By Joshua Kaplan
Just a few short year ago, any mention of an LED light would bring to mind a small red indicator light informing you that your seatbelt was not fastened or that you have a new message on your answering machine awaiting your attention. You probably would not have associated the term with the headlights on your car or a light fixture hanging in your living room. Fast forward a couple of years and LED lighting is all the rage when it comes to energy efficient and long lasting lighting options.
Let us explore what LED lighting is, how it differs from traditional lighting options and what some of the pros and cons of switching over to LED lighting may be.
The two most common alternatives to LEDs are traditional incandescent bulbs and Compact Flourescent Lights or CFLs. Let’s learn about what those have to offer so that we can better discern how LEDs can improve our lighting choices.
Incandescent lightbulbs – the standard “Edison” bulb - produce light by running an electric current through a metal filament, which has the result of heating that filament to the point where it gets so hot that it glows and gives off light. While this method is very effective at producing a strong, evenly distributed and warm light, much of the energy released – up to 90% - is in the form of heat as opposed to light.
CFL bulbs, or compact fluorescent lights – work by driving an electric current through a tube that contains argon and mercury, thereby creating ultraviolet light which then gets translated to visible light. CFLs are much more energy efficient than their incandescent counterparts and their costs are not much higher. The light produced by CFLs is much “cooler” than that emitted by an incandescent bulb and often can take a few moments to reach their full light output. This can make them less desirable especially in areas that frequently require instant light such as a basement stairwell or a closet – you don’t want to have to wait before going down the steps or have it take three minutes to find your favorite pair of jeans. Another downside to CFLs – and this is a big one – is that the mercury they contain can be extremely harmful to one’s health, as well as to the environment. The fact that they contain mercury also means they cannot be disposed of in the same manner as your regular trash.
Now that we have seen the competition can provide, let us see what LED has to offer. LED lighting is created by using light-emitting diodes (hence the name LED) to bring together electric currents with a positive and negative charger to create energy that is directly released as light. This method of producing light - and its benefits - have been around for a while, but until fairly recently, the technology was not yet sufficiently developed enough to be used for much more than small, very weak light sources such as indicator lights. This has changed and the technology has matured to the point where you can now find LED lighting being used to light up anything from a Times Square billboard to a dining room chandelier.
The benefits of using this method are manifold. Firstly, because the energy created by the electric current is directly released as light - as opposed to being released as heat which is then converted to light – LED lighting is vastly more energy efficient than incandescent lighting. The light it produces is also consistent, instantaneous and dimmable. Last but not least, the lifetime of an LED bulb is orders of magnitude longer than any other commercially available light source. While incandescent bulbs typically last between 1000 and 2000 hours and CFL bulbs for about 8000 hours, LED bulbs can burn for up to 25000 hours. That means a bulb that is used for 3 hours a day would not need to be replaced for 22 years!
Some more benefits are:
- LED bulbs do not get very hot and so stay cool to the touch even after being turned on for a while
- They are not sensitive to cold temperatures as fluorescents may be
- They are available in all kinds of color and hues – allowing for elaborate and complex lighting schemes
The upsides of LEDs are readily apparent, there are, however some downsides. For one, the cost. While pricing for LED bulbs have been steadily decreasing, they are still much costlier than other bulb options. So even though using LEDs for all your lighting needs may save you money in the long run by greatly reducing your electric bill and bulb replacement costs, you will incur much greater upfront expenses and it will take a while until you recoup your initial investment. This is one of the reasons that LED lighting is still more popular among businesses that have 24 hour lighting requirements than with residential lighting scenarios. Another issue that can arise with LED lighting is the degradation of the quality of the light emitted. While LEDs do not generally burnout like other bulb types, their light output does fade over time, though at a very slow pace. This problem can mitigated, however, by only using quality LEDs from a reputable manufacturer. Finally, one more aspect of LEDs that can be concerning is the distribution and spread of its light. Compared to incandescent lighting which spreads out uniformly in all directions, LEDs are directional. Depending on the configuration of the fixtures in any given room, this can cause the light to spread unevenly. Careful planning and placement can eliminate or minimize this concern.
Bottom line? When designing the lighting for your new or freshly renovated home – or even when choosing a replacement for a current light fixture – LED lighting can deliver both practical, as well as financial benefits. While there are some things to look out for, with careful planning and research you can reap the benefits of modern lighting technology and at the same time save yourself some money in the long run.
©2015 - Joshua Kaplan