A Fable of Light
April 10, 2011
Once upon a time there was a precocious little girl called Goldilocks who ventured into an inviting cabin nestled in the woods. She was so tired from her journey, she decided to have a rest. She wandered into the sunlit living room (too bright) and pulled across the curtains. Too dark! She pulled down the light-filtering shades. Ahhhh just right; she had a lovely rest.
When it was near evening, she woke and found that she was famished. So the bold but independent girl made her way to the kitchen to whip us something delightful for herself. She was cutting up some apples in the corner and needed more light, so she flipped the switch for the overhead fluorescent, happy in an ‘I’m green’ sort of way to see the familiar swirly bulb. PING! Out it blew, too dark again. Another switch brightened the countertops with beautiful LED under-cabinet lights. Oooooo, just right, perfect for preparing a steaming bowl of porridge topped by her chopped apples.
Then with her feast to the dining room, where the motion sensor spotted her and flipped on to a preset dimmed setting, leaving her surprisingly and for the first time, calmly satisfied with what she had…until in her silence she heard a growling sound in the distance just as the motion sensor lost her and the lights went out.
The moral of Goldilocks’ story is that lighting design is more than lumens and watts…it should also take into account our personalities and how we live in our spaces. High-quality and efficient lighting design includes a mixture of lighting choices and the use of controlled natural sunlight to the greatest extent possible. In recent months we’ve been researching lighting efficiency and current technologies for a kitchen renovation project. We can’t help but be influenced by our own prejudices, such as our big disappointment with the compact fluorescents we’ve installed in our own home’s light fixtures. We guiltily feel nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ when we didn’t think about our energy use every time we flipped a switch, and when our faces were always soft-lit by the old-standard incandescent.
We are also looking to January 2012, when the federal energy standard phasing out the incandescent will go into effect….one of our friends is hoarding them in anticipation of the phase-out. We are excited about the new technologies, especially by the great strides made in LED lighting and systems controls (dimmers, motion-sensors) over the past years.
We found some robust websites with loads of information about design strategies for efficiency, comparison of different light types (incandescent, fluorescent, LED, Halogen), and the new federal standards. California adopted the federal standard for efficiency in January of this year, and the State’s web site has some of the best information and links we came across. Energy Star is an especially useful resource since the standards are a reliable measure of a product’s effectiveness in a quickly changing and competitive market. All Energy Star fixtures are required to use at least 75% less energy than incandescents, and both CFLs (10x) and LEDs have far greater longevity (20x) than incandescents.
From our reliable standby The Green Building Advisor comes the practical advice, “The right combination of task and ambient lighting can save energy. A mix of lighting sources allows you to use the type of light you need: task lighting for reading, food preparation and other activities — where strong, concentrated light is helpful — or ambient lighting where more general illumination is better. Not all lights have to be on all the time, and natural light can be a significant contributor when floor plans are designed accordingly.”
Even with all the benefits of web research, we rely on our local experts. So we asked Lucy Dearborn at Lucia Lighting, what she recommends for efficiency and quality of light. She says one of her favorite combinations for ‘being green’ is to combine Eco-Friendly Halogen Lamps with the Lutron Eco-Minder dimmer. “You get fabulous bright white light when you need it and can dim down t a softer, warmer tone when you don’t need task lighting. The Eco Friendly light bulbs work with a regular dimmer, but we recommend an Eco-Dim Diva (perfect for The Divine Miss Goldilocks!). The Diva dimmer only allows light bulbs to go to 85% of their full capacity, so you can more than double lamp life and save energy at the same time! This solution is a great alternative to compact fluorescent light bulbs that sometimes don’t have a warm enough color & do not dim.”
The Eco Dim Diva (Lutron) Color Kinetics LED under-cabinet light
For our kitchen project, we’re planning on a combination of Color Kinetics LED under-cabinet lights (as recommended by Lucia), some track and general lighting using dimmable Eco-Friendly Halogens, and big south-facing windows!
What are your lighting preferences and what are your plans for 2012’s changes? As always, feel free to contact us to find out more about what options may work best for your home. Best wishes for Spring and long days filled with daylight!
Some links to find out more: