The time is here for residential LED lighting

| by Gary Wollenhaupt
The time is here for residential LED lighting

It’s about time for residential LED lighting to step into the spotlight. As the incandescent bulb fades out, homeowners will find LED lighting options becoming more attractive and affordable.

The familiar incandescent bulbs work by passing electric current through a filament. The filament glows, creating light, but about 90 percent of the energy is wasted as heat. That’s fine if you’re heating a chicken coop or baking a cake in an Easy-Bake Oven, which used bulbs for heat.

But there’s a better way. The LED – short for light emitting diode – instead passes electrons through a semiconductor material that glows. LEDs have been used for decades in various indicator lamps on appliances, and have found their way into automotive lighting applications in the past few years.

The United States will begin phasing out manufacture of incandescent bulbs from 2012 through 2014, following the lead of other countries that have already taken the step.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that rapid adoption of LED lighting in the U.S. over the next 20 years can:

  • Deliver savings of about $265 billion
  • Avoid 40 new power plants
  • Reduce lighting electricity demand by 33 percent by 2027

If you’ve just invested $3 per bulb or more to switch over to compact fluorescent lights (CFL), this may not be good news. Don’t despair; growing demand and new technology will see a further drop in prices for LEDs.

At this time, LED replacements for the standard 60-watt incandescent bulb run around $39 at major retailers. However, the LEDs run on about 12-13 watts, which is where the money savings come in. Lighting company insiders hope that within the next two years the price will drop to about $10 for this popular size.  Bulbs in this 60-watt-equivalent size typically output about 800 lumens, a measure of the power of light as perceived by the human eye.

Two other measurements important to selecting an LED light:

  • Color temperature: Measured in degrees Kelvin (K).  According to GE, the color temperature of a light source defines its "whiteness," its yellowness or blueness, its warmth or coolness. It does not define how natural or unnatural the colors of objects will appear when lighted by the source.
    Higher color temperatures (5,000 K or more) are called cool colors (blueish white); lower color temperatures (2,700–3,000 K) are called warm colors (yellowish white through red).
  • Color rendering index (CRI): Ideally, CRIs can be compared only among bulbs that have the same color temperature. But the basic rule of thumb is the “the higher the better.” Light sources with a high CRI (80-100) make colors and people look better than light sources with a lower CRI.

Check with major retailers and online merchants to find the latest products. OSRAM Sylvania and Lowe's recently announced what they’re touting as the brightest LED replacement for the 60-watt incandescent. The Sylvania Ultra A-Line 12-watt LED bulb provides 810 lumens of light that uses 80 percent less energy and lasts 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

"Long-lasting, energy-efficient LED bulbs can help save consumers time, energy and money over the lifetime of the bulb," said Karena Bailey, Lowe's merchandising vice president.

The Sylvania Ultra A-Line 12-watt LED bulb features a high-performance OSRAM LED module and boasts a color temperature of 2700 Kelvin and high color quality, with a color rendering index of 90.

Phillips is also launching a 12-watt LED replacement for a 60-watt bulb. Like other LEDs, this one is fully dimmable. Output will be 806 lumens, with no word yet on the color temperature or CRI. Expected lifespan is 25,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours for a standard incandescent.

GE plans to enter the market in early 2011 with a 40-watt replacement, with a 60-watt-replacement version later in the year. The new GE Energy Smart LED bulb offers 450 lumens — the Energy Star threshold to be considered a 40-watt incandescent replacement. Currently available LED bulbs produce 350 lumens or less. GE expects it will be an Energy Star-qualified LED omnidirectional light bulb.

GE expects its LED bulb to consume 9 watts, provide a 77 percent energy savings and produce nearly the same light output as a 40-watt incandescent bulb, while lasting more than 25 times as long.

“This is a bulb that can virtually light your kid's bedroom desk lamp from birth through high school graduation,” says John Strainic, global product general manager, GE Lighting.

At current prices, LED lighting represents a large investment in green technology, but the payoff is expected to be significant throughout the life of the bulbs.

Topics: Cost of Ownership, Lighting, Product Reviews

Companies: GE Appliances, Lowe's, Sylvania

Gary Wollenhaupt

Gary Wollenhaupt is an experienced writer and editor, with a background as a daily newspaper reporter as well as corporate and agency public relations and marketing. He is constantly looking for affordable green upgrades to make to his home in eastern Kentucky.

wwwView Gary Wollenhaupt's profile on LinkedIn

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