Understanding LED Light Bulbs
Q: It used to be easy to replace a light bulb; now there are so many options, I don’t know what to choose. What do you recommend?
A: It’s hard to imagine a household commodity that has changed more in the last five years than the light bulb. The incandescent bulbs we all grew up with wasted a lot of energy and have been phased out. Government mandates ushered in the brief reign of the more efficient, but widely despised, compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, which emit terrible-quality light and are difficult to dispose of because of their mercury content. The public’s loathing of CFLs accelerated the development of light-emitting-diode bulbs known as LEDs, which now rule the lighting world. These use up to 80 percent less energy than the old incandescents and can last for decades. LEDs are improving all the time and their prices are coming down. However, the quality of light they produce varies significantly, so it’s helpful to understand some lighting nomenclature before you buy.
Most LED bulb boxes have a Lighting Facts label that indicates brightness (measured in lumens), color temperature (labeled K for Kelvin temperature), energy use, estimated energy costs, and expected life. Since most packages also specify the type of incandescent bulb the LED replaces, you don’t need to pay much attention to the brightness measure. Instead, zero in on color temperature: 3,000K is my recommendation for a universally flattering, warm-white light. Anything higher is going to have a cooler, bluish-white cast. Another good measure is the Color Rendering Index, or CRI, which tells you how accurately the bulb renders colors compared to an incandescent bulb, which has a CRI of 100. For LEDs, a CRI of 80 or higher is best.
To ensure an LED will fit in your fixture, bring your old bulb with you to the store and compare the bases. The splayed fins that LEDs have to dissipate heat make them larger than other bulbs. Make sure the bulb is dimmable (you may need to replace your dimmer switches with LED-friendly ones to avoid annoying flickering or buzzing). And if you plan to use the bulb outdoors and/or in an enclosed fixture (some LEDs require more airflow than these lights provide), check that these applications are noted on the box.
If you haven’t already, now’s the time to embrace this new technology — unlike previous innovations, this one is here to stay.
Why the CRI – Color Rendering Index – Is Important For You
Technical Explanation: The CRI is a unit that measures the ability of a light source to reproduce the colors of objects faithfully in comparison with an ideal source of light, or natural sources such as sunlight. The CRI is a determined value from 0 to 100, with 100 being the value “perfect” or daylight.
Real World Explanation: The CRI determines how you and your surroundings appear to you and the other people in your environment.
Current Trends in the Lighting Industry
Here is an example of what is happening in the the world of lighting today and what will continue to happen in the foreseeable future. LED’s are all the rage and designers are finding all sorts of new ways to incorporate them into light fixtures. The reasons are clear: LED’s consume far less energy than incandescent light bulbs, LED’s are cool to the touch, LED’s have better color temperature than they did in the past, LED’s have a super long life, and LED’s are small so fixture design can be very creative. In addition to LED fixtures like this one, LED light bulb design is evolving very quickly also. Technicians are finding ways to make them more attractive and more like the good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs. Some of the new LED light bulbs even grow warmer in color temperature as they are dimmed, just like incandescent light bulbs do. Additionally, new, more efficient heat sink materials are being developed which allow LED light bulbs be more streamlined and closer in appearance to both A-lamps and candelabra bulbs. Pretty soon you will be able to use LED bulbs in chandeliers and not notice a difference between them and the candelabra bulbs they replace. Best of all, LED’s are becoming less expensive all the time as manufacturing becomes more efficient and more manufacturers enter the marketplace. As with anything though, I urge you to be careful when buying any LED product as there still are huge quality differences among the myriad of products and producers out there. Try to see the product before you buy it to make sure the color of the light is acceptable to you. I recommend buying dimmable LED light bulbs and fixtures – some LED’s are not dimmable. I also recommend caution in using dedicated LED recessed lighting fixtures. Once you install them they are in the ceiling a long time and the quality of the light might not be satisfactory for you. Instead, consider buying a regular recessed fixture and using an LED light bulb. That way you are not locked in. Please visit our website www.fogglighting.com and like us on Facebook. You also might be interested in the Underwriter’s Laboratory app, LightSmart, which can be downloaded from the App Store. It has all kinds of great information about lighting…and its free.
A Wall Street Journal Article About the Future of LED’s
|Alan E. Salzman
the chief executive officer and managing partner at VantagePoint Capital Partners
On LED lighting
“By 2020, you’re not going to be able to buy a light source other than an LED. You’re on a learning curve of cost reduction, quality improvement and efficacy improvement. Today, 2013, is the first year you’re going to be able to buy an exact clone of a regular 60-watt incandescent bulb at a reasonable price point—meaning a one-year payback to consumers. This year it’s a $10 product. We’re looking at it being a $5 product within 24 months, $2.50 within 48 months. So, by the time you get to 2020, it would be the equivalent cost to today’s regular light bulb, last 25 years and use 85% less energy.
But probably the more interesting thing is, after you digitize the light socket and you switch to LEDs, there’s a second and third wave coming. Changing the color temperature. Changing the ambience of the room. Being able to integrate other functionality—it’s your Wi-Fi hot spot, it’s your alarm system because it detects presence coming into the room. You’ve got a raft of functionality that just has to be integrated into the bulb itself.”
Interesting stuff! The fact is that you can buy an LED light bulb today that you can control from you PC, smart phone or tablet. It is expensive, but it is available. So it is only a reasonable extension that within the near future you can place these “solid state lighting devices” anywhere and monitor them or have them monitor you. I hope the politicians don’t find out about this!!
Questions about lighting? Ask me. If I do not know the answer I will get an answer for you. Be sure to visit FoggLighting.com for lighting products.