Shine On

In reference to creating the light bulb, Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Since Edison’s lifestyle-changing invention more than 100 years ago, little has changed in lighting technology until now. Manufacturers are hard at work developing new lighting that is more energy-efficient while still offering the color warmth and dimming capability of Edison’s incandescent bulb. Although manufacturers have found many ways that don’t work along the way toward innovation, like Edison, they labored through the challenges to expand the lighting industry and give consumers more options than ever.

Options Abound

Consumers long have used incandescent bulbs because it was the only option out there for many years and, more recently, because there had been no promising alternatives. With the coming phase-out of incandescents, however, the pressure is on manufacturers to produce lamps that meet government efficiency mandates while giving consumers the light color they desire. Early fluorescents cast a blue hue similar to that of natural daylight. Daylight has a color temperature of 5,000 Kelvin; a regular incandescent bulb is 2,700K, which is a significantly warmer color. “The lower the number the warmer the light and the higher the number the cooler the light,” explains Randall Whitehead, president of Randall Whitehead Lighting Solutions, San Francisco. “Manufacturers of CFLs, CCFLs [cold-cathode fluorescent lamps] and LEDs are making 2,700K or 3,000K their gold standard.”

Now that manufacturers are putting out warmer-colored lamps, their challenge is to create a dimmable bulb in which the color gets warmer as it is dimmed. Fluorescents and LEDs do not get warmer when dimmed. “That’s off-putting to the general public,” Whitehead asserts. “I’ve been advocating to the manufacturers to give the public alternative sources that are the color of dimmed incandescents, which is between 2,200K and 2,400K. Getting these warmer color temperatures is going to open people up to the idea of using sources that are a bit foreign to them.”

Jeff Dross, corporate director, education and industry trends, with Kichler Lighting, Cleveland, recommends looking for a bulb with a warmer 2,700 to 3,000K color temperature. “I live in this cloistered lighting world but I talk to my friends about lighting. They say they don’t like CFLs because they’re blue, and when I ask them what they bought, they tell me they bought the daylight bulbs,” he says. “What people don’t realize is daylight is extremely blue. When you look at the box and it says daylight, that’s what people think they want. It confuses consumers.”

Energy Efficiency

The U.S. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C., recently released data about energy use in houses. In 2001, lighting accounted for about 7 percent of a home’s energy use. In 2010, which is the most recent data, that number jumped to more than 15 percent. “It’s not because we’re using more lights in our house,” Dross says. “Between 2001 and 2010 virtually every piece of equipment in the house has become more energy-efficient with the exception of light bulbs. If we continue the same way, the theory is that by 2025 45 percent of electric bills will be dedicated to lighting.”

California’s Title 24 requires that buildings meet certain energy standards. Part of the residential section of the code mandates 100 percent of lighting in bathrooms must be high efficacy. Incandescent sources may be used only if paired with a switched motion sensor, which requires the user physically turn the light on. “That means, however, the first thing in the morning when you flick that switch, all the lights come on at 100 percent,” Whitehead says. “A lot of people are not prepared to see their own faces under that much light first thing in the morning. Manufacturers now are making dimmable versions of these switched motion sensors.”

Whitehead is advocating for energy-efficient yet beautiful fixtures. “We as lighting designers are pushing the energy-efficient manufacturers to give us something that’s closer to the feel, look and color of dimmed incandescent light. That’s what people want,” he says.

Although Title 24 excludes the other 49 states, energy costs are rising everywhere and Whitehead asserts changing light bulbs is an easy task people can do to save energy. “There’s a transitional period to using these products,” Whitehead says. “Look at the auto industry. People transition to hybrid cars because of the cost of gas. It’s not always their first choice, but they’re going to do it because they need to look at the bottom line.” Similarly, people will transition to CFLs and LEDs as energy costs rise and these light sources prove to reduce the bottom line. “As we see regulation and standardization of the amount of light they emit, the color, color consistency and dimmability, then people, including contractors, will be more confident in purchasing these products,” Whitehead continues.

Dross predicts light-switch mechanisms will communicate with smart meters to affect energy efficiency. (For more information about smart meters, see “Technology Trends,” March issue, page 46.) “The switch guys are a lot further ahead of the light-bulb people in that technology,” he says. “I’m sitting in my office and I have a photo sensor with a little switch on it so if I wanted to I could switch it, but I haven’t touched the switch for three years. When I’m at my desk it doesn’t shut my office lights off, but if it senses inactivity for about 10 minutes, it turns my lights off. This is the kind of thing I suspect you’ll see more of in residences. Parents have been yelling at children since light bulbs came into a house to shut the lights off. Now this photo sensor will do the job for them. Connecting that into a whole smart home will become the way to go.” Dross also anticipates more lights that measure the amount of daylight coming into a room and automatically adjust accordingly.

Getting the Right Look

Furniture design drives lighting design, and Dross comments about how furniture companies are selling more contemporary products. “Lighting, because we are subservient to the aesthetics of the room, is now trending more contemporary,” he says. “Even the folks who call themselves more traditional are actually moving toward what I call transitional. It’s not contemporary but not as hard traditional. Instead of having 80 pieces of crystal on a chandelier, maybe you have only six or 12 and you might have one scroll on an arm as opposed to four or five. The edges are a lot straighter and designs are cleaner.”

Mini pendants are also gaining in popularity, particularly in the bathroom and kitchen. “The best way to light a bathroom mirror is to have one light on each side of the mirror,” Dross explains. “Most of us live in a world where the lighting in the bathroom isn’t very good. The move now is to put mini pendants on each side of the mirror. Having light on either side reduces glare and is better for aging eyes.” Some kitchens also employ mini pendants, particularly over islands in kitchens that have more than one island. “The multiple island concept in newer kitchens allows for some interested, varied aesthetic choices for lighting,” Dross says.

Tall ceilings require taller lighting fixtures to fill the vertical space. “In some cases the room they’re going into is shrinking so the fixture is taller but more compact in width,” Dross says. “You almost have these little silo shapes instead of the rectangular shape we’re accustomed to.”

Dross, a 38-year veteran in the lighting industry, observes when the economy is in a slump, designs change more rapidly. “I’ve been in lighting my whole life and, assuming I retire at a normal time, the last 10 years of my career are going to be the most interesting, exciting and relevant of what ultimately will turn out to be a nearly 50-year career,” he says. “Buckle your seat belts because it’s going to be fun.”