Learning About Lighting & LEDs

The sun is showing itself in all its glory this week, with temperatures in the 90s and humidity that’s wrapping us in a blanket of heavy warmth. At the same time nightfall is coming earlier, hinting at cooler, darker days ahead and nudging us to learn about lighting.

Our current assortment of lights is a haphazard collection of inherited, refurbished and “big box” task and ceiling lights. My favorite is a 1940s floor lamp with a swoopy orange silk shade I made myself. For the most part, I like task lighting that creates a mood and lights just the area where I am, while John usually prefers bright lights. He wants to “see!”

Our new house will have loads of windows and lots of natural light, which will pretty much eliminate the need for lights during the day. But of course we need lights for evenings, and building forces forethought.

Last spring John put together a lighting/outlet plan so carefully that our electrician, Scott Prahl, had few doubts about what we wanted. As he made that plan we talked about where to put outlets and lights and imagined how we’d use every corner.

About that time we cashed in on a Lanesboro Arts Center silent auction purchase to get a crash course in lighting design from consultant Carla Gallina. She came prepared, had questions, and gave us printouts. We learned about the quality of incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFL), halogen and LED lights, and how to use light to “enlarge” spaces or create focus. Until then we’d assumed LED was the only way to go. Her perspective showed us there are trade-offs and a number of ways to reduce power consumption.

Feedback from others after that conversation was adamantly “Go LED.” With all the other things I had on my mind at the time, I glazed over and let it “float.” But the question came back when I started looking at ceiling fans: What will we install?

A couple of weeks ago we wandered into Menards and Home Depot to get barn sash windows for the east side of the garage. On the way out we trailed through their lighting departments. In both places we ended up talking with department directors who watch product evolution and availability and were more than willing to share what they knew. My big questions that day were: 1) Do you have LED-specific fixtures?; 2) If we buy an LED fixture can we change the lighting element later, or do we have to buy a whole new fixture?; and 3) Are there LED bulbs that create “warm” rather than “cold” light?

Last week I took a break from some quiet work in the Roost above Pedal Pushers Cafe and wandered over to check out the new gallery at Lanesboro Local. There I found veteran electrician Randy Haakenson installing track lights. Questions percolating since our “big box” conversations came up and Randy was gracious enough to give me his perspective.   He confirmed that the light “cans” on the LED tracks he was installing would be thrown away in their entirety when the lights dim years from now.

At that moment I fully realized that the lighting industry is in a major transition. No doubt we’ll see better, less wasteful, energy-efficient solutions in years to come. But for now we have CFLs that are efficient but toxic when they break, halogens that can be efficient with careful use but are hot, incandescents that produce beautiful soft light but are hugely inefficient, and LEDs that are super efficient but not fully developed as a household product.

Specifically, here are a few more basics I learned:

• LED lights are more efficient and longer lasting than any other source.

• LEDs don’t “burn out”, but the amount of light eventually decreases and color can shift.

• Some LED fixtures have lights built in permanently. They last for years, but when the light source weakens it can’t be replaced and an entire new fixture has to be purchased.

• LED bulbs are available in both white/blue and warm light, but most we’ve seen are bright white. Color quality varies by brand.

• LED light is directional and engineers are still working on ways to radiate light more fully. This (plus the solid heat sink next to the twisting part of the bulb) means LED bulbs come in odd shapes that may not fit all current fixtures.

• Mercury in fluorescent bulbs becomes a toxic, lingering vapor when broken, so the small screw-in bulbs (CFLs) need to be in protected fixtures, if used.

• And a fun fact…LEDs do not attract bugs.

In light of what we know now, we plan to install conventional fixtures and use LED bulbs, including many of our current task lights. We think this produces less waste than full LED fixtures, and it’s less expensive. We may use a few compact fluorescents, but I’d like to avoid them. And while I won’t turn it on often, I’ll probably put a couple of soft-light incandescents in the old light fixture with tinkling chain pulls, just for now and then.





Lanesboro, Minnesota
Climate Zone 6 (cold/moist)
Latitude: 43° 44' 18'' N
Longitude: 91° 54' 48'' W

House Size

Net Treated Floor Area: 1,514 SF
Gross Square Footage (House only): 2,210 SF

Building Envelope

Roof: R-99
Wall: R-61
Ground: R-53

Windows & Doors

Glazing: U-0.10 BTU / hour / sq. ft.
Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC): 0.48”
Frame: U-0.19 BTU / hour / sq. ft.

Modeled Performance

Specific Primary Energy Demand (Source Energy Demand): 12.1 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Specific Space Heat Demand: 7.0 kBTU/sq. ft. / year

Peak Heating Load: 7,047 BTU / hour

Space Cooling Demand: 0.44 kBTU / sq. ft. / year

Peak Cooling Load: 3,625 BTU / hour

Pressure Test Goal: Whole House Air Changes Per Hour (ACH) = 0.4 ACH 50


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