LEDs, Let There Be Light

LEDs, Let There Be Light

LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are better, last longer, and now provide wide-spectrum light (light at both the red and blue ends of the spectrum) in a variety of tones that make reading easier and middle-aged women like myself look younger. So what’s not to love?

You might say cost, and you would have been right a few years ago, when LED bulbs were selling for $60 and had a much shorter light spectrum, primarily in the blue-white (“you look like death warmed over!”) range.

Power Vivid BR30 Dimmable LED Lightbulb

Today, they cost about $25, and occasionally go on sale for as little as $5, with some very wide spectrum, dimmable bulbs still priced around $50. And, while this slightly disconcerting price tag is admittedly worse than the obsolete (and slowly being recalled) incandescent bulbs – the Thomas Edison type – or the equally affordable Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs), the LED does notcontain mercury, which means if you break it you don’t have to call in specialists from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in full hazmat gear to clean up the mess.

Invented in 1907 and refined in the early ‘60’s to provide visible-spectrum light, LEDs function via a semi-conductor in a plastic housing, making them stronger and more shock-resistant than standard (incandescent) light bulbs. Conventional LEDs are made from a variety of semi-conducting materials, and operate using about 30-60 milliwatts of power (compared to an incandescent bulb at 40-100 watts).

This is because an incandescent bulb produces 90-percent heat and only 5-percent light. In addition, LEDs maintain their intensity and do not ‘yellow’ even when dimmed. LEDs also have an extremely long life span, lasting more than twice as long as standard fluorescent bulbs (i.e., more than 100,000 hours) and 20 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

Perhaps most important to artists, designers and those afraid of the dark, LEDs light up quickly, achieving full light in microseconds, and do not abruptly fail like incandescent bulbs but dim slowly over time.

More expensive to purchase, but considerably less expensive to operate, LEDs are the lighting solution for the 21st century, providing precious, wide-spectrum light for people, houseplants, greenhouse plants in winter, seedlings, cuttings, flowering plants, and hydroponically-grown plants.

Of course, as with any consumer product, the performance of your LED is determined by the manufacturer’s focus on quality and your focus on using it correctly. Cheap LED bulbs may be costly in the long run if you buy them from an unknown manufacturer (or, let’s call a spade a spade, from a Chinese company). They will also underperform if you forget that LEDs are directional, while CFL or incandescent bulbs emit light in every direction. This makes LEDs good for reading, studying, growing cuttings and seedlings, and focusing on a drawing board or artist’s canvas, but not so good if you want to light up an entire room.

The upside of LEDs? Recessed ceiling lights equipped with CFLs or incandescent bulbs waste at least half their power, and light, up inside the recessed portion. Directional LEDs do not, and their wide-spectrum ability makes them ideal for focusing on living room seating groups or even that favorite painting.

In addition, note Energy Star experts, blanket adoption of LEDs in the U.S. by 2027 could achieve $265 billion in savings, allow utilities to mothball plans for 40 new power plants and reduce electricity demand by 33 percent. That’s a lot of foreign oil, tar sands and nuclear power we won’t need!

With all that moola, you and I can easily afford to spruce up your home with a couple of strings of sparkling LED holiday lights, just in time for the holidays! (Did I hear someone groan?)

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