I think that pretty much all of us are aware of the energy-saving CFL option for our lights. I have a number of CFLs installed, but CFL bulbs can only go so far. They are eco products that only sort-of work.
On the design front they are pretty ugly and the light they emit, while improving, is far from ideal. They are not great for dimmers (even the special dimmable ones are not very responsive and they often buzz). They don’t come in all the many shapes and sizes that my fixtures require. And there is the problem of mercury when they are broken or disposed of (do wrap them and take them to a designated recycling point).
So what to do, if we want to – or have to – green our lighting? Here in Ontario, as of next year, incandescent bulbs are to be outlawed. I find this quasi-unbelievable given that contractors all round town are still installing fixtures for which only incandescent bulbs are available. Maybe that is why people are currently stockpiling.
The future of lighting has to lie in LED technology. LEDs are essentially tiny lightbulbs illuminated by the movement of electrons (see here if you are interested in how they work). They create very little heat and have a hugely-long lifetime. BUT, they are currently expensive and limited in their efficiency. They work well for low-level or accent lighting but not, on the whole, for whole room lighting.
There are exceptions, though. About 3 years ago I replaced my old-style 6 inch recessed spotlights in the kitchen with some fantastic LED lights which look good, are dimmable and give a bright light. It’s not exactly mood lighting but it is great for the kitchen and, as I said, can be dimmed to about 20-30%. The product I am talking about is the LR6 from Cree lighting.
These are not cheap (currently they retail at about $80 on Amazon: here in Canada they were a special-order form my electrical supply shop), but they are easy to install (the bulb and housing are integrated) and they really do work. They use about 10W for a good, bright light so the energy savings are significant and they are designed to last for 50,000 hours (nearly 6 years of continuous lighting). Shame they do not come in more different formats. At present Cree only caters to 6″ housings, presumably because there is not enough space in smaller housings for the number of LEDs that are required to create a bright light.
More recently I bought Sylvania Ultra LED dimmable bulbs in soft white at the local grocery store. These look more or less like normal light bulb, work OK and cost a relatively modest $25 (non-dimmable are closer to $15). I have mine in a fixture where the bulb lies horizontally, which is not great as the light does not cast in all directions, as an incandescent bulb does. They do dim, but buzz a little bit when they do (not enough to be annoying) and the light is fine, not wonderful. So, if you are nervous about CFLs these would seem to be a good option.
Let’s just hope there is more lighting innovation around the corner. I will keep you posted if there is.
One last thing, though. LEDs, like most things, vary in quality according to price. The influx of poor quality LEDs threatens the whole market (have you, like me, bought LED Christmas tree lights that are great until they fail in year 2 and you end up with a string of useless plastic?). For more information on why many LEDs do not fulfil their promises see this informative article or this blog post that describes LED options in some detail.