Friday, October 30, 2009

An Easy Way To Move To LED Lighting

By Siobhan Persson

Few people can have escaped noticing that conventional incandescent lighting is rapidly being phased out and that the preferred (over Compact Fluorescent Lamps) alternative is LED, which is widely regarded as the way forward to a environmentally friendly, low cost lighting future. The question though is: where to start?

One option might be to purchase LED equivalent bulbs for all the various lights you currently have but I would caution against that approach. Not only would it turn out to a rather expensive exercise, but you it also greatly increases your chances of having the end result turn out rather badly.

LED lighting is a wholly different technology to anything you might have experienced before and it takes time and a bit of trial and error to figure out what works best for your particular lighting needs. But when you get it right, the payback is more than worth it with a clean contemporary look that also delivers a massive drop in electricity costs.

So the best advice is to start with a space where the lights are switched on a lot of the time, or that has more lights than other rooms, or simply where the lighting could do with some improvement. This gives you the best chance possible of seeing tangible early results in terms of cost saving and/or quality of lighting.

Getting off to a successful start this way is important since it provides the encouragement to proceed with further steps towards finally replacing all your incandescent lighting with LED. The room that most people nominate to start with is, unsurprisingly, the kitchen. This usually has many lights that also get used a lot and a kitchen lighting makeover invariably seems to appeal.

The typical modern kitchen often uses quite a number of halogen lamps, either mounted on tracks or recessed into the ceiling. These waste a phenomenal amount of electricity as heat and are simplicity itself to replace with retrofit LED equivalents. Just pull the halogen lamp out and push in an LED rated to produce the same level of light. For GU10 LED bulbs that's it, but for MR16 low-voltage lamps you should also purchase an LED driver to replace the 12v transformers previously used.

The same idea (straightforward replacement) also applies to lights installed atop, underneath and inside wall cabinets. Alternatively, add some lighting to these areas if none already exists since LED strip and miniature spot lights are simple to fit, being both light in weight and flexible with respect to being cut or connected to suit any configuration. A common technique is to accent plinths and covings, or if fitted to a kick board to pick out the floor.

There are three basic aspects to consider when installing LED lights.

1. Quality counts. It's only natural to count the cost but what really counts with LED lighting is quality and the two are mostly related. Cheap products may look like a bargain but they won't perform as well or produce the savings you should expect (recall that incandescent bulbs cost little to buy but ultimately represent a terrible waste of money when you calculate the true "cost of ownership"). Look out for respected brands such as Sharp's Zenigata or the Cree Evolux.

2. True cost. Or what is known as TCO (total cost of ownership). Over a period of 50,000 hours a single LED will incur zero replacement costs and cost as much to run as it costs to buy. Over the same span a halogen lamp will need to be replaced at least 25 times and is likely to incur 1,000 times its purchase price in electricity costs. Even if an LED costs 20 times more (and many do) it's cheaper just on replacement costs alone and orders of magnitude cheaper on electricity costs.

3. Use. The best way to use LED lights is plenty of them with a mix of brightness and colour temperature and position them to reflect off objects and surfaces. LED lights are high intensity and can be quite harsh if you look at them directly, however they don't yet "carry" as well as incandescent bulbs. Reflected light however does easily fill a space well with warmer, more diffuse tones and at the same time you get sharp accent lighting on the original feature or surface.

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