Friday, April 1, 2011

Cool Lighting Basics - 101

In our last Blog we talked about Sustainable lighting and bulbs (referred to as lamps) with which most of us are more familiar.  As promised, here are some additional, newer types of lamps.

Ah - the miracle lamp - Light Emitting Diode.   Better known as an LED, they've been around since 1927 (!) and were perfected in 1962 by GE.  LED's have been used for a while in aviation, and in street lights and electronics, but were not used for general lighting purposes until recently.  Although there are LED par-like flood lamps, Edison and candelabra based lamps for residential use, we have a long way to go in perfecting the color of the light,and being able to get the lumens we are all used to living by.  Most types cannot be dimmed, may fade and can change color.  Also, although manufacturers boast that LED's last for 50-80,000 hours, these lamps haven't been around long enough to know for sure!  Still, it's become the cold lighting of choice for under-counter and interior cabinet lighting because of the compact size and the small amount of electricity it requires.

The once industrial Metal Halide lamp has morphed into a variety of shapes and sizes that can be for commercial and residential use.  The original 1960's technology has been around long enough for us to know that we can get from 50-80,000 hours from one lamp.  Take a walk down Fifth Avenue and get real close to the  windows that wrap around the front of Saks 5th Avenue.  James Ranson, Associate Director of Visual Lighting Design for Saks, uses Metal Halide lamps to get beautiful effects on posh merchandise that has to look its best!  The lamps are ideal for window display as they are cold like fluorescent.  This way, the small world of a shop window won't require more energy to keep it cool like traditional incandescent and halogen lamps.  Additionally, they last far longer, so they're saving money on staff time and replacement lamps.

Less familiar to some is Cold Cathode, also known as CCFL.  These lamps are actually a cousin of Neon.  They are gas-filled tubes that can be bent into virtually any shape and size.  We find them especially suited for illuminating coves as they have less drop-off than LED's and they can be made any length, which means they are not interrupted by dark spots like fluorescents which come in standard sizes.  They are also colder than fluorescent and can be dimmed.  They also last up to 25,000 hours.
Cove Lit w/ Cold Cathode

Here's my favorite... Fiber Optics.  Fiber Optic Lighting does not use any "lamps" - except one for the source.  It is a lighting system that transports the light through glass fibers - sort of like Fios.  The series of glass fibers is protected by a flexible cable that makes it water-proof, fire-proof and may be installed where you can't use conduit because there's no electricity going through the cables!  Best of all, except for the source, there are no bulbs to change - it's totally permanent!  It gives off no heat at all.  Even fluorescents and some LED's do give off some heat albeit less than incandescent. 


So, how do we sort out all these new types of lamps that we're all debating about?  Sustainable lighting is still in its infancy so there's a lot to learn.  The truth is, even manufacturers don't have all the answers.  They come up with new products to sell but often don't offer coordinating sockets with dimmers.  There are no standards for labeling; often, they each label specs differently than another company, although they are exactly the same.  The answer is to be open to everything.  There isn't one type of lighting that can substitute for another any more.  Experiment a little and see what works for you.  Not everything is worth all the hype - but you may be pleasantly surprised!