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I Have Seen the Light and It's Green...or Pink, or Blue, or Purple. Shucks, it's LED Solid-State Lighting.

May 5, 2009 - 5:00am

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When it comes to lighting, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are the new kid on the block. LEDs are a form of solid-state lighting. As such, they are following the example of their siblings in the computer industry, improving in performance at an astonishing pace.

In this blog I'm going to cover my personal experiences with LED lighting. I'll go over LED lighting in general, providing consumer buying tips, in a future blog.

You may already be using LED lighting. They have become a popular holiday lighting option around Christmas time since they consume a fraction of the energy used by conventional incandescent "Christmas tree" lights and last a lot longer. In addition to strings of lights, they also come in rope lights, making them easily formed into figures and objects to decorate your lawn or house.

The blue LED light strings are really cool, as are LED rope lights. During the holidays more than a year ago, I wrapped a 9-foot white LED rope light around the railing inside my home's entryway, and I continue to use it, even though the holidays have come and gone, and come and gone again. I placed the rope light on a timer, and every evening they come on automatically, illuminating the stairway for a mere several watts of power (my watt meter measures only 3 watts)—that's for the entire 9-foot rope light. In comparison, a single large "energy saver" incandescent holiday light bulb (commonly used in night lights) draws 4 watts of power, and the old ones of my youth draw 7 watts each.

LEDs flashlights are also becoming popular because LEDs provide a bright light and draw little power, keeping your batteries charged longer. I own a number of LED flashlights and lanterns, including a few that I power up by turning a hand crank. LED nightlights are popping up on shelves of many retailers, including those with light and motion sensors. One version you plug in contains batteries and turns on automatically in the event of a power failure. You guessed it right—I own a number of all of these.

LEDs come in a range of colors and can easily change colors if the system is designed for that. I've owned a semi-globe for years that changes colors. Click on it once, and the half globe changes colors. Push it again and the color change picks up its pace. Push it a third time and it provides a solid color. Push on it a fourth time and it provides a bright white strobe light. Pushing it a fifth time turns it off. I admit that I don't use it often, but the batteries are like the Energizer bunny—they keep going and going.

I experimented with a screw-in LED bulb a couple of years ago that I had bought on EBay. I used it only a few times in my lamp and it suddenly stopped working. LED Lesson #1: Even though you'll find write-ups all over the place that LEDs last 100,000 hours, that's misleading. The finished product, if not designed and constructed well, may not last long at all. Some of the LED bulbs DOE acquired for testing didn't work from the outset. If their design or construction doesn't allow sufficient heat transfer, they will prematurely die even if they are LEDs.

I also have two LED strips above my kitchen sink. I say "two" because one LED strip hardly provided much light. The two together don't provide the same amount of light as the 20-watt fluorescent light I also have above the sink. I use the fluorescent when I need enough light to work at the sink, but I use the LED lights when I leave the kitchen but still want light on for when I come into the kitchen for something—yes, I should install a motion sensor for those periods. LED Lesson #2: Like the early compact fluorescents, many of the early LEDs don't provide the same amount of light as the light sources they aspire to replace.

The pastor of my church is interested in improving the lighting in the church and he's heard of and interested in LED lights. The high-quality ones are very expensive, but they are also very efficient, competing well with fluorescents/compact fluorescents in performance, and designed to last much longer than fluorescents. Some of the ones I like maintain 70% of their initial light output after 40,000 or 50,000 hours. LED Lesson #3: LEDs are expensive, although they may last a long time and save a lot of energy during their lifetimes.

LED Lesson #4: LED Lesson #3 may become erroneous. The efficiencies are increasing at an incredible pace, and their prices are dropping. The next five years are going to be a very interesting time for LED consumers.

I can't mention product names. But if you're interested in some of the products I own or similar ones, you may want to view the LED ads posted on the LEDs Magazine Web site. Also check out your local hardware store, drug store, home improvement store, and the catalogs that carry the latest in gadgets. LED lighting is popping up everywhere. In a future blog, I'll discuss ways to identify high-quality LED lighting products and how to avoid those that don't live up to their hype, so stay tuned.

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