Posted by: jeb1 | January 28, 2011

Bright Future

As the traditional incandescent bulb fades away, new energy-efficient options are quickly taking over –and may eventually change the way we light our homes.

  • Source: BUILDING PRODUCTS Magazine
  • Publication date: 2011-01-05
  •  

    A new law is aimed at turning the lights out on Thomas Edison’s 131-year-old bulb that consumers have come to associate with the warm glow of home.

    As of Jan. 1, the traditional 100-watt and 150-watt A19 incandescent light bulb will not be sold in California. A year later, the energy waster will be out of business nationwide.

    In 2013, the familiar 75-watt incandescent also will be history. (California will shoo them off of store shelves one year earlier.) And in 2014, Americans will wave good-bye to their beloved–albeit energy-inefficient–60- and 40-watt A-shaped incandescents.

    Bulb Comparison

    Halogens. Part of the incandescent family, energy-efficient halogen bulbs produce the familiar color and quality of light of the lame-duck 40- to 100-watt incandescent A19 bulb. New to the market, these high-efficacy halogens are energy-efficient enough to comply with the government’s new standards for lighting. They cost around $1.50 to $2 per bulb and can last for up to 2,000 hours–twice as long as a traditional incandescent.

    CFLs. Much improved over the past five years, spiral-shaped compact fluorescent lamps can last up to 10,000 hours and run about $2 to $3 each, depending on burning time. Dimmable CFLs cost more, and most can’t dim to quite the same low level as a halogen. Still, they’re up to 75% more energy efficient than incandescents.

    LEDs. With a life expectancy of 25,000-plus hours, light-emitting diodes are likely to be the light source of the future. Not a bulb at all, LEDs can be integrated into a fixture or even into a glass enclosure designed to look like a traditional bulb and screw into a standard light fixture. But with a per-unit price of $40 or more and with limited beam spread, they’re not expected to find their way into mainstream use for at least five years. They are at least as energy efficient as CFLs.

    The resulting switch to more efficient compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) or to the brand-new high-efficacy halogens that manufacturers have introduced in response to the “light bulb law” within the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will mean considerably steeper prices–in the $2-per-bulb range–versus the 50-cent incandescent. But other than that, for many builders, the shift will barely register because–for now–only the bulbs, and not the fixtures, are required to change.

    “It’s not that hard of a change to make for recessed lighting, which is most of the indoor lighting that we build into homes,” says Jim Bayless, owner of GreenBuilt Construction in Folsom, Calif.

    In fact, estimates the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, about a quarter of the light bulbs sold in America are CFLs, and many pros long ago embraced them. Those who haven’t, advises Larry Weinstein, president of design/build firm DBS-Shared Solutions America in San Diego, should make the switch.

    “Architects and contractors for the most part are hurting right now,” he reasons. “Those who are wise enough to realize there’s a substantial market in energy-efficient new homes are doing very well.”

    Derek Greenauer, program manager for D&R International, a Silver Spring, Md.-based energy-efficiency consulting firm, agrees. “If builders can get up to speed on LEDs [light-emitting diodes] and technology and the new choices they’ll have for lighting homes, they can kind of ride that green wave to set a particular builder apart from competitors.”

    Builders and homeowners who will grieve the loss of the familiar A-shaped incandescent, says Weinstein, will do so only because “they don’t know any better.”

    What they might not know is that CFLs–the most likely immediate replacement bulb both for built-in residential lighting and for portable luminaires like table lamps–last for around five years and use 75% less energy than traditional incandescents, which burn out after about seven months of normal use. CFLs also cost about four times more.

    Reading the LabelLike the nutrition label on packaged food, a Federal Trade Commission-mandated new label on light bulbs will tell consumers all about the bulbs they buy.

    The Lighting Facts label already has begun appearing on some bulb packages and will be on all medium screw-base bulbs–the ones that screw into a traditional light socket–by July 2011. The label emphasizes lumen output, not watts as the old labels do. Every bulb will alert consumers of the package contents in three places:

    A label on the front will contain information on brightness–or lumen output–and the estimated cost to burn the bulb for one year.

    A Lighting Facts label on the back will repeat the information about brightness and energy cost, and add facts about the bulb’s life expectancy; light appearance–whether the light it shines is “warm” or “cool”– wattage, or the amount of energy the bulb uses; and whether the bulb contains mercury.

    Printed directly on the bulb will be the lumen output and whether the bulb contains mercury.

    The Department of Energy has a separate Lighting Facts label for LEDs. Manufacturers may voluntarily affix the label to their solid-state products after they pass tests that verify their claims about performance and lifespan. –S.O’M.

    What they almost certainly don’t know is the difference between a lumen–a measure of light output that the government is requiring bulb boxes to display starting in July–and a watt, the consumer’s comfortable gauge of how bright a light bulb will burn.

    An example: The old 60-watt incandescent bulb produces 800 lumens. So a builder or homeowner who wants to replace a 60-watt bulb with a similar but more energy-efficient alternative should choose a CFL, high-efficacy halogen, or LED that produces 800 lumens. That number will be displayed on the package’s required new Lighting Facts label (see “Reading the Label,” left).

    “The big challenge,” says Hampton Newsome, an attorney and spokesman for the Federal Trade Commission, “is to help people understand that when they’re looking for the light the bulb produces, look at lumens.”

    So it’s a good thing the phase-out is staggered over three years, says Peter Soares, director of consumer product development for Philips. “It will give consumers time to understand the legislation,” he says.

    And it could take some time. “There hasn’t been much consumer education about light bulbs in a long, long time,” notes Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the American Lighting Association. “The fact is that the consumer likes to make decisions right at the shelf and gets confused with all these labels and lamps. I don’t know what they’ll do.”

    His prediction: “Any time there’s change, there’s a little bit of craziness.” Indeed, some are expecting consumers to make a run for incandescent light bulbs as Jan. 1, 2012, approaches, stockpiling them like milk and bread before a snowstorm.

    Understanding the Rules
    While the new law effectively phases out the traditional light bulb, it stops short of banning it. Instead, the Department of Energy has set efficiency standards for all light bulbs, and today’s standard incandescents can’t meet those levels. New, high-efficacy halogen bulbs–a form of incandescent–can, however. They’re not as efficient as CFLs, but they emit the same warm light as their outlawed cousins and are easier to dim than stubborn CFLs, most of which can dim only so much before snuffing out completely.

    Under the new rules, all light bulbs will burn 25% to 30% less energy than traditional products do today. By 2020, all bulbs will be 70% more efficient.

    CFLs already are 70% more efficient than traditional incandescents. High-efficacy halogen bulbs are about 30% more efficient, so they’re a viable choice for now, but won’t be in 2020 unless manufacturers find a way to upgrade them.

    Super-efficient, long-lasting LEDs fill the bill, as they are about 90% more efficient than incandescents, but they’re so new and so expensive that few home builders and remodelers are ready to recommend them to their clients. Still, Soares of Philips Lighting believes builders will gravitate to a mixture of energy-efficient halogens, CFLs, and LEDs.

    The simplest solution, he suggests, is to install a traditional fixture and screw an energy-saving bulb into it–halogen, CFLs, or LEDs clustered together within a bulb-shaped lamp. Indeed, traditional fixtures give the homeowner the most flexibility because they accept a variety of screw-base light bulbs. “The builders who are still holding onto the basic 16-pack of incandescents will go to halogen,” Soares predicts. “Builders who are already using CFLs will go to LED. In the end, there will be plenty of solutions on the shelf.”

    And that might spur a change in the way pros light their homes.

    “Home builders tend to put some CFL products in the house already,” notes McGowan, “so it isn’t going to be a dramatic change. But it is something they’ll have to pay attention to. They will have to because that’s what will be on the shelf.”

    That could be a good thing, suggests lighting designer Glenn Heimiller, a principal of the Cambridge, Mass., firm Lam Partners and chairman of the International Association of Lighting Designers’ Energy and Sustainability Committee. “If they want to install energy-efficient lighting, they shouldn’t worry about the loss of the incandescent A lamp,” he says. “What you will see is a mix of all kinds of different light sources if you’re doing a good design.”

    Soares agrees. Cost-conscious home builders and remodelers too often opted for inexpensive incandescents simply because of the price, he says. With those cut-rate relics out of the picture, he predicts, pros might concentrate more on supplying light bulbs that are most appropriate for the fixtures, the room they’re in, and the homeowner’s lifestyle. BP

    Sharon O’Malley is a freelance writer in College Park, Md.

    « Web Extra

    How LEDs Will Change Lighting

    Builders, manufacturers, lighting designers, and industry observers agree that LEDs are the next big thing in lighting–with or without legislation to force builders and consumers in their direction.

    “We’re taking a product line that was a disposable product line and now we’re turning it into a more durable good,” says Peter Soares, director of consumer product development for Philips, who notes that LEDs can last for 25,000-plus hours–and some predict they’ll burn twice that long.

    When their high price tag shrinks, the high-tech, high-efficient lights are likely to change the way the world lights its buildings.

    Many residential LEDs today are packaged within a traditional-looking housing with medium screws bases so they can replace traditional incandescent bulbs in standard fixtures. But before long, says Terry McGowan, director of engineering for the American Lighting Association, they won’t look anything like light bulbs–because they’re not light bulbs.

    “It will be a fixture that lights up inside, but you won’t see any light bulb in it–just chips and surfaces and points of light,” he says. “It will look very different.”

    But the look isn’t the real difference the gradual gravitation toward LEDs will make.

    McGowan predicts that LED lighting will change the way Americans wire their homes. LEDs don’t need the high-voltage wiring in today’s houses. So low-voltage sockets, wires connectors, and fixtures will take its place.

    He foresees a time when walls themselves might be electrically conductive so light fixtures won’t need wiring at all.

    “I don’t know what home builders are going to do until we see these things,” McGowan says. “But it’s very clear this is going to open up a whole realm of possibilities for putting light where we want it and where we don’t have it now.” –S.O’M.


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