Light Bulbs 101

Lighting is a key element in the interior design of a home. It is the truest example of demonstrating both form and function in design. The practical applications go without saying. But the aesthetic contributions of this decorative element, deserves mention. Light fixtures, chandeliers, sconces, etc. have become artistic and decorative elements in our modern society. The appropriate use of lighting techniques in design serves to” set the mood” for the space, while also being central to enhancing the other decorative elements.

In 2007 George W. Bush signed the New Standard for The Energy Independence and Security Act. This federal energy bill called for the phasing out of existing low efficient incandescent light bulbs that we have all been using for years.  The targeted dates for phase out were 2012, 2013, and January 2014. As of this writing, 100, 60, and 40 watt light bulbs are banned from production in the United States. It is estimated that the remaining product will be consumed by spring 2014.

Consumers are confused, if not, in a down right panic mode. What used to be on the shelf of every supermarket, hardware store, and home improvement store has been replaced with an array of alien products that seem to require a second college degree to understand. The other concern is the color of the light emitted from these new bulbs. We have been used to the nice warm light that comes from a light fixture with a traditional incandescent light bulb. This light has enhanced furnishings, wall colors, and in many cases made a room appear dramatic or “cozy”.

So, what should we be looking for in a light bulb? Energy efficiency levels, lumens (replaces wattage), heat emission, color temperature and of course, price. Three market alternatives to the phased out incandescent type, are LED’s, CFL’s, and Halogen Incandescent bulbs.

LED’s offer the best energy efficiency, provide great light and quality, brighten instantly, and last up to 25 years. They are the most expensive option, but they provide the greatest return on investment. Prices have been dropping rapidly for these bulbs. What cost $40 a few years ago, can now be found for $4.50 at Home Depot. There are several choices in color temperature. However, a “soft white” bulb is recommended to most closely match the soft, warm, atmospheric light of a traditional incandescent bulb.

CFL’s (Compact Flourescents) offers 75% greater efficiency than an incandescent bulb, and emits 75% less heat. The drawbacks are the light quality, characterized by a harsh “blue” color. They cannot be used outdoors, as they are not good in cold temperatures, and  they contain  small amounts of mercury. They are the least expensive of all the other options and are making vast improvements in light quality.

Halogen Incandescents A good alternative to the traditional incandescent light bulb offering 25 to 30% greater efficiency. The life of this bulb is shorter than any of the options mentioned. However, this bulb offers users a smoother transition from the traditional light bulb as the light most resembles the familiar warm glow of it’s predecessor. It is also a good dimming bulb. It is moderately priced.

So, in lieu of stockpiling traditional light bulbs, you could take a soft plunge to the Halogen bulb, make the commitment to the most  attractive and efficient LED, or wait for the CFL’s to develop a more pleasing color temperature. In all cases, prices and quality will improve, so not to worry:)

TIP:  Light Color is rated  by The Kelvin Scale, anchored by 2700, emitting  a warm atmospheric light, AND 5000, emitting a cool blue light. A neutral “daylight” is 3500.  Look for this on the light bulb package.


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