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US school runs lights 24/7/365: Smart lights have been cracking since 2021


Enlarge / The Minnechaug Regional High School.

Minnechaug Regional High School

The lights at Massachusetts Minnechaug Regional High School shine brightly. They never really go out. Them can not to turn off. The entire building’s smart lighting system is out of order and is stuck in the “on” position. Apparently it’s been that way for over a year agoand the electric bills are really starting to add up.

“We are very aware that this is costing taxpayers a significant amount of money,” assistant superintendent for school district finance Aaron Osborne told NBC News. “And we’ve been doing everything we can to resolve this issue.”

The school’s entire “green lighting system,” some 7,000 lights, was installed over a decade ago and has been supposed to save money, but according to the report, “the software that runs it failed on August 24, 2021” and no one has been able to turn off the lights for the next 17 months. Teachers are adjusting by unscrewing light bulbs at the end of the day and throwing out some light switches that aren’t connected to vital parts of the school. Dimming the lights to show movies or something projected on a whiteboard has also been difficult – the lights are on full all the time.

News editor Lilli DiGrande, who writes for the Minnechaug student newspaper The Smoke Signal, did a big story on the situation a month after it began. The smart lighting company that installed the lights over 10 years ago, 5th Light, has apparently changed hands several times and is currently owned by a company called Reflex Lighting. According to the Smoke Signal report, what’s left of 5th Light no longer has access to the old proprietary software to fix anything, so “fixing” the system means replacing it with new hardware.


The problem with new parts is that all of this has happened in the midst of the pandemic and a major chip shortage, so parts have been ordered on backorder and delayed multiple times. The system repair process was originally supposed to start in February 2022, but they can’t get the parts. The next missed date was October 2022 and the school does not expect a repair until February 2023. Lights remain on.

A lesson in proper smart building design

Even if you’re not in charge of lighting design for a giant building, here’s a valuable lesson for anyone involved with smart home or building technology: make technology a addition to your setup, not a dependence. You still need to install physical light switches in each room, but as a bonus, you can choose light switches that can also be controlled via some kind of network. All sorts of smart light switches meet this requirement: regular paddles or even switches that can also be controlled via Zigbee, Z-Wave, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, probably Ethernet, or whatever you like. This way, if the internet is down, or some server blows up, or some cloud company goes down, the lights will still work.

what definitely should not to do is wire the electricity so that it is always on and then wait for the network to the lamps or bulbs to be close to turn them off. Apparently, that’s what happened at this school, and now the taxpayers are paying the price.