Join the LED revolution

Andreas Späth

The future of lighting is LED. For years, people like myself have been bugging you to replace your old incandescent light bulbs with more energy efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). Soon, we’ll be telling you to throw away your CFLs (safely, mind you - they contain five milligrams of toxic mercury each) and invest in LED light bulbs. They are even better for the environment and, in the long run, for your wallet, too.

An LED, which stands for light emitting diode, is an electrical device with two semiconductor terminals that conduct electricity in one direction when connected to a voltage source, emitting light in the process. They’re those tiny things that look like glass beads and you’ve been using them for years in various appliances from computers and TVs to traffic lights. LED light bulbs look pretty much like ordinary light bulbs and they fit straight into conventional light sockets.

According to Dutch electronics giant Philips, the global LED market is forecast to expand by 40% this year and the US Department of Energy estimates that rapid and widespread adoption of LED bulbs by households and companies could reduce the country’s lighting electricity demand by as much as a third by 2027.

Here are the reasons why you should consider LED lights for your own home:

- LEDs are highly efficient, using 75 to 90% less energy than incandescent light bulbs. Both incandescent and CFLs waste electricity by converting 90% and 80% of the energy they consume into heat instead of light respectively.

- LEDs last up to 25 times longer than incandescents and around 50% longer than CFLs, meaning that they have to be replaced much less frequently and generate less waste. LEDs typically come with 3 to 10 year warranties and are rated for 25 000 to 50 000 hours of use. By comparison CFLs are generally expected to last for 10 000 to 15 000 hours and incandescent for only 1200 to 1500 hours.

- LEDs are starting to become more widely available in hardware and lighting shops and although they are still substantially more expensive than their CFL and incandescent cousins, their higher efficiency and much longer lifespan means that even with the greater initial cost you’ll save money in the long run. In addition, prices are coming down all the time as manufacturing methods improve.

- Unlike CFLs, LEDs don’t contain lead, have a sturdy design, turn on instantly, don’t flicker and are not sensitive to ambient temperature or humidity.

- LEDs are capable of producing good quality light with a warm, soft glow.

- LEDs can be made to allow for dimming and automatic switching on and off functions.

- LEDs remain cool to the touch, even after hours of use.

- Unlike CFLs and incandescents, LEDs are not negatively affected by being turned on and off frequently, and they tend not to fail suddenly, but gradually dim right at the end of their lifespan instead.

- LEDs can be made into long tubes to replace fluorescent light tubes.

- LEDs use well-established technology that continues to improve. In future, for example, it may not be necessary to replace an entire light bulb, but just the tiny LED inside it, leaving very little material to discard.

When shopping for LEDs, make sure that you buy good quality bulbs from reputable manufacturers – there are el cheapo imposters out there peddling poor quality products.

To replace a 60 watt incandescent bulb, look for an LED that generates around 800 lumens (a measure of brightness). Typically that would be a 12 watt LED. A 9 watt 450 lumen LED is about equivalent to a 40 watt incandescent bulb.

- Andreas freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

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