insights on creating innovative spaces

Do I Need to Get the LED OUT?

We have all seen them.  They are the funny tubes of colored lights we used to decorate our children’s parties, or on the deck for summer barbeques, or as part of our kids’ crazy dorm room decor. They have advanced and are used in public areas – shopping mall lighting, directional traffic lights, industrial parking lots, interior lights in industrial plants.

They are LEDs (light-emitting diodes) and they are coming into corporate environments as well as our homes. It is part of the energy efficient movement. A LED lamp (or LED light bulb) is a solid-state light source.  Since the light output, of individual light emitting diodes, is small compared to incandescent and compact flourescent lamps, multiple diodes are often used together. They have two primary advantages over conventional lights sources:  1) their life span is as much as 55 times loner than the life of a standard source and 2) they do not emit heat.  Both are great energy-saving features. The primary disadvantages are the light color emitted and the high expense.

Recently, I attended a discussion, targeting the design community, on LED lighting at the Benjamin-Moore NYC Showroom.  Since the NY electrical codes changed as of July 2010, whereby the wattage usage per square foot has been reduced for commercial application, it is not surprising for LED lighting to move into the residential area. In fact, California has already implemented new guidelines for homeowners.  By the year 2012, all incandescent light bulb wattage will be capped at 75 watts.  By the year 2013, it will be dropped to 60 watts – and this is at the time when baby boomers need brighter lights due to failing eyesight!!  As a side note, just in case you do invest in this new lighting technology – be aware that this type of lamp does not die like your average bulb.  LED light just get dimmer and duller – so it’s not your eyes failing, it’s the bulb!  Californians take energy savings and environmental issues seriously and homeowners will be subject to non-compliance fines.  New York usually follows shortly behind California on such issues.  So you are forewarned!

As a designer, I must understand how this new light source will effect my color selections for paint, fabric and other materials necessary for my clients. You may ask, “Pat, why does this affect color selection?”  Well, let me explain.  This type of light has a harsh white color output – harsh because it emanates a cool blue hue. Newer LED lighting is starting to address this unattractive effect.  However, at present, it comes at a cost. I have found that getting the best quality lighting, requires investing in high quality fixtures.  The best quality that I have found, in NYC, is Specialty Lighting whose manufacturing facilities are located in New Jersey.  Their great showroom in Midtown is set up perfectly to assist in guiding the professional through various potential applications.

I’m presently working on a kitchen renovation and exploring the possibilities of utilizing new light sources, such as LEDs, in this project.  LEDs make sense in a kitchen due to their long life, energy savings and low-level of heat emitted. In addition, they provide the best light for preparing meals. I haven’t made a final choice, but am considering incorporating alternatives that would balance the budget to minimize the high cost of LED lighting.  These options include halogen lamps, which offer great light color but give off tremendous heat, or compact fluorescents which emit a harsh white light, but are much cooler. I’m looking forward to creating a fine balance in offering my client a functional, aesthetically pleasing light while embracing the new technology.

Like so many technologies in our daily lives, lighting continues to evolve. My focus is on those technologies that impact design and how we enjoy our living spaces at home and at the office.  Please note, that despite the difference in cost when acquiring LED lighting, commercial space usage has seen a break even in as short as two years.  The upfront cost is balanced by the long life and improved energy savings.  As these technologies change, we all make the best decisions give the information and technology available at a given point in time.  I’ll keep you posted as I learn more about LED lighting and its use in interior design!