Painting the walls a dark color, or not painting the walls at all. A key factor in the brightness of any space is the reflectances of the surfaces. The more reflective your walls, ceiling, floor, and furnishings, the less it will cost to make the room feel bright. A can of white paint is one of the most inexpensive lighting accessories you can buy.
Closing shades or draperies to keep out daylight. (Or letting the daylight in but leaving the lights on anyway.) Daylight is free, has all of the characteristics people crave in lighting - good color rendering, changing throughout the day to improve circadian rhythms, and did I mention free? Adjust the blinds to direct glare toward the ceiling, but keep the light switch off when the sun is shining.
Not using dimmers. At certain times of day or on certain days of the year people need or want more light. At other times, less is better. Dimmers save energy and increase lighting satisfaction by giving occupants control of their spaces. They're easy to install. Do it. You'll be glad you did.
Forgetting to take advantage of warranties. Sure, we've all had bad experiences with either an LED or CFL lamp. But do your research to find a high quality product from a reputable manufacturer that meets your lighting specifications. Then hold them to their warranty. If something goes wrong, don't go elsewhere. Go back to the manufacturer and get them to fulfill their warranty. That will help them improve the products in the long run, too.
Avoiding new technology. New technology does require you to understand more about lighting and the visible spectrum. You have to watch for the right color temperature and good color rendering. Lighting quality issues aren't simple. But if you choose carefully, the energy savings will be worth the extra front-end effort.
Which lighting mistakes are you making? Which is most surprising to you?
How To Buy a Light Bulb
I was recently in one of those big box home stores helping my parents shop for things for the new house they are building. We looked at lights and ceiling fans. We checked out some electrical devices, outlets, and switches. We looked at carbon monoxide and smoke detectors - hard wired or battery powered? Dual technology or separate? We checked out some appliances. We walked all the way around the store looking for a public restroom... My point is that we were there for a while - 30 minutes or maybe an hour - when I noticed that someone in the lamp (light bulb) aisle was standing in the same place staring at the same lamps when arrived AND when we left.
It used to be so easy. The only question you had to answer when replacing a light bulb (lamp) was, "How many Watts?" But that was then. I'm here to save you a few minutes in the lamp aisle at the home store. Before your next trip, be armed with the answers to the following five questions:
1. How Bright?
Today we have to think in Lumens instead of Watts. An old 100 watt lamp produced about 1600 lumens. A 60 watt standard incandescent lamp is about 800 lumens, and 40 watt incandescent = about 450 lumens. Before you shop, know how bright you need the light to be - in lumens.
2. What Color?
Not all "white" light is the same color. For more on that topic, check out the pictures in this previous post. The point is that most of today's sources are available in different color temperatures. To most closely resemble incandescent light, select a warm hue, between 2500 and 2800 Kelvin.
3. Where Used?
This question really embodies lots of other questions. Is it in an enclosed fixture? Indoors or outside? In a transient space like a closet? Somewhere extremely hot or cold? Is it used to accent a piece of art, or does it need to be fairly shadow-free? Certain CFLs don't do well in winter temperatures, LEDs prefer the cold. Most LEDs aren't designed for fully enclosed fixtures. Many CFLs aren't either. CFLs generally take a little time to get fully bright, so they might not be the best choice for closets. LEDs tend to be very directional and better for accent lighting, but can be diffused for general lighting. CFLs are great for general shadowless illumination but are never very directional. Know where the new lamp will be used.
4. How Controlled?
Is the lamp you are replacing on a switch or a dimmer? If it is controlled with a dimmer, replacement options are more limited, and you should check dimmer compatibility before you purchase a replacement.
5. How Much Money?
Consider both initial cost and ongoing costs. To spend the least money today, buy an incandescent or halogen replacement lamp. In the long run, this choice will cost the most in energy and replacement lamps, even though the initial outlay is the smallest for this category. The middle of the road option is fluorescent. It will cost a little more today, but will last a little longer and save a little more energy than the traditional sources. Top of the line is LED. These still cost the most, but will provide the most light per watt and will last the longest...provided you buy a quality product and use it in an appropriate application.
If you head to your local light bulb store with the answers to these questions in mind, you should save yourself a few minutes. Maybe you'll even have enough time to browse the clearance aisle and get one of those inflatable snow globes at 75% off!
Fully Dimmable? Partly ENraged.
I have just returned from another Fabulous Las Vegas Lightfair - the biggest annual lighting trade show in the US. Three years ago I returned from Lightfair on a rampage. It seemed that everyone was showing off their "new" LED product, and every one of those products was failing at everything that matters to lighting designers: glare, color, flicker... Then last year I saw improvement. The story wasn't just, "hey we have LED" but rather, "our LED is better because of its color" and "we have improved the optics by..." Thank goodness the manufacturers have continued this trend. There were some LED products that actually made me hopeful. BUT...
This year my favorite question to ask became, "What do you mean by that?"
I was repeatedly told, "Our LED fixture is fully dimmable." If someone says something is fully dimmable, I think that should mean FULLY dimmable, as in it can dim from zero to 100% without flickering and can be switched on or off at any point along that dimming curve without flickering. We are NOT there yet, folks. None of the products I saw had that capability. None of them. But I was told at least 20 times that various products were fully dimmable.
What does that mean?
Sometimes they meant the product would dim down to only 10% before turning itself off or beginning to flicker. In the best case scenario they meant it would dim to 1% and then off. I know that is close to full dimming and most of the time that is good enough. But that is fluorescent dimming at its best. That is not equivalent to incandescent dimming. The language with fluorescent dimming has always been 10%, 5%, 1%. I don't recall it being described as fully dimmable. I don't think LED should be described as fully dimmable yet, either. But I am still hopeful it will get there. Don't settle for less. And don't forget to ask, "What do you mean by that?" until fully dimmable truly means fully dimmable!
Lisa J. Reed, lighting designer and Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC