With the cost of low energy lighting LED falling rapidly into the realm of the affordable, and now available in a huge range of shapes and sizes, it's a good time for house builders and architects to rethink their approach to lighting.
Energy Saving Trust has teamed up with the NHBC Foundation, which supported the production of The Right Light - guidance that addresses the aesthetic as well as technical qualities of the new wave of lighting options. We spoke to the Foundation's Research Manager, Clive Turner about what professionals can expect to find among the pages.
Lighting technology is changing fast right now – but have builders and architects kept up to speed?
Turner said: “Some have embraced it and are good at specifying and selecting lamps. Others are interested but need a bit of guidance. LED lighting is not as straight forward as changing light bulbs; selection is more of a thought process than it was with traditional tungsten incandescent lamps.
“Currently-available guidance is either very technical – quite hard for the smaller builder, who might be just wanting to understand the principles better – or there are gaps in terms of what's presented. This guide helps clarify the selection process behind getting good quality LED lighting into the home.”
Of course all builders have to comply with building regulations, which means they have to provide some low-energy lamps in homes. But the efficiency and versatility of today's LEDs means there is scope to aim higher. Turner explained:
“The regulations are a minimum standard, but to differentiate their homes some want to go beyond that and get more attuned to what's available. There's also increasing pressure from customers, who are interested in LED lighting. Additionally designers may be interested in developing a better offering on lighting, as part of their broader energy efficiency compliance.”
We recently published a blog for householders on how to get the best out of LEDs, which touches on the basics, including light output, efficiency and colour temperature and rendering. The report goes further – helping those involved in building get a full picture of what performance and light output is needed around the home. But what are the primary factors builders and architects should be considering when undertaking an LED lighting project?
Turner said: “First of all, consider how much better LEDs are today compared with just a few years ago. Innovation is pushing things on, and light output has gone from 25 to 100 lumen per watt in just a short space of time. In the early days, the colour temperature and rendering were limitations and not as good as incandescent. With LEDs you can now specify for those things, and your choice of lighting is so much greater. You can create a much more varied lighting scheme, using beam angles to create a range of interesting effects.
“Builders will be familiar with colour temperature, often through experience with linear fluorescent ‘light tubes’. However, for many, colour rendering may be a new concept. Colour rendering is inherently good with halogen and the now obsolete tungsten incandescent lamps but is an important consideration with LED selection. The colour rendering index (CRI) of an LED tells you how vibrant colours will be. At CRI 100, colours will look great. At CRI 75, colours will not look quite so good, and below that, colours are noticeably 'muddier'.”
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Although it's accepted that LEDs last a lot longer than incandescent lighting, CFLs and halogens, their long-term performance is at the moment projected - they simply haven't been in homes long enough to see what happens over their lifetime. At the better end of the market, though, you will have some reassurance. Turner explains:
“You do have to think about lumen maintenance – how well the lamp continues to generate light. In fact, it may be the most important consideration. LEDs work by putting power across a semiconductor, which can deteriorate slightly over time, and some maintain their light output a lot better than others. Test methodology and data is improving quickly, however, and it’s worth making detailed enquiries about performance.
“The quality of the lamps you use is really important. It's not just a case of 'any old lamp' – it's got to be properly tested by an accredited testing facility. There has been some concern that LED lamps weren't living up the stated lumen ratings on the box, but a recent Which? report showed that what's on the box is generally a good guide – so that’s reassuring.”
Lighting does not exist in isolation within a home – and there are practical considerations, especially for downlighters, as Turner explained:
“LED lighting has to be considered with the entire home in mind. For example, you have to make sure downlighters in plasterboard ceilings don't compromise fire resistance, and that lamps installed do not cause cold bridging at loft or roof levels. Also, the right lamps must be fitted in bathrooms and shower rooms in particular, to reduce moisture vapour moving into the fabric of the home.
The report looks at how low energy lighting can be applied to the three levels of lighting: general, task and accent – creating a variety of desired effects in the home.
Turner said: “LED lamps provide versatility for dealing with various general, task and accent lighting needs. Using different circuits, some of which will be dimmable, and giving flexibility so that, for example, the dining table can double as a place for study or paperwork.
“Accent lighting is an area of increasing interest. It's about controlling the character of a room, not just 'putting the light on'. Ultimately, provision of light is a personal thing – it's about working with the customer to get as close to their vision as possible.”
Providing high efficiency and high quality lighting is likely to be an area of continual learning for housing professionals as the market grows and the products available diversify even more. It’s hoped The Right Light lighting guide provides a well-pitched level of useful information on lamp selection, a view supported by The Lighting Industry Association who reviewed the content. However for the future, it is recognised that separate, detailed guidance is needed on the installation and circuitry requirements of LEDs.
Turner added, “We hope The Right Light will give an idea of the direction lighting is travelling – and that is towards LEDs. Ultimately, there’s the exciting prospect of LED lighting being an integral part of the connected home of the future.”