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LED lighting saves money on long run
Source:    Addtime:6/8/2009 4:45:00 PM

Canadians use more energy per capita than any other nation in the world. It¡¯s expensive, both in cost to the environment and to your family¡¯s budget, and we need to find ways to cut back our usage.

We¡¯ve been making the switch to compact fluorescents (CFLs) from incandescent bulbs to save energy, but many people aren¡¯t happy with CFLs. They cost more than standard bulbs and they contain mercury ¡ª which is an environmental concern. They take time to warm up to full brightness, especially in cold weather. They flicker and buzz and many people feel they produce an unappealing quality of light ¡ª it¡¯s a fluorescent, after all.

Another option to consider when planning your lighting is LEDs. Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology uses a fraction of energy compared to conventional incandescent or even CFLs. And they last a long time before needing replacement ¡ª up to 50,000 hours, compared to 6,000 for a CFL or 1,000 for standard incandescent bulbs.

Incandescent lights work by using electricity to heat a filament until it glows. They also give off a lot of excess heat ¡ª you know that if you¡¯ve ever touched a light bulb after it¡¯s been on for even a short while. Fluorescent lights work by passing electrical current through a gas-filled tube, which causes it to emit light. LEDs work by channelling electric current through a semi-conductor material ¡ª 100 per cent of which is turned into light, with no waste heat produced. LEDs are very energy efficient.

I¡¯ve used LEDs in many renovation projects and in my own home. They have low energy consumption, last a long time, don¡¯t contain mercury and they produce no heat when on. And, since they don¡¯t create infrared or ultraviolet light, they don¡¯t attract bugs and are great for outdoor use. (I¡¯ve got them around my deck.)

The nature of LED light is very focused, so it¡¯s ideally used for accent lighting or task lighting. It¡¯s directional and doesn¡¯t spread well in a general wash ¡ª unless you bounce it off interior surfaces or use it as an uplight for an ambient feel. That limits them for many applications.

But, because LEDs are so good at lighting in a single direction, they are perfect for under cabinet lighting in a kitchen, or for lighting hallways and staircases, or for security lighting.

Many people feel that LED light is very cold and intense. It¡¯s not the same yellowish glow we¡¯re used to from standard incandescent bulbs.

And, an individual LED bulb is only designed to replace a 40 watt bulb. That¡¯s just not bright enough for most people¡¯s general use. They need to be used in arrays, or groups to increase illumination.

LEDs are expensive: An average LED bulb can cost around $40, and the light it gives off is only equal to a 40-watt incandescent bulb. But, it uses about 80 per cent less electricity, so that saves money. So, depending on how long the light is in use each day, your payback on the cost of switching to LED might be only . . . a couple of years.

Most people have a hard time wrapping their mind around the idea that a light bulb might take that long to pay back. I know I do. But, like with most new technology-as LED lights become more available, the prices will drop.

Another problem with the life span of LEDs is their use as a replacement bulb. Fixtures designed for incandescent lamps are often heat traps ¡ª and that heat affects LEDs and CFLs. LEDs are heat sensitive ¡ª their lifespan is reduced dramatically if they are exposed to excess heat in inappropriate applications. So, if they go into a fixture or socket that doesn¡¯t allow heat to dissipate, there goes your long-term payback. Ideally, you¡¯ll have an LED lighting system with fixtures properly designed to give you the full lifespan of the LED bulb.

LEDs are currently more expensive than CFLs or incandescent bulbs, no question. And, since it¡¯s new technology they may be hard to find everywhere. But I think they are worth investigating and including in your renovation plans.