explains

Red Chapel, blue Chapel, old Chapel, new Chapel. 

After a recent overhaul of its lighting system, the Duke Chapel can now change colors—and cut energy costs.

As part of a campus-wide initiative to refit buildings with up-to-date lighting systems, the Duke Chapel is now outfitted with LED lights. The new lights, installed over the past two months, will improve energy efficiency and can illuminate the Chapel in a range of colors. 

However, while the new lights can change color if necessary, they were installed only as an energy-saving measure and will remain white for the time being, James Todd, Duke Chapel communications manager, wrote to The Chronicle. 

Though the new lights are meant to shine colorless light the majority of the time, the new bulbs bring a yellow hue to the Chapel on most nights now. The LED bulbs replaced outdated metal-halide bulbs that have illuminated the Chapel for decades. 

The LED lights will use around two-thirds of the energy of the old Chapel bulbs, Todd wrote. The LED lights also have a life expectancy of 50,000 hours, or nearly six years, more than triple the 15,000-hour life expectancy of the old bulbs. 

According to Todd, the new lights are part of a broader Duke Facilities Management effort to transition to LED lighting in existing buildings across campus. While new buildings on campus have been built with LED lights for more than half a decade, the lights had not been installed in existing buildings until more recently.

Duke Facilities Management installed the initial wave of LED lights in 14 buildings in spring 2018. The project cost $2.2 million, but Duke projected that energy savings that came with the project would pay for itself within four years. 

“LED Lighting has been growing for the past decade in terms of the product options that are out there,” Casey Collins, Duke Facilities Management energy manager, told Duke Today. “It’s really been a silent revolution in the building technology world.”

The new lights add to a year of change for the Chapel, after longtime carillonneur J. Samuel Hammond stepped down from his role in November. 

The lighting overhaul also comes less than five years after the University improved the Chapel's electrical system and replaced the roof after a piece of the ceiling collapsed in 2012. That round of renovations closed the Chapel for a year between May 2015 and May 2016.

The yearlong construction was the first major restoration of the Chapel since it was built in the 1930s. Though not as major, the new lights will help Duke save energy and costs, while adding a splash of color the campus icon.

On Feb. 21, the Chapel was illuminated in a variety of colors. Ian Jaffe