From The Lighting Designer:
Changing The Light Bulb


A client contacted me recently because she was ready to make the jump and change the MR16 lamps (fancy lighting designer word for light bulbs) in her home from halogen to LED. Quality was agreeably up and prices, down (85% since 2010). She was aware of the obvious benefits, such as reduced energy use and heat - and there would be fewer trips up and down the ladder to change lamps.

Modern filament LEDs designed in the style of traditional incandescent bulbs

In the race to create greener structures, LED lighting options have recently surpassed consumer halogen and compact fluorescent bulbs as the most efficient and versatile option. Their color temperature can be preset or even be adjusted remotely. Expert studies recommend that we are at the point where replacing your bulbs with LEDs will offset the higher up-front cost with significant energy savings.

Left: Halogen and Incandescent Bulbs; Right, MR 16 LED Lamp

But, I knew how critical she had been about lighting for her past projects so I had to tell her about some of the things she was giving up by switching over from incandescents.

Common LEDs do not dim down to warm like halogen. She would be giving up the warm, flattering candlelight glow at low light levels. Also, LEDs may not dim well with existing equipment. They may not dim low enough to her satisfaction to set a mood or use as a night light. Worse, if the equipment is not fully compatible, LEDs may flicker when dimmed.

Low lights at the Skylark Restaurant in NYC, designed by Kugler Ning

My advice to her was to buy some lamps so she could test them out before spending a small fortune on the lot.

My client then told me that she found a document online showing a list of transformers that were tested with the LED lamps and verified as compatible. I was totally impressed by her determination to crack the code - if I could tell her what transformer was in her downlights, she could verify compatibility and check this task off her list.

The 1 Hotel, Miami Beach, with lighting design by Kugler Ning

In spite of the thorough research, I advised my client not trust the list. At best, she could trust in what is shown as not compatible. There is nowhere on the list that defines “quality dimming.” The only guarantee of satisfaction is a field test. With LEDs, seeing is believing.

Although LED lighting has come a long way and has obvious benefits, there is still a way to go before changing a light bulb becomes again what it should be: a thoughtless exercise.

For now, it still takes at least one lighting designer to change a light bulb.