Incandescent light bulbs have changed little since Edison’s time. Highly inefficient, they squander 80-90 percent of the energy they consume in the form of heat rather than light. Now that greener alternatives are available, the U.S. government is gradually phasing out incandescents, beginning with 100-watt bulbs this year.
Many people have switched to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs), which cost somewhat more than incandescent but use up to 50 percent less energy. CFLs, however, have two dirty little secrets.
First, if you’re in the habit of turning lights on and off whenever you leave or enter a room, CFLs won’t last up to eight years as advertised. Most consumers don’t realize that each flip of the switch lessens the lifespan of a CFL. Secondly, CFLs contain traces of mercury, which means they should be recycled rather than thrown out with the trash. “Five milligrams of mercury is negligible,” you might shrug; but retailers sell hundreds of millions of fluorescent bulbs each year, all of which contain mercury and will eventually be discarded. Cumulatively, that amounts to staggeringly high amounts of toxins in our landfills and atmosphere.
But there’s another “green” lighting option: mercury-free light-emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs contain no filaments but consist instead of several glowing silica chips mounted beneath a lens.
“They’re semiconductors – solid-state lighting,” explained Hugh Kremer, owner of LED Source in Bloomington, whose sales territory extends throughout Central Indiana.
“Typically, LEDs use nearly half the energy of CFLs,” Kremer said. “CFLs have an inferior quality light. Think about how things look under a CFL bulb: grayish, washed-out. LED light has a higher color rendering index, which makes colors look closer to the way we really perceive them.”
LEDs are now available in a wide spectrum of tones that range from very warm (2,700k) to very white (5,000k). They provide a brighter, more natural look than fluorescents, which are notorious for imparting a “morgue look.”
LED lights deliver impressive amounts of lumens (light output) for very low watts (energy). A 60-watt incandescent provides the same lumens as a 13-15 watt CFL or an 8-10 watt LED. The LED therefore provides equivalent high-quality light for a fraction of the energy.
LEDs are dimmable and will not flicker or buzz. CFLs often take several minutes after turning on to brighten up, but LEDs are “instant-on.” Because of LED’s low energy resistance, you can grasp the glowing end of a light that’s been burning all day and feel only warmth, not heat.
The most impressive thing about LEDs is their longevity.
“In a residence, you’re looking at probably a 20- to 25-year lifespan for an LED light,” Kremer said. “Think of it: if you put one into an infant’s crib area, they’ll be using the same bulb when they come home from college to visit.”
Although it’s easy to work up enthusiasm for lights that use a fraction of the energy of incandescents, many people will balk at the cost of LEDs: $20 to $40 for a single light. Less expensive LEDs are available at many big box outlets, but they will not offer the five-year warranty of the higher-end lights, nor will they perform as well. The high initial cost of a $40 LED will be offset in the long run by the extended lifespan of the light. The total 10-year cost of a single LED light plus all its associated electric bills will actually be significantly less than the comparable cost of a fixture containing a series of incandescent bulbs that use a lot of electricity and burn out regularly.
“Buying an LED light is like a magazine subscription,” Kremer said. “Buying a single issue of a magazine at the newsstand each month is expensive. It’s far better to get a long-term subscription, because that makes the cost per issue drop over a period of time.”
LEDs are rapidly becoming more widely available and less expensive, and are predicted to make up half of all lights on the market within the next five years.
“An LED light is not a consumable, like an incandescent bulb that you use and throw away,” Kremer said. “Instead, think of it as an appliance that you attach to the house. And you’ll be using 85 percent less energy than incandescent, and about 40 percent less than a CFL.”
Hugh Kremer, general manager of LED Source (Bloomington) provides a wide variety of Philips LED lights for commercial and residential purposes, which come with five-year warrantees. Contact him at 812-822-1747 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wired magazine has a long and intelligent article discussing pros and cons of current green lighting, “The Future of Light is the LED”, accessible at http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/08/ff_lightbulbs/all/1.
The U.S. government gives thumbs-up to Energy Star-rated LEDs, but warns against cheap versions, http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=ssl.pr_why_es_com