Seeing Where You’re LED - New lights change the way America looks

Published on Fri, 03/31/2017 - 8:00am

America’s rural landscape changed in the 1950s and 1960s. Farmers all over were adopting “yard lights,” the now commonplace dusk-to-dawn sodium vapor lamps that provide lighting in cities. It was a boon—you could actually see while doing early-morning chores and it provided a measure of security, too.

Rural America was so dark, in the 1920s the government installed a “highway of light” with rotating beacons from New York to San Francisco to aid airmail pilots.

But in today’s world of energy efficiency, people are finding that new styles of light bulbs—can they even be called “bulbs” anymore?—are changing the way people look at the way they light their homes inside and out. Best of all, prices are coming down and availability is working its way from high-end lighting shops to local hardware stores.

The yard light redone

The industry calls them area lights—because they illuminate a general area. Old-style high pressure sodium bulbs run anywhere from 100 to 500 watts (some go to 1000) in terms of hourly energy usage. Add a light sensor and they pop on automatically at dusk and off at dusk. And you only have to replace them about every five years or so.

Enter the newest LED area lights. They provide more lumens than the old-style, and virtually all the illumination is projected downward, right where we work. This means your farm yard will be bathed in even light, rather than too-bright in one area and too-dark in another.

Instead of burning several hundred watts of electricity per hour, they use fewer watts than that old desk lamp you refuse to give up. Best of all, their lifespan is often rated in hundreds of thousands of hours, meaning you probably won’t have to replace them, ever.

Wall packs are the self-contained lighting units mounted on exterior walls that also often operate dusk-to-dawn. Today, they use fewer wats and project more light to a given area than the old high pressure sodium. Wall pack designs can range from waterproof and vaporproof industrial forms, to attractive styles that would look right at home outside a garden restaurant or coffee house.

Garden and pathway lighting

Lighting designers used to recommend low-power lights for accenting gardens, pathways, or just about anyplace where illumination is desired. And they still do! The major difference now is that LEDs work more by projecting light, rather than radiating it. That means the designers can direct some illumination directly on the ground so you won’t trip, or project light on to a sign, flag, or decorative element with little overspill. So if you want a spotlight, they’ve got it. If you want a floodlight effect for an entire area, that’s possible, too.

To keep things safe along a drive or walkway, bollards (a light atop a fence post) are a permanent addition that are easily installed (also like a fence post).

Shop lighting

LEDs are reshaping how farm operators go about fixing stuff that breaks. Bright, handheld lamps project more illumination on the area you want far better than old incandescent bulbs. Even portable lamps with AA batteries do better than the corded shop lights of yore. Unlike the old shop light, when it falls to the floor, you won’t be reaching for another bulb. Yes, they’re that durable.

Instead of glowing fluorescent tubes on the rafters of your equipment shed or shop, LED bulbs can be a pop-in replacements that provide more lighting, even lighting, and longer-lasting light. There are no annoying ballasts to burn out (and replace), and they provide 100 percent of their light immediately, with no warmup time.

No wires, no worries

Lighting designers sometime refer to accent lighting, just enough to help call attention to a particular area of your yard or garden. This is more than just for safety—so you don’t trip over a wellhead, for example—but it can accentuate or define certain parts of your yard with a twinkling glow.

But what do you do if you’re unwilling to run underground waterproof wire? Think solar. These LED lights require so little power, they can be effectively recharged by tiny solar cells during the day. These are low in cost and readily available in home and garden stores.

Yes, you do have to place them to absorb sunlight all day long, and after a few years you may have to clean the solar cells or replace the rechargeable batteries. But with no wiring, you can pick up a light and move it to where you want.

Show Us Your 12-Watt, 3000k, 800-Lumen Smile

New terms, new light

Nearly-gone are the days of choosing a light bulb according to wattage alone. Today, you have to evaluate more than just how bright you want a bulb.

Wattage—This is the amount of electricity needed to produce a given amount of light. Heat was a major byproduct of incandescent bulbs, hence the higher wattage needed to create light. Today’s CFLs produce an equivalent amount of light to a 100-watt bulb while using only 23 watts of electricity. LEDs are even more efficient, doing so with only a dozen-or-so watts. And if you don’t need a bright light, wattage drops down to single digits.

Lumens—This is how bright a bulb appears, so “lumens” equals “brightness.” An old-style 100 watt bulb produced around 1160 lumens, while a 60 watter was rated at 800 lumens. Choose a bulb according to how bright you need a space.

Color—Some people are indifferent to lighting colors, while others (like photographers) can be bothered by small differences. Rather than go into a snooze-worthy discussion on the Kelvin temperature scale, keep this in mind: Lower is warmer, higher is whiter. For the bedroom and cozy areas, look for bulbs around 2500k. Offices and work areas do better with whiter light, so shop for 2700k - 5000k bulbs.

All the rest—Because LED bulbs offer unparalleled flexibility in terms of size, shape, bases, and voltage, manufacturers are busy creating new things every day. If there is a bulb or application you don’t see but want, just wait a while.