LED lamps make it easy for you to eat away at the amount you pay for residential electricity. The 60-watt incandescent bulb you pull out of a lamp when it blows out after 750 hours of service can give way to a 10.8-watt LED lamp that lasts 15,000 hours. At eight hours a day, that LED stays in service for more than five years, reducing the amount of time you spend replacing bulbs as well as the energy you use to power them. Understanding how to buy and use these high-tech devices means learning a few of the tricks that characterize their performance.
Lumens, Not Watts
When incandescent bulbs dominated the lighting market, most people used the measurement of their energy input to designate the performance of individual products. Because all 60-watt bulbs produced relatively similar amounts of light for roughly equivalent bulb lifespans, you could use the wattage figure as a way to identify a bulb and its brightness.
Today's lighting marketplace includes various types of lamps, all of which require different amounts of energy to emit equivalent amounts of illumination. To make meaningful comparisons among them, you use their light output, measured in lumens, as the output standard. For consumer convenience, some manufacturers also characterize their LED lamps in terms of the incandescent bulb wattage they replace.
If you're accustomed to taking photographs indoors under artificial light, you expect to see incandescents produce an orange glow and fluorescents a greenish tinge when you look at the images you capture. LED lamps use a mixture of individual red, green and blue LEDs to produce white light. How a manufacturer builds an individual LED lamp— the mixture of lighting elements and circuitry—determines the color temperature the device produces, ranging from warm to cool.
Not all non-incandescent lamps work properly when you install them in a light fixture or wall socket that uses a dimmer instead of a standard on/off light switch. Dimmers step down the amount of current presented to a lamp, reducing its brightness incrementally and gradually. Unlike three-way incandescent bulbs, which combine two filaments to produce low, medium and high brightnesses, dimmable bulbs emit a range of light output from all the way on to almost off. Compact fluorescents often buzz and flicker if you attempt to use them in a dimmed application. If your installation requires a dimmable lamp, look to LEDs for compatible performance.
Instant On, Less Impact
If you've tried compact fluorescent lamps, you know that they require a warm-up period to reach full brightness because the gas they contain needs to reach its proper operating temperature. Halogen lamps also require a warm-up period. LED lamps immediately reach full brightness the moment you turn them on. Once they reach end of life, disposing of compact fluorescent bulbs requires some environmental care. These lamps contain mercury, released when their enclosures break or shatter. By contrast, LEDs pose no such threat.
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