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Bright Idea: Shedding some light on LEDs
By Giancarlo La Giorgia

Light-emitting diodes, better known as LEDs, have come a long way from just being little coloured bumps that indicate when an electronic device is on. As production methods improve, they are increasingly finding their way into all manner of lighting applications, including domestic ones, owing to their compactness, efficiency and longevity.
"We've just launched a new, 2700K (warm white) 35-watt LED lamp that outputs the same amount of light and can be used in the same fixture as a 50-watt MR16 halogen bulb, only it lasts 25 times longer and uses 90 percent less power," says AL HUSSEY, chief operating officer of Welland, Ontario-based CRS Electronics. The company is currently working on LED replacements for fluorescent tubes and parabolic aluminized reflector (PAR) lamps.
Unlike cheaper models of LED lamps, which usually have a relatively low colour rendering index* (CRI) in the 80s, meaning they don't render "ideal" whites, Hussey's LEDs have a CRI of 95.6 - near equivalent to halogen (perfect 100 CRI) and much better than compact fluorescent (89 CRI), but without the harmful UV rays or mercury content, respectively. "Light designers and architects looking for versatility as well as exceptional colour constancy love this product, especially since LEDs give off almost no heat, so they are ideal for lighting artwork or other delicate items that might be damaged by intense incandescent or halogen bulbs," he says.
DARREN NAIMER, head of business development and marketing at Union Luminaire & Decor in Montreal, agrees that, "due to their small size and long life span, LEDs have become the lamps par excellence for task and niche lighting applications."
According to Naimer, homeowners with LED systems need not worry so much about whether they left the lights on all night: "A two-watt LED lamp can illuminate, for example, steps or a countertop, just as well as a 20-watt xenon or halogen bulb" - with a tenth of the energy consumption. He also notes that LEDs require much less maintenance: They average 50,000-60,000 hours of use (almost six years; with typical household use, they can last over 20 years), compared to about 10,000 for xenon and just 2,000 for halogen.
As for the creativity afforded by LEDs' size, he recalled seeing a closet lighting system where, instead of having pot lights over the clothes, the hanger rod itself had a row of lights along the bottom. "It almost looked as though the clothes were being lit from within," he says.
LEDs are still most popular in non-domestic settings - think traffic, automotive, billboard, stage and display lighting, to name just a few uses. However, Naimer says this is rapidly changing: "I've seen amazing results with indirect pot lights, with the LEDs pointed upwards towards a reflector," which disperses the light evenly through the aperture, eliminating the typical glaring "hotspot" caused by LEDs pointed straight down.
Still, for all their benefits in domestic settings, LEDs have several weak points, most notably, price. Hussey concedes that, due to his products' $80 price tag - per bulb - the main buyers so far are in the commercial sector. "This technology is most appealing to restaurants, hotels or other businesses that need lighting most or all hours of the day. With that rate of usage, the technology pays off for itself in about one year, while the bulbs will last for five years or more," he says.
Until costs come down as the technology matures, with the exception of smaller, less expensive task lights, "most first-time buyers are turned off by high-quality LEDs' high price tag," says Naimer. He considers "dream house buyers" the main market for domestic LED products, since they expect to live in the house long enough to reap the energy savings that eventually pay off the higher initial cost.

*CRI ratings, from zero to 100, indicate how faithfully a light source reproduces colours, compared to an ideal source, either sunlight or incandescent/halogen bulbs, which have a CRI of 100.

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