Lighting: Complete the LED Makeover

Retrofitting your home with LEDs is money well spent. And now you can do it with style.

Lighting makes up about 11 percent of the typical home’s energy use. But as homes become more efficient and demand for space heating and cooling drops, the lighting piece of the “pie” becomes more significant.

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The emergence of LED lighting has transformed the lighting industry over the past several years. The EPA estimates that widespread use of LEDs could save 348 terawatt-hours (TWh) by 2027—the equivalent annual output of 44 large electrical plants.

LEDs, or light emitting diodes, produce differently than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs or compact fluorescent bulbs. LEDs utilize a semi-conductor as the diode; when electricity passes through it, the material lights up. The heat generated is captured in a heat sink. LEDs are much cooler than “conventional” bulbs; they are also much more energy efficient and last much longer. 

Until recently, applications were limited, and LEDs were prohibitively expensive. That has changed. You now have dozens of bulb shapes, colors and many popular “edison” style LED bulbs that fit in well with modern architectural trends. Why not take lighting ambience and efficiency to the next level, with smart controls and occupancy sensors? You can change the mood of a room instantly at a fraction of the cost of remodeling.

LEDS: From Disruptive to Ubiquitous 

For a long time, LEDs were unknown in residential lighting, but were used in electronics and in the marine and aviation industries. Now, however, almost every homeowner is aware of them. Many have already converted. Manufacturers have solved many of the moxt vexing challenges to mainstream acceptance of LEDS. For example, they learned how to make clear and white blubs with LEDs, and redirect their directional light to emit in all directions, like incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs. 

Another issue was light quality, which was originally much cooler than the warm incandescent bulbs we grew up with. LED products include a Kelvin rating, which measures the light’s color temperature. In general, lighting in the 2,700 to 3,000 K range is pleasing to most people; the higher the number, the “whiter” the light. For comparison, incandescent bulbs range between 2,700 and 2,800 K.

As one caveat, however, although LED light quality issues have largely been solved, you still need to be selective. LED bulbs that have earned ENERGY STAR certification are subject to specific requirements, designed to replicate the experience you are used to with a standard A-type bulb, so they can be used for a wide variety of applications. 

A general-purpose LED bulb that is not certified may not distribute light in all directions and could prove to be a disappointment if used in a table lamp.

vintage leds

GE Vintage Style LEDs. Edison-type exposed bulbs have become extremely popular, now that they can incorporate LED technology. Dimmable, clear glass bulbs produce equivalent light to 60-watt incandescents, using one-tenth the energy. The bulbs can be left exposed, or used with blinds or shades like traditional light sources.

Old School: Incandescents and CFLs

What about your old, less efficient incandescent and CFL light bulbs? Should you throw them out now, or wait until they fail? First, incandescent bulbs are on the verge of being banished forever (again). 

If you look at the table below, you’ll see that getting rid of those now makes sense. Why spend an extra $300 per light bulb supplying electricity?

The cost of light bulb by bulb

CFLs use slightly more energy than LEDs, so phasing out older ones with LEDs is not urgent from a cost-saving perspective—but they have two other drawbacks to consider: First, many people do not like the quality of light they produce, and options for changing that light spectrum are limited. 

Second, they contain small amounts of extremely dangerous mercury. This means that they have to be disposed of carefully, and if you break one inside your home, you can disperse dangerous mercury. 

An article in Scientific American quotes an EPA source on what to do if a CFL breaks: “Get all the people and pets out of the room for 15 minutes and let the room air out. If you have a central heating system or an HVAC [heating, ventilating and air-conditioning] system, you don’t want it sucking the fumes around, so shut that down.” 

That sounds like a sufficiently serious response to warrant getting rid of your CFLs now.

Light Controls for Security and Savings

So-called “smart lighting” typically does not actually learn from your behavior, the way a Nest thermostat does. Instead, it’s part of a larger Smart Control Hub or network in your home, where you program in schedules, interactions and alerts. 

You can also purchase control systems specially designed for lighting, to create scenes, save mood settings and provide touchpad access from any wall. Some, such as the Lutron RA package, will also control motorized blinds.


Lumiman Wifi LED Lighting. Controllable with Alexa, Google or your own smartphone, the Lumiman color changing bulb is highly rated by reviewers. Priced at under $20, each bulb offers hands-free control via voice or app, and millions of color variations. With the App, you wake as they activate in the morning, or turn on and off for security when you’re“

In other DIY-type products, Wi-Fi controls may actually be built into the bulbs themselves, as with the Lumiman products shown at left. One advantage to these types of bulbs in older homes is that you may be able to add essential switches to older fixtures without costly rewiring.

3 Lighting Control Devices Every Home Needs

page_46_dimmerIt should come as no surprise that lights can use a lot of energy, especially if they are left on when not in use. Energy-efficient bulbs are the most obvious solution to saving energy and money when it comes to lighting in the home. 

Lighting control devices can help to reduce energy usage and energy costs even further. These allow homeowners to customize the amount of light used, and can ensure that lighting is only used when needed. Here are three solutions to consider: 

Universal Dimmers

What They Do: Dimmer light switches (see above photo) can help to reduce energy usage by decreasing lighting levels, and thus decreasing the amount of energy used to keep lights on. 

Where to Install: Universal dimmers are ideal lighting control devices for most areas within a home, giving you the ability to control lighting levels for any task at hand.

Occupancy Sensors 

What They Do: Occupancy sensors ensure lights aren’t left on when they’re not needed. They automatically turn the lights on when motion is detected, and turn the lights off when the room has been vacated.

Where to Install: Occupancy sensors are perfect for entry ways in the home, such as near a door or garage door leading to the house, a laundry room, a utility closet or anywhere where “hands-free” lighting control is desired. 

Lighting Automation Solutions

What They Do: For homeowners looking to take their lighting control to the next level, lighting automation devices are the ideal solution. Devices with Z-Wave radio frequency technology, such as Leviton’s line of Vizia RF + devices, offer one-touch control of lights; they also allow you to set lighting “scenes” for certain times of day or events. 

Where to Install: Lighting automation solutions are ideal for living rooms, TV rooms or rooms with lots of windows. Lighting levels can be adjusted according to time of day and the availability of natural light.

Source: Leviton


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