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Are LED’s really better for the environment?

A study from 2013 says YES… and we’ve come so far since then!

Way back in 2013 the verdict about the environmental impact of LED’s in the lighting industry was already in. The Department of Energy set out to answer this question.

“Increasingly, light emitting diode (LED) screw-based lamps are providing consumers a cost-effective and energy efficient alternative to compact fluorescent (CFL) and incandescent lighting.  But how much greater are the environmental benefits of LEDs when it comes to the lifecycle of these lighting options?”

Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
Study: Environmental Benefits of LEDs Greater Than CFLs
DECEMBER 9, 2013
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The three-part research was comprehensive and, even back then, showed clear advantages over incandescent and slight advantages at that time over CFL (compact fluorescent) technologies. The study took not only energy usage into consideration, but also weighed the manufacturing processes, transportation impacts – the entire life-cycle of a light bulb. This all-in study can be read in its entirety here: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/tech_reports.html

That was then – this is now.

Fast-forward to today, and now the DOE says

LEDs in white light, general illumination applications are today’s most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technology. LEDs use up to 90% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. 

So many advances in the color, brightness, power saving, size, shape, manufacturing and overall durability of LED’s have been made that it is difficult to guess how useful these little gems of science and nature will truly become one day. For now, they are proven, tested, cheaper, more capable and more readily available than ever before.

Are there caveats?

There are a select few instances where LED lighting may not be “the best” choice for your needs. These are based on specific environmental use cases, and the reality is that there are fewer and fewer examples of where LED’s would not be the preferred light source.

Along with the environmental caveats, LED’s present users with many more choices and options than were ever available before. Do you need more light? Less light? A different color of light? More consistent light? These are all things that can be factored into the ultimate decision you make when switching to or upgrading your current LED’s. Some of the primary factors in selecting LED bulbs are:

  • Quantity of light – now usually expressed in lumens rather than watts because LED’s use about 1/10th the actual watts of their incandescent counterparts. LED’s can allow you to add much more light to an existing fixture than traditional options because they draw so much less current.
  • Color of light – have you noticed the “K” numbers on LED bulb packages? Light is frequency-based (think about a prism and imagine all of the gradients of the rainbow having a different “color temperature” value. These values are most commonly expressed in Degrees Kelvin – not degrees as in the weather forecast, or how hot to set your oven for that amazing pot roast. Degrees as in how many degrees of separation does one color of light have from another. 2700K means 2,700 degrees Kelvin – the color temperature of most all incandescent bulbs and commonly referred to as “warm”. The higher the number the “cooler” – think movement toward bluer light. The lower the number the “warmer” – think movement toward orange light.
  • Quality of light is now also possible to measure and quantify using something called a Color Rendering Index (CRI on most LED and some fluorescent packaging). This is just a measurement of how consistently and accurately the fixture reproduces the color of light at which they are rated over time.

For these reasons and others I strongly recommend talking to a knowledgable lighting professional about your situation. Tell them what you have now. What you like about it. What you wish was different. What you have liked and not liked about things you have tried in the past, etc. If they are good at their job they will ask about your current lighting fixtures, ceiling height, fixture distance from work surfaces, wattage (or lumens) of current lighting, your intended use of the space, your hopes and desires for improved lighting, your budget to make changes, and more – all to learn the best possible options to recommend. If you can’t find a lighting professional willing to spend the time learning about your situation – find one who will.

Come on, man – they’re just light bulbs!

Professionals in the industry want to help you make the most of your space, your experience and your investment. Places like Tesco Lighting and Design Center (where I work) can generally help you understand the choices and options available. We try to make educated recommendations based on your specific needs, desires and budget. But you have to be willing to help us see your space through your eyes. Call us and talk to us on the phone. Bring us pictures, drawings, bulbs, fixtures – whatever.

Sometimes you may truly “just need some bulbs”. But which bulbs would look best, cost the least, last the longest and make you happiest? Sometimes you may need to rethink fixture placement. Do you NEED a professional to buy light bulbs? No. Is it worth investing the time to make sure you are capitalizing on opportunities and getting the biggest bang for your buck? Only you can decide – my vote is ABSOLUTELY.

So get on the bandwagon already!

The verdict is clear. Not only are LED’s the greenest option for lighting today, LED technology for residential and commercial uses is mature, proven and worth the investment from a power savings standpoint alone, not to mention the positive environmental aspect . If you’ve been sitting on the sidelines thinking you’d update to LED lighting “when it gets better / cheaper / easier / smarter” your time has come.

Whether you see a lighting professional for advice or do your own homework and make your own decisions, the time has come to fully embrace the LED revolution. Come on in – the water’s fine – and it’ll be cleaner if you do!