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Watts Up? Lighting Breaks Loose!

Beginning in 2012 lighting manufacturers will stop making some inefficient incandescent bulbs (note, the fear mongering that all incandescents will be eliminated, is simply not true).  The phase out will take place over several years.  In the meantime, manufacturers are donning their creative caps and designing all types of energy-efficient bulbs including, new incandescent technologies.


Photo Credit Renjith Krishnan

What does this mean for you and me?  Spending more for a bulb but recouping the initial investment (and then some) over time by saving on our power bill.

Since Stevie and I moved in to our home, we purchased some compact fluorescent full spectrum bulbs and full spectrum incandescent bulbs.  My personal advice after testing:

  • Save your receipt and your packaging warranty.
  • When you install the bulb write on the packaging the date you began using the bulb.
  • All my energy-efficient incandescent bulbs lasted 11 to 13 months a package of four cost me over $8.00.
  • My CFLs brightened the bathroom but one of them failed within 10 months and this week the other three failed.  At $9.00 a piece I’m more than disappointed.

Halogen light has always been my favorite, the only other light that compares is natural sunlight.  Manufacturers now offer low voltage Halogen, making them more desirable for us energy-efficient types.  While this is still my go to light for interior design, the one thing I don’t like is the heat they produce.  Halogen bulbs are fantastic in a kitchen, but with ovens on, pots boiling and lights on, you’re likely to turn on a fan or the AC. Halogens pose a potential fire hazard, if not used properly.

CFL’s should last thousands of hours longer than halogen and incandescent bulbs.  My biggest complaint is they contain mercury. Manufacturers claim they are safe, but recommend young children and pregnant mothers stay away from them (?????).  They suggest you use them where there is no risk of breaking.  You must recycle them to prevent mercury from being released into the environment.  I’ve decided I will not buy these any more or recommend them to clients because:

  • The four I bought failed.
  • The time it takes to recycle.
  • They are not dimmable.
  • The potential of mercury poising.

LED – (Light Emitting Diode).  LED bulbs use diodes instead of gas or heated filaments to produce light.  LED’s put off little heat and use very little electricity, this makes them the most energy-efficient light bulb available.  Initially LED’s left consumers disappointed.  Bulbs would flicker causing eye strain, dim over time, their bluish hue gave interiors a cold feel, and the price was out of reach for most of us, $250 for one bulb – ouch!

The good news though, pricing is coming down, a warm white is now available – as well as spot and flood lights, and manufacturers added a heat sink to keep the bulbs stable.  Most LED’s are fully dimmable, offer 60% to 80% energy savings, are mercury free, lead free, and have no UV or IR radiation.

Make sure you buy bulbs based on lumens not based on watts.  I’ve seen bulbs advertised as replacements for table lamps and recessed light fixtures but when I investigated their lumen output it was equal to that of a 40 watt bulb, not suitable for task lighting, but works great for ambient light.

I look forward to the day when lighting manufacturers offer affordable LED lighting for every aspect of the home.  As a consumer and a designer here is a quick wish list to LED manufacturers:

  • Keep it Simple – Make it easy to compare watts for watts and lumens for lumens.
  • Make them as affordable as CFLs.
  • Offer Retrofit LED bulbs for existing recessed, bathroom, and halogen track lighting fixtures.
  • Durability – They should last as long as the manufacturer claims, if not full replacement for no cost or money back.

Oh I can hear them squawking at my last request!  I wish I could recommend an LED bulb manufacturer to you, but at this time I haven’t found a manufacturer that meets my wish list. When I do you’ll be the first to know!  If you have any recommendations or a bulb experience to share please comment!

Watts Up? Lighting, Labels and LEDs

We’ve come along way since Thomas Edison invented his first light bulb. Light bulbs are making big changes and knowing which ones to buy is confusing.

Most of us buy light bulbs based on their watts.  A 40-60 watt bulb is good for table lamps.  25 watt bulbs for night lights, 100 watt bulbs for the kitchen, bath and laundry.  However, watts has nothing do with how much the bulb will brighten a room, it is a measure of how much electricity it takes to power the bulb and it directly affects your monthly power bill.  The technical term for how much light a bulb puts out is Lumens (latin for Light).

In June 2010 the FTC wrote new rules for lighting packaging, hoping to end consumer confusion on which bulbs to buy.  By mid 2011 light bulb packaging will show more than just watts.  This is really good news.  I find standing in the bulb section at any retail store confusing.  I want to change all my bulbs to LED.  Yet trying to figure out which ones will brighten my rooms like my incandescents is really hard to figure out.  Here is the new label you should start seeing in July.

While this label is self-explanatory, I need to point out that LED bulbs, CFL’s (fluorescent), and incandescent bulbs all differ in their energy consumption (watts) and their lighting output (lumens).  Without knowing the lumen output of standard incandescent bulbs, it’s difficult to know if the LED or CFL bulbs will put out the same amount of light as the standard incandescent bulbs we are so used to.  To help figure this out I created this chart to carry with me in my wallet.

With this chart now all I need to do is match lumens for lumens and my LED bulb should brighten my room as well as my old incandescent, while consuming less electricity.  I should note that when doing my research I came up with differing calculations on lumen output for standard incandescent bulbs.  I choose to go with the info found at Wikipedia.

This post is my attempt to keep it simple.  I hope this chart will help you buy adequate environmentally friendly lighting for your home.  Next week I will blog about the difference between LED and CFL bulbs and why I prefer LED.

Here is a PDF file for you to download of the above chart if you’d like to carry it with you in your wallet.