LED Light Fixtures: Harnessing Semiconductors for Energy-Efficient Lighting
LED light fixtures emit no UV rays and are energy-efficient, but are more expensive than other options.
LED light fixtures have only recently entered the world of home lighting design. Until ten years ago, LEDs (light emitting diodes) exclusively came in bright colors, such as red, blue and green, and were exclusively used where such colors were appropriate, such as traffic lights, automobile lights and Christmas lights. However, in the last ten years, white LEDs have started to become available in white light, opening entirely new options in home lighting design. Now they can be used for the same tasks that traditional lights such as tungstens, halogens and fluorescents are used.
Still, LED light fixtures have some unique characteristics that should be considered before placing LEDs into your home. On the one hand, they are safe, inexpensive and environmentally friendly to run. On the other hand, they are expensive and environmentally costly to produce. In this article, I will discuss LEDs and how to decide if they are right for your home.
LED light fixtures are the safer than any other type of light bulb for a number of different reasons. They do not damage furniture or artwork, they are almost impossible to break, and they are very cool to the touch.
Incandescent and fluorescent lights emit UV radiation that can gradually damage your furniture and artwork over time. You can see this in its most extreme form in the case of books and boxes that are left in store windows. Eventually, they just start to fade out. They same thing happens at a slower rate when you expose objects to any source of UV, whether it be the sun or some sort of artificial light source. However, LED light fixtures do not emit any UV radiation at all, so your carpet, paint, wood and artwork will never degrade from the fixtures. For this reason, most museums are currently in the process of switching to entirely LED lighting.
Incandescent lights can be easily broken, leaving shards of glass that are potentially dangerous. Fluorescent lights (including compact fluorescent light bulbs) are even worse. On top of the shards of glass, they have mercury vapor inside of them that requires you to temporarily evacuate and has complex cleaning requirements. LEDs, on the other hand, are almost impossible to break in these ways. The diodes themselves are almost impenetrable.
Finally, incandescent lights are very hot. One of the reasons they are so energy-inefficient is that they emit most of the power that goes into them as heat. Fluorescent lights are cooler, but still emit a great deal of heat. While LED light fixtures do emit some heat, they are by far the coolest lights and can be easily touched without discomfort. This greatly reduces the fire hazards provided by other sources of lighting.
Because the diodes in LED light fixtures are so small, they have by-and-large not been used to replace traditional tungsten light bulbs or its uses. Tungsten light bulbs shine light in every direction, and compact fluorescent light bulbs do the same. Though 360 degree LED bulbs do exist, they are bulky and uneven in their light production. As a result, LED lighting is now used almost exclusively for directed lighting, such as task lighting and accent lighting. Directed lighting is light shone in a particular direction, task lighting is lighting used for activities and accent lighting is used to highlight features in the home.
LED desk lamps, for example, are a common LED light fixture. The light that is placed in the lamp shines directly onto the desk, providing clear light from a lamp that is not hot. In addition, LED lights tend to be whiter than incandescent lights and many fluorescent lights, providing artists with the ability to see all the colors in a piece of work.
Perhaps the most common use of LED light fixtures is in track lighting systems. This is possibly because one of the uses of track lighting is accent lighting for artwork, so the lack of UV rays makes LEDs especially useful for that purpose. Another reason is that the diodes are small and that makes it easy to produce smaller light bulbs without needing to use halogen bulbs. Finally, LED lights makes excellent directional lighting, which is exactly the way in which accent lighting functions.
Finally, it is worth mentioning that LED lighting can be used in non-standard configurations. In general, other light bulbs need to be of a certain size and shape. Fluorescents can get around this somewhat by using coiled tubes, but usually bulbs need to be basically round. LED diodes can be put in any configuration. This allows them to be used on puck lights, for example, disks of light that can be placed almost anywhere and that are especially popular as under-kitchen-cabinet lighting. They can also be used in a decorative way as rope lights, a string of diodes inside of a single, flexible tube.
Future of LED Lighting
LED lighting fixtures are still developing, and at a rapid rate. Because it is made of semi-conductive technology, their rate of development is comparable to that of computer processors. In other words, they are becoming more and more efficient over time. Currently, they are about as power-efficient as fluorescent lights, but in the future, they will become more efficient than even fluorescents.
In addition, this rapid development is constantly bringing down the price of LED lighting. As of this writing in 2011, you can expect to pay easily $50 for a quality LED bulb. However, as with computer technology, LED lighting prices are dropping fast, and will likely soon reach the price of fluorescent lights and perhaps even lower. Should they drop below the price of fluorescents, do not be surprised to see them take over most niches from fluorescents.
Many states and countries are introducing laws that are effectively pushing incandescent bulbs out of the home. This makes LED lighting fixtures the only real alternative to fluorescent bulbs. As a result of these laws and a general concern with producing green light sources, LEDs are likely to continue their growth in popularity for the foreseeable future. Since they also do not produce any mercury diffusion, they are additionally environmentally friendly.
However, it is worth noting that LED lighting may not be as green as people believe that they are. At present, the technology to produce diodes that are actually white is still not completely effective. The diodes are produced and then they are tested to see if they are really white. Most diodes simply do not pass this test, and they end up in low-quality sources of light like flashlights, if they end up anywhere at all. Part of the reason that LED lighting is so expensive is because of the waste involved in its production, and the more expensive the LED bulb, the more waste went into its production. Therefore, until white LEDs can be produced by something other than trial-and-error, they will remain one of the least green light sources to produce.
Putting It All Together
LED light fixtures are a new option in home lighting design, owing to the recent introduction of white diodes:
- They are very safe bulbs, both for the home and for people.
- They produce high quality directed light and non-standard fixture options.
- They are currently expensive, but will drop in price. It remains to be seen if there will be a surer way to produce white diodes.
If you are looking for safe, energy-efficient bulbs and can afford the cost, LEDs may be just the right choice for you.