Don’t Let LEDs Scare You

scream-01LED light sources offer lighting manufacturers great opportunities to create new fixture types, new fixture construction and new fixture looks. Then why are LED light fixtures so much like non-LED fixtures? Is fear getting in the way of innovation?

To date we have seen a lot of interesting lighting fixture development in the commercial and industrial arenas. Because LED lighting technology is still evolving, many manufacturers have agreed that the industry needs standardized testing to help end users evaluate and compare these LED light sources. These tests tightly evaluate individual LEDs for life expectancy, color temperature, CRI, and lumens per watt. The entire fixture is also put through equally exhaustive testing to verify the fixture efficacy, and fixture life expectancy when the LEDs are operating inside the fixture. For certain applications this information is informative and useful; for manufacturers deciding which light source to use in their product and for specifiers making a purchasing recommendation for a building lighting plan or exterior application, these are good facts to know.

Unfortunately this rigorous testing and constantly changing technology has scared the daylights out of manufacturers in the residential side of the lighting market and kept them from developing many new LED decorative products. The majority of decorative lighting manufacturers have decided to sit on the sidelines until LED technology is as easy to use as incandescent technology. Most lighting manufacturers really just want to buy an “LED light source” and stick it in a decorative housing that was not designed for LEDs. As a result, in the mainstream U.S. decorative residential lighting, there is little excitement to be seen in products with LED light sources.

The problem is that what is a good idea for commercial lighting is not always directly applicable to residential lighting products. It’s one thing to use LEDs as high performance light sources in utilitarian fixtures, and quite another to use the aesthetic lighting qualities of small, bright LEDs to explore new ways to provide light in a decorative setting.

Decorative lighting by its nature is not primarily about optimizing lamp efficiency, it is primarily about decoration! Yes, price and energy efficiency are important, but frankly these are secondary considerations when developing products that you hope people will eventually purchase. The look, style and decoration are the reasons that consumers become initially attracted to lighting fixtures. Concerns about price and efficiency are just the factors that will help the consumers rationalize the purchase, one way or the other.

You couldn’t tell Rembrandt that it would be more “time” efficient to paint with only 14 brush strokes per square inch of canvas. Would Picasso care that it is more “cost” effective to only use only two paint colors when creating his paintings? Well, the same holds true for decorative lighting. Decorative lighting is about the look of the fixture and the interesting light, sparkle and illumination patterns it produces. Sometimes to get an interesting look, you do use more light and energy then the minimum that might be predetermined from the Illuminating Engineering Society handbook. I feel most homeowners would prefer to have exciting and interesting lighting in their home, not the bare minimum.

To this day, consumers do not judge between incandescent or fluorescent decorative fixtures by comparing the lumens per watt rating of an 8 arm chandelier with exposed 40 Watt flame tipped candelabra based lamps to the fixture efficacy of a six arm fixture with 50W halogen lamps inside glass shades. I don’t believe the wattage differences or fixture efficacy are major concerns for homeowners when they are in the market for LED lighting, either.

My message is clear to decorative lighting manufacturers: Explore this great light source, find the decorative opportunities that LEDs possess, and then go boldly into this new area of lighting. No need to worry that your beautiful LED dining room chandelier is not as efficacious as the LED street light in front of your home!

Follow me, I will show you the path to the future.