It's getting easier to save dollars while saving kilowatts in home lighting, thanks in part to recent drop in price and rise in availability of LED household lighting.
LEDs — light-emitting diodes — long have been used in consumer electronics. More recently, arrays of these tiny lights have been clustered together in bulbs to create low-power, low-heat, long-lasting light sources that offer many new, aesthetic possibilities for home designers.
Energy Trust of Oregon now offers a $10 discount on the Cree EcoSmart LED bulb, available at Home Depot stores. With this rebate, the $49.95 sticker price drops to $39.95.
"We're buying down the price of LED, but products must meet the Energy Star standard of 50 lumens per watt. As more products come on the market, we hope to expand," says Kendall Youngblood of the Energy Trust.
The EcoSmart bulb uses 10 1/2 watts and replaces a 65-watt incandescent bulb. For more information on the incentive program, see www.energytrust.org or call 866-368-7878.
"These bulbs have an average life of 50,000 hours compared with 750 hours for an incandescent bulb — that's 66 times as long," says Buzz Thielemann, president of RHT Energy Solutions in Medford. "Plus, they are not producing as much heat, which is important in the summer."
Two years ago, Thielemann converted his home to use LED lights. At that time, the new bulbs cost $120. Today a comparable bulb costs $50, and a rebate from Energy Trust of Oregon lowers it to $40.
"Figuring in the energy savings and the cost of all those (incandescent) bulb replacements you're avoiding, the payback period in our area is about 1.7 years if you have a light on, say, 10 hours a day," says Thielemann.
LED lighting does not contain environmentally damaging mercury vapor, which is present in compact-fluorescent lighting, the leading green-lighting alternative of the past quarter century. These new bulbs also provide function enhancements.
"LED lights are dimmable, and they're clearer and come in many colors. You can choose a warmer shade for your bathroom, one that's closer to an incandescent," adds Thielemann.
In addition to clustering these pinpoints of light in a bulb to increase brightness, LED lighting also is available in long strips, which make it easier to put lights in out-of-the-way places — such as inside cabinets and under countertops — diversifying the design palette for home remodelers.
"We used long strips under our kitchen counter for backlighting — you don't always need to have the area fully lit. We have black floor tiles with white veins, and the LED lighting really brings it to life at night," says Allan Resnick.
Resnick and his wife, Lynn, made lighting part of the design in their ultra-efficient Ashland home, built two years ago.
"This type of strip lighting works well in areas where you don't have a lot of space, and they're lower profile," adds Resnick.
Strips, bulbs and plug-in options make LED lights perfect for custom lighting.
"I use LEDs a lot in recessed downlighting. There are good-quality products out there, but you need to be careful with compatibility, especially with the dimmable driver (fixture)," says Julia Rezek, an Ashland lighting designer.
Rezek increasingly uses LEDs to comply with new building codes.
"Fifty percent of new lighting has to be energy-efficient. The quality of light is better in LEDs than in (compact-fluorescents). The technology is improving hour by hour," says Rezek.
Cove lighting is another application Rezek favors. This indirect lighting is less harsh and illuminates ceilings or walls and hides the bulbs from direct viewing. Cove lighting often is used in offices and retail spaces, but homes contain lots of areas that can benefit from creative use of LED lighting.
Select your LED bulbs carefully, as there are many on the market that fail to live up to their claims of long life.
"Manufacturers make claims that may or may not be truthful, so we rely on Energy Star to test products for us. Look for the Energy Star seal before buying your bulb," cautions Roger Spring.
Spring works at Energy Trust of Oregon, a Portland-based nonprofit that promotes and provides incentives for energy efficiency. Businesses can have higher incentives for converting to LED lighting than homeowners.
"Businesses can have their lights on 24/7, and for each bulb replacement on average, you reduce your energy costs by three-quarters," says Spring.
Societal-scale conversion to LED lighting is a must for energy independence, according to Thielemann.
"It costs $3 to generate a kilowatt from new solar, but it costs only $1 through energy efficiency. Two-thirds of our new energy requirement must come from energy conservation," says Thielemann. "The first step to green is always conservation."