Incandescent light bulbs are essentially being phased out by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. And, in California, if you do any home remodeling or new residential construction, Title 24 Building Energy Efficiency Standards will affect your lighting choices. So, sooner or later, you will have to face the challenge of what to do about the old lighting in your house.
Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs were easy to deal with. If a 60-watt bulb burned out, I just bought a new 60-watt bulb. I had a good sense of how much light that would put out. Manufacturers offered some variations in color such as soft white, bright white, daylight, etc., but these were relatively easy to understand.
When compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) became widely available in the mid 2000s, they promised greater energy efficiency and overall lower cost. Enticing! But homeowners like me faced frustrating challenges selecting bulbs that performed in a customary fashion. Simply replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs often meant turning your home’s warm, pleasant lighting into what looked like the lighting in a gas station bathroom! Suddenly, the lighting was too bright, too white, or too blue or it flickered, took too long to light up, did not work in cold temperatures or was not really dimmable. Trial and error along with multiple trips to the hardware store were required to get a satisfying solution.
Not only was the purchase process for CFLs more complicated but so was disposal. Fluorescent bulbs contain the toxic chemical mercury. This means that when my frisky cat knocked over the floor lamp and a CFL broke, I faced a hazmat cleanup process. I was supposed to remove people and pets from the room, turn off any forced air heating or AC, open all the windows and clean up the broken pieces while holding my breath and without using a vacuum.
When I first discovered LED lights that would fit into the standard E27 base, the price was exorbitant. So, once the price dropped to just under $20, I decided to buy just one to replace the 100 watt bulb in my bedside lamp. I bought a 10.5 watt, 800 lumen lamp with a pleasing 3000 Kelvin color rating. This is supposedly only as bright as a 60-70 watt incandescent bulb but somehow it provides plenty of light for my middle-aged eyes to read by and only uses 10.5% of the energy used by the bulb it replaced!
LED lighting (using light-emitting diodes) is ultra-efficient, can cut energy use by more than 80% and lasts more than 25 times as long as conventional incandescent lights. The good news is that the cost of LED bulbs has fallen by more than 85% since 2008 and is expected to continue to drop, according to Tal Mashhadian, owner of Lite Line Illuminations. Most LED bulbs carry a warranty of at least 5 years.
Would LEDs be a better solution than the CFLs? Would I have to replace my ceiling- and wall-mounted light fixtures to use them? What is the lighting really like? So, I was pretty stoked to hear what Tal would have to say about the new LED lighting options at our recent event at the Los Altos Library. His presentation, Q&A and show-and-tell enlightened the inquisitive audience. For those who missed the presentation, here are some of the highlights.
LEDs are more of a “lighting package” than a bulb. LEDs differ from incandescent and fluorescent lights in three very important ways:
Most LEDs do not require special handling for disposal (although you should check their packaging for instructions).
There are three main features to consider when selecting LED lighting:
1. Lumens – This refer to the amount of light emitted. Here is a handy table shared by Tal.
2. Color Temperature (Kelvin) – This is a measure of how “warm” or “cool” a light looks.
3. Color Rendering Index (CRI) – This is a measure of how accurately colors are produced by a light source in comparison with natural light. It’s expressed as a percentage where higher percentages are closer to natural light. This is an important feature to consider when selecting light for viewing artwork.
All light bulb packages sold in the U.S. are required to carry the Lighting Facts label. This carries information on the light output (lumens) and color temperature (Kelvin) but does not require an indication of the CRI. Since color perception is somewhat subjective, Tal recommends testing out the lighting yourself or visiting a showroom where you can judge how colors appear.
To my surprise, it turns out that I don’t have to completely replace my recessed lighting. In some cases, I could just replace the bulb itself. For example, I could choose to replace the MR16 halogen bulbs in recessed fixtures with a 10 watt LED. However, I would have to be careful to choose LEDs that have adequate heat sinks. (Tal recommends products by Soraa). Another option is to screw in a new canister to the existing halogen fixture.
For the R30 cans that I had installed 14 years ago (and which now contain dimmable fluorescents), I could leave the housing in place and replace the cans themselves. This might cost $40-$90 per can. However, I could do it myself and would not have to recut the holes in my ceiling. (Since I have a few dozen of these, I think I’ll wait.)
For some of the halogen fixtures in my house — like wall sconces with unusual halogen bulbs — I am going to have to wait for LED replacements.
Tal advised us to watch out for some potentially misleading information:
He also pointed out that, if the LED’s heat sink is not adequate, the color of the light can shift over time. LEDs with better heat sinks might be more expensive but it can pay off in the long-term.
Is it time to kiss both your incandescent and fluorescent bulbs goodbye? You can probably start doing so economically and develop a plan to gradually phase in LEDs. If you are remodeling, you may have no choice but to go with LEDs. And the good news is that there are many great lighting options out there. It’s worth visiting your local showroom to check out the solutions.