Making the Light Switch to LEDs


By Marni Jameson

My day has finally come. Several years ago, I took some heat and a few bullets for my stand against CFL lights, which I detest. It was very ungreen of me, I admit. But I spoke my mind in this column, and also on NBC Nightly News, twice, where, incidentally, anchor Brian Williams agreed with me.

Though considered by some a public planet pariah, I made no apologies.

I simply did not want to trade the warm white light of the less energy-efficient incandescent bulbs for the queasy blue-gray light of CFLs, with their ghastly glow that makes you feel as if you are in a perpetual state of morning sickness.

Plus, the CFL’s curlicue shapes look stupid, and most CFLs cannot go on dimmers, so you lose light control. And, though their makers claim they last 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, in my home the CFL bulbs burned out just as fast. If that weren’t reason enough to dislike them, they contain poisonous mercury. If you drop one, you have to call a hazmat crew in to clean up. So while you save on your electric bill, your kids and pets die. And you can’t toss them in the trash because they’re toxic to landfills.

Apart from that they’re fabulous.

Anyway, I took a lot of heat for my opinion.

At last, those days of shame and ridicule are gone. Residential lighting has come out of the dark ages of incandescence and into the enlightened age of the LED.

Last month, I had every light in my house that wasn’t already an LED light converted to one. It’s been illuminating.

What tripped this cosmic switch was one recessed can light, an incandescent that lit the stairwell, which burned out. Twenty feet overhead. To change it, DC and I would need a precariously placed ladder and an updated life insurance policy. I had an electrician coming anyway, so while he was installing other fixtures, I added this chore to the list.

He told me about retrofit kits – a simple light trim package that converts recessed cans made for incandescent or CFL light bulbs into ones that work with LED bulbs. (LEDs don’t use filaments or gas to make light, but semiconductor circuit chips, so they last for yeeeeaaaarrrrs.)

I knew this revolutionary change was on its way, and was delighted it had arrived. I had the electrician swap out every bulb in the house that wasn’t already an LED. Now all my home’s recessed cans, candelabra bulbs and art accent lights are LEDs. I even swapped the hideous fluorescent fixture in my laundry room (Whose idea was that?) and installed two LED recessed cans on a dedicated dimmer switch.

Today, I am at peace being green.

“The move from away from incandescent and CFL bulbs toward LED marks a tidal shift in our industry,” said Michael Murphy, interior designer and trends producer for Lamps Plus, a Los Angeles-based lighting retail chain. It’s one of the biggest changes the lighting industry has seen since Ben Franklin flew his kite.

LED lights trump CFL bulbs in every way, and are as good or better than incandescent bulbs, said Murphy. Here’s watt we mean:

  • Light quality. This tops the list of what most design-conscious consumers look for in a bulb, including me. LED lights come in a spectrum of color temperatures, from warm white (up to 2900k) to cool white, from 3000k to 4900k. (K is for Kelvin, if you must know.) I went with 2700k throughout my house, a light temperature closest to the standard incandescent bulb’s color and warmth.
  • Energy efficiency. LEDs use much less electricity than either incandescent or CFL bulbs to produce the same amount of light, measured in lumens. For instance, to reach 1100 lumens an incandescent bulb requires 75 watts, a CFL bulb 25 watts and an LED 15 watts. Zing, take that CFL! In other words, LEDs produce far more light per watt than either other type bulb. “LEDs are the greenest option on the market,” said Murphy.
  • And they last longer. The average incandescent light lasts 1,000 hours, the average CFL 10,000 hours (though I think makers are lying) and LED last 25,000 hours, according to a comparison chart by Lamps Plus. On average, you can expect to replace an LED bulb every 10 to 20 years; some last a lifetime.
  • LED lights have been around a while, but they were initially expensive and didn’t come in many varieties. Today they are comparably priced.
  • Dimming ability. You can use dimmers on most LED bulbs, but you need to get the dimmers made for LEDs. If you want one dimmer switch to control more than one light, all the bulbs on that switch must be LEDs.
  • Because LEDs are not dependent on the old-fashioned incandescent bulb shapes. LEDs can be arranged into almost any imaginable shape, from traditional bulb designs to fit your old fixtures, to long lamp arms, to round chandelier pendants, allowing for a whole new range of lighting designs.

Ahh, the sweet taste of redemption. Bring it.

Syndicated columnist Marni Jameson is the author of two home and lifestyle books, and the newly released Downsizing the Family Home – What to Save, What to Let Go (Sterling Publishing 2016).