Pretty Lights

Last week I made a quick day trip to Las Vegas to see the lights. Not casino lights, but rather Lightfair 2012. It’s the world’s largest annual architectural and commercial lighting trade show and conference with over 500 exhibitors spread over 200,000 square feet and with over 20,000 attendees.

For designers like me who specialize in lighting, it’s like being a kid in a candy store with your parent’s credit card. Most exhibitors show products ranging from light sources to complete fixtures while others deal with testing, lighting control and measurement. But the highlight for me is the handful of companies which show some really innovative designs.

This year the most interesting product I found was from Edge Lighting in Chicago. Shown above is the Soft Line Indirect LED Lighting System that incorporates a thin aluminum channel (similar to a contractor’s tape measure) suspended by two turnbuckles that mount on opposite walls. As you can see from the pictures, they can be mounted perpendicular to the wall or at various angles up to 40’ in length. The white (or optional color changing) light comes from dimmable LED strips.

To me, this is where LEDs really shine. You couldn’t make this type of fixture with any other light source. Low power consumption and the light weight of LEDs make this suspended metal strip a true focal point in any space. In fact, the majority of exhibits focused on LEDs this year. There were a few ‘new’ vintage incandescent bulbs you see in restaurants and bars everywhere now and a few odd magnetic induction lamps but the vast majority was of the show was LEDs.

I think we’ve finally reached the tipping point where the cost and brightness of LEDs has matured to make them viable lighting options. And over the next few years, they’ll be standard replacements for incandescents and CFLs. Strip fluorescents still have a lot of life left in them and will probably dominate most commercial applications for the short term.

Despite the 45 minute airport taxi line wait and the 5 hours of walking, I came away inspired and amazed at the technological progress in the field of lighting. And since lighting consumes almost 35% of our electricity in the US, it’s a great target for innovation.

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5 Responses to Pretty Lights

  1. Jeni Quigg says:

    Lighting is everything! I’m looking to transform a dingy commercial kitchen and will be curious to hear what lighting you’d recommend! So glad you went!

    • David says:

      Thanks Jeni- if cost is an issue and completely accurate color rendering is not, the good old strip fluorescent is still the most cost effective way to light that space in terms of capital outlay and operating expenses. If color accuracy is important for grading and sorting tea, then choosing the proper color temperature (Kelvin) of the lamps becomes important (but not that difficult). Start with a cool white (3000K to 4000K written on the bulbs and boxes) and make sure there is a diffuser to protect from possible broken bulb glass. More expensive bulbs are usually better quality too. And it is easy to buy a few different ones and experiment to see how you like the appearance of your products under the different lights.

  2. Fascinating stuff, David, and trade shows are always a trigger for possibilities in the imagination! Was there no small scale hi-intensity lighting? We have a 70’s houseful of big incandescent floodlight recessed cans-actually pretty efficient ( they last 1-2 years) but we were thinking of retrofitting the cans with smaller hi-intensity adaptors. I actually hate the blue cast of white light LEDs and haven’t seen a balanced white LED light except in the manufacturer’s imagination and promotion. Is that in the works?

    • David says:

      Actually there were quite a bit of LED replacement lamps (bulbs) of all shapes and sizes. Most of the larger and more stable suppliers have been focused on developing standard incandescent bulb replacements (the type that you would find in a table or floor lamp). Finding a substitute that has bright, pleasing light at a low cost point is the holy grail – particularly as government regulations are phasing out incandescents. So far, the brightness and color output is very good. The price point is not ($40-60 each). But they have arrived and are a viable option. Other shapes (candelabra, floor, spots, MR15 etc.) are getting there a bit more slowly, but the price points are even further away from making economic sense for home use. Unless you have hard to reach places, you most likely won’t make back the difference yet on your electricity bill. (perhaps when they reach $15-$20?)

      As for color concern, less expensive options (also coincidentally those without proper long term testing and made in Asia) usually do have off colors or don’t show the various colors accurately. In this field you do pay for what you get. When you purchase LED lights, the most expensive brands will give you the option of choosing a color temperature (2000Kelvin for warm, 4000Kelvin for bright white for example). Cheap lights won’t even display that information and you will most likely be disappointed with the results. Access to higher end LEDS is still best done through a lighting supplier or interior designer. Home Depot’s options lag a bit.

      When you think of the overall cost of replacing your recessed fixtures with LEDs, it probably isn’t cost effective and you most likely won’t get back the savings on your electrical bill. You have the cost of the lamp (bulb) and the retrofit portion and then the installation. The total per can could be between $200 to $400 (or more) depending on labor and manufacturer.

      Two less expensive options are to 1. Replace the existing lamps (bulbs) with a flood-CFLs. Purchase a few samples with different color temperatures (as shown on the side of the box) and pick the one that is most pleasing to you. This should require no change in fixture and should still save you electricity. Option 2. Replace the existing larger recessed cans with smaller 3″ wide fixtures/downlights (there are a variety of small halogen bulbs available which fit this size). You can choose between low voltage (need special dimmers) or 120V fixtures (you can use with standard dimmers). You’ll pay for installation, but you will have smaller aperatures, smaller bulbs with the same light output but perhaps better quality light and something that looks more contemporary. And they should be a bit more efficient than the large incandescents to save you money in the long run.

      I hope that helps – any more questions, I’d behappy to answer – Cheers, Dave

  3. Thanks for the great info, David – very helpful!

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