Is bad lighting our future?
Good lighting matters
Good lighting matters

Why is there so much fuss about the phasing out of the trusted old Edison bulb? Well, for one it produces great light. In technical terms: It has a CRI of 100, which is the highest possible. (CRI or Color Rendering Index, is a scale from 0 to 100 used to indicate how a light source will make the color of an object appear. )

It is hard to give up something you love, especially when nothing better is being offered. For over 20 years were bombarded with information about the energy-saving virtues of the Compact Fluorescent technology, but the numbers show that they never really made believers of us. Only 20% of all household lamps in the country are of the curlicue CFL variety. The rest are still the good old incandescent "light bulb". Why?  It's the light we like. Too many cheap, inferior CFLs flooded and eventually ruined the market, since "fluorescent" became synonymous with bad lighting. In reality there are wonderful fluorescent lamps out there with great color rendering, but the lack of quality control and the price wars gave the entire industry a bad name.

Studies - and reality - have shown that people value light quality over savings and longevity.

Now LEDs are taking over the market and it is predicted that they'll account for the majority of household lamps within the next five years.

However, only 95 of the more than 8,000 ENERGY STAR  LED lamps on the Qualified Lighting Products List published by the EPA in 2013,  had CRIs of 90 or above. That's less than 1.5% - pitiful!

How did this happen?

Ironically it is easier for cheap LEDs with poor color rendering to get the coveted EPA Energy Star label than LEDs with a CRI above 90. The reason is that an LED lamp with a CRI of 90 has approximately 20% less efficacy compared to one with a CRI of 80. So you get less lumens per watt, but the color rendering is a lot better.

By setting a minimum CRI of 80 in its Energy Star requirements paired with with specifying the efficacy the LEDs have to meet at different power levels the EPA is setting the stage for the same failure we experienced with CFLs: Most LEDs will be produced as close to the lowest standard as possible - and will be getting the coveted Energy Star label. Superior quality LED lamps with a higher CRI that are not able to meet the efficacy requirements chosen by the EPA will not get this stamp of approval , which by the way is not in any way mandatory. The perception among the public will, however, most likely steer them towards the "approved" product. As a result the consumer could be turned off from the poor lighting quality and LEDs in general.  The result would be that the majority of consumers would hang on to the energy guzzling halogens and incandescent bulbs as long as possible. Not a way to save energy nationwide!

We are having the hardest time every single day explaining our clients why the LEDs we suggest are $45 each, when the same type of LEDs are available for $18 at the big box store. That's the reason we have built (and are currently expanding) our "lighting lab" where we can show our clients what the difference looks like . Granted, I'd use cheap LEDs myself in places like our garage or barn, but in my home I'd definitely choose the quality that make my surroundings look inviting. The point is just that I want to be able to make an informed choice. In order for this to happen, the labeling on so-called Energy Star products needs to be improved drastically.

With all the changes in the lighting technology I'm positive that our clients will slowly come around and see the LED lamp purchase similar to the purchase of a small appliance and not as an item you buy 6 at a time and keep 5 spares in the closet. Just as we wouldn't accept a microwave that might be cheap, but took 3 minutes to heat up a mug of tea, we'd choose the LED lamp that gave us the light quality that makes us feel and look good, even if it cost a few dollars more.