What Lighting Are You Using?

Lighting in 2019

I wanted to touch on something that came up in a meeting I was in earlier today, and I want to talk about it because there’s a lot of static in the industry about what’s true and what’s not about this particular product.

That product is lighting, specifically CFL and LED Bulbs and LED fixtures, and I want to make sure that everyone is informed as to the pros and cons of each product as well as why we recommend the products we do when we’re working with a client on a green-up retrofit or new construction / renovation project.

To give a little background to this conversation, we have to go back to when president bush signed a law making it mandatory that energy saving bulbs and not incandescent had to be sold in the US.  No politics here, but it did drive some innovation and development of both CFL’s – compact florescent lamps and LED’s – light emitting diodes, making them better and less expensive than before simply because the supply had to be increased to meet the new consumer demand.

New Laws, And Some Innovation

CFL’s were really the first product to meet the demand needs and to become priced low enough to attract widespread adoption, but they have some significant drawbacks that came to light over the last couple decades. 

Manufacturers were touting 7-10 year lifespans and energy savings of 30%-70% vs the incandescent bulbs that were on the market at the time.  What they didn’t tell the public were that the lifespan was based on perfect conditions.  Perfect conditions being the correct environmental temperature, power quality, and being turned on once a day and allowed to operate for a few hours before being turned off. 

We also know that they suffer from poor operation in colder climates where bulbs can’t get to operating temperature and the fact that most CFL’s don’t emit the amount of light they advertise to begin with, AND then they reduce in light output by 20-30% before half their life is up as they are used.

What causes CFL’s to die prematurely? Turning them off and on more than once a day.  That and operating in too hot of an enclosure, vibration, shock, and power surges.  They are fragile, and from a risk management perspective, the risk of exposure to mercury (or more accurately a lawsuit for mercury exposure) and the added costs of proper disposal makes them a bad deal.

Stop Using CFL’s

We do some consulting for group homes and centers for disabled and developmentally challenged individuals and they can’t use CFL’s or any florescent lighting of any kind because the flickering that isn’t necessarily perceptible to everyone can cause issues for certain patients.  They flicker, don’t dim well, and just don’t get the job done as well as LED’s.

In reality, the lifespan of the CFL has proven to be way less than advertised, and the cost of operating them doesn’t pay for the energy savings they provide long term.  I don’t think I ever had a CFL last even 5 years let alone 10, and I’m pretty sure that in my own experience they last three years tops.

The only option left is really LED bulbs or panels.  Manufacturers again are touting 50,000 hour lifespans and 10+ years of useful life, but we’re seeing much less than that in the field.  More on that in a moment.

Now, led’s do have advantages over CFL’s despite the price difference, that make LED bulbs the right choice for property managers. 

They offer;

  • Lower energy use
  • No mercury exposure risk (still have to recycle like it’s an electronic device, because it is).
  • No temperature related dimming
  • Not physically as fragile as CFL or incandescent
  • Don’t lose as much light output over time as CFL
  • Don’t flicker as much (certain technologies and brands are better than others)
  • Easier dimming
  • Wider selection of color temperatures
  • Sizes to fit fixtures similar to an incandescent bulb

But what I didn’t say is a longer lifespan.  While they DO last longer in actual use than CFLs and use less energy, they don’t typically meet their advertised life.

The Reality of LED’s

As I mentioned before, manufacturers advertise LED’s as having 10,000 or more hours of life and 10-25 year lifespans, but that assumes a couple things and doesn’t tell you about a couple others.

Those numbers and ratings are based on being turned on one time and left on for 3 hours per day.  It also assumes a 3% failure rate as the industry standard and that the temperature, moisture level and quality of electricity are all perfect.

In reality, LED’s suffer around a 20% failure rate in the field – partially from shortcuts in manufacturing and partially from imperfect conditions, like being turned on and off more than once a day.

What they also don’t tell you is the lifespan is for the LED – the light emitting diode itself, NOT they entire assembly.  LED’s are typically designed to operate on 12v DC power, and we have 120v AC in the states.  What dies prematurely in lamps isn’t the diode, but the driver or transformer which is converting that 120v AC feed into something the LED likes to use.

While LED’s do get dimmer over time, they don’t suffer the same loss as florescents and they don’t get there as quickly.

All of that being said, LED’s bulbs are still the right choice and can still be used to improve the sustainability of the buildings they are used in. 

Integrated LED Panels and Fixtures

Now, I said LED BULBS are the right choice.  Over the last 5 years or so we’ve seen an increase of integrated LED fixtures and panels that tout better light output per watt than LED bulbs, but I’m going to tell you they are a bad deal. 

We talked about how CFL’s just aren’t good for a variety of reasons, and why LED’s are a better choice. 
While LED fixtures and panels share the advantages of the LED bulb and generally provide more light per watt, there are some significant drawbacks that I believe negate any energy savings they might be had over the life of the product.

  1. They cost more to replace.  Obviously fixtures cost more to buy than bulbs, but have a similar lifespan, so you’re talking about spending more $20-300 when a light dies, instead of a few dollars for a new bulb. You’re also going to spend money on labor to rewire a new fixture as opposed to just replacing a light bulb.
  2. They generate more waste and have to be recycled as an electronic device, and you pay by weight.
  3. There are fewer style and color options vs fixtures that use bulbs
  4. They don’t have as many options on color temperature
  5. You miss out on incentive programs from power companies and governments subsidizing the cost of bulbs – they won’t hand out entire fixtures.

In my opinion, the ROI on integrated LED fixtures and panels is zero, and possibly negative.  Don’t use them, they aren’t going to work out unless someone comes up with a way to generate more light per watt and increase the lifespan to advertised levels under ACTUAL, realistic use in the field.

As with all things, different brands and products will have different results based on where and how they are used, so your mileage may vary.  We can help you find the best value for your business, it’s what we do.

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