Xenon: An Alternative to Halogen Bulbs

As professionals in the kitchen and bath industry, we have all had the opportunity to see and appreciate the advantages offered by halogen lighting. The cleaner, whiter light cast by low-watt halogen bulbs offers illumination previously unparalleled by incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. With all of its benefits and no better alternative halogen has become a popular choice in American showrooms.

Well, move over, halogen. It now looks as though xenon is ready to offer some competition for those showrooms dominated by your brilliance.

Because of the continued demand for high-quality, white light, advances in bulb technology have produced a new xenon gas bulb with the same aesthetic beauty and functionality as halogen. The xenon bulb is interchangeable with halogen bulbs; available in 10- and 20-watt bulbs, xenon can be used in existing halogen fixtures.

In kitchen and bath showrooms, halogen bulbs are commonly housed within puck, or pocket, light fixtures. These lights can be recessed or surface mounted with a variety of finishing rings or trims. Halogen pocket lighting has become widely used in showrooms for a variety of applications, including: the illumination of collectibles inside cabinetry with glass doors or shelves; providing task lighting under wall cabinetry; highlighting countertop materials; offering accurate color perception; and educating consumers about lighting options for their homes.

Xenon Benefits
So, if halogen is already good, why is xenon better? For answers, I consulted John Tress, president of the North Lima, Ohio-based Tresco International. Tress has marketed xenon lighting in the American market for the past 2-1/2 years. His extensive knowledge of this emerging technology helped me to further understand its importance to showroom lighting solutions.

According to Tress, the two main advantages of xenon bulbs over halogen are decreased heat output and extended bulb life. Halogen bulbs tend to burn hot and can overheat within an enclosed room or space. As a result, items placed too close to the halogen bulb(s) can be damaged or burned. Also, cooling costs rise when showroom air conditioning systems become burdened, especially in warm climates.

Xenon bulbs burn 10 to 15 percent cooler than halogen when operating within the same fixtures. Unlike halogen, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) does not require the addition of a glass covering over xenon bulbs, which further reduces heat by 25 to 50 percent, depending on the fixture and the duration of use. However, for safety and cleaning reasons, most lighting professionals would still recommend covering the bulb and settling for a 15 percent heat savings.

Xenon bulbs also last longer than halogen bulbs. A good quality halogen bulb lasts an average of 2,000 hours, which calculates to five or six hours a day over the course of one year. Xenon bulbs last an average of 2-1/2 times as long, or about 5,000 hours. Tress estimates approximately 60 to 70 percent of his hundreds of showroom customers have already made the switch to xenon bulbs. "We have had nothing but elated customers," he said, adding that the primary reason for their satisfaction is xenon's extended bulb life.

In addition, xenon bulbs do not require the special handling needed by halogen bulbs. Halogen bulbs must be protected from exposure to the oils on a person's fingers to ensure maximum bulb life. Therefore, halogen bulbs should be handled with gloved hands or tissues. Xenon bulbs will not be damaged if handled with bare hands.

Several other variables can shorten the life of halogen bulbs. These factors include the type of fixture, the size of the fixture and the amount of air surrounding the fixture. Trapped air within a fixture shortens bulb life. Also, it can be difficult to determine the difference between better-quality halogen bulbs and inferior-quality junk bulbs since halogen is so widely available in the mass market.

Another benefit of xenon light for showroom use is that it does not emit ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which can fade photography and adversely affect material color holding properties. Of course, halogen bulbs can be covered with a UV-coated glass filter to achieve the same property.

Price Issue
For now, at least, the main drawback to xenon bulbs is their cost compared to halogen. Each selling source may differ slightly, but, generally, xenon bulbs cost as much as 35 percent more than comparable halogen bulbs. However, according to Tress, even though one must spend more initially, that cost is eventually offset since xenon bulbs last longer.

Perhaps more importantly, the nuisance factor of xenon is decreased because bulbs do not need to be replaced as often. When you're running a showroom, little conveniences such as this can mean a lot!

Howard Kuretzky of Kurtis Kitchens in Livonia, MI, agrees. "It seemed that, every day, we were changing the halogen bulbs in our displays. So, last year we changed all of our halogen under-cabinet lighting to xenon bulbs," he said. "They cost more, but they last four to five times longer."

According to Kuretzky, xenon lighting offers comparable quality without the hassles of halogen. The bulbs are easier to work with, and since they don't burn as hot, there's less chance for heat damage to displays or their contents, he said.

Because xenon is newer, it may be somewhat difficult to find, depending on your location. Since their introduction about five years ago, the bulbs have become modestly popular in the last two years. In time, prices for xenon lighting likely will decrease and the bulbs will become more readily available. Of course, as technology advances, new and better products are constantly being developed.

If you're tired of working around the color inaccuracies in your showroom and the never-ending cycle of bulb changing, it may be time to explore your options. Your lighting professional can provide more information about efficient lighting solutions for your showroom.