February 28, 2013

According to U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimate 461 billion kilowatt-hours were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors in 2011.  This is about 17% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and 12% of total U.S. electricity consumption.  This government website contain interesting data.  For example, looking through some of the tables on this site I noticed that 1995 was the year when electricity use by the residential sector exceeded the electricity use by the industrial sector.  But I digress.  This post is not about historical electricity consumption data but about lighting choices we’ve made at Midorihaus.  For those who want to explore the rabbit warren of historical energy data I invite you to look at this report from EIA.

We wanted 3 outcomes for lighting at Midorihaus: (1) good light quality that is functional and pleasing, (2) energy efficient performance of the materials, and (3) aesthetics of the lighting fixtures to match the overall Arts and Crafts style of the Bungalow architecture.  These 3 outcomes were equally important so naturally Kurt drove this area.  Not only does he have the gift of easily juggling and synthesizing different aspects and ideas all at once he also has over 2 decades of analog photography experience which trained his eyes to notice different qualities of light plus the science background to tie it all together.

The Arts and Crafts aesthetics part was fun.  Looking at books on Arts and Crafts style and visiting lighting stores to look at fixtures were enjoyable.  Our neighbor turned us on to The Bright Spot website and we were delighted to find reasonably priced Arts and Crafts style lighting fixtures.   We bought most of our lighting fixtures from The Bright Spot.

Researching and buying the light bulbs took a bit more time.  The light quality and energy efficiency aspects were challenging because evaluating light quality is subjective and the technology, especially with LEDs, is changing rapidly.  We’ve heard leaders in this field talk about how in 2 years the LEDs will be much better performing at lower cost than it is today.  But we can’t wait 2 years — we need to put some kind of lighting into the house now.  So, here are the steps we took to figure out what light bulbs to use:  1) Visited lighting retail shops to check out what they had in stock and compared them on their display board with dimmers; 2) Bought a number of CFLs and LEDs that looked good at the store; 3) Put the sample light bulbs in the fixtures in different rooms to note what we liked and didn’t like; 4) Measure actual performance of the light bulb (rather than trust the printed stuff on the box).

1) Visiting lighting retail shops.  We started locally at Riverside Lighting & Electric in Santa Cruz.  After identifying few different types of Compact Flourescent Lamp (CFL) and Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs we asked the salesperson if we could use the display board with a dimmer to see the lights side by side.  By putting different things near the light, such as your hand or paper with color, you can judge with your eyes what looks pleasing to you.  Since we specified dimming switches in several of the rooms it was important to have a bulb that performed well in dimming function.  Some of the bulbs had a noticeable color changes or reduced sensitivity when dimmed.  Other shops we visited were City Lights in San Francisco,  Bay Lighting Supply in Santa Clara, Light Point in Menlo Park, and Rejuvenation in Berekely.  City Lights in San Francisco had a wide selection of light bulbs and separate departments and staff for lighting fixtures and light bulbs.

2) Buying CFLs and LEDs to try at home.  We bought the CFLs and LEDs below to try out in the fixtures in our home.

CFL Bulbs:  GE, TCP 850 lumens, TCP 750 lumens

LED Bulbs:  Green Creative, Energetics, Philips, LEDwiser

3) Try the light bulbs in the lighting fixtures.  Seeing the bare bulb in the lighting store is nothing like seeing the bulb in the fixtures in the actual room in the house.  It was amazing to see how many different things can affect the overall light quality — the paint colors of the wall and ceiling, the direction the lighting fixture, the type of material used in the lighting fixture (colored glass, metal borders, etc.), furniture in the room, and time of day.  We found that while the labels on the boxes (color temperature, lumens, watts) contain information that will guide you on narrowing down the initial selection, the actual “feel of the light” in the rooms determines the best fit.

Below are some pictures of our lighting fixtures in various rooms.

Office & Guest Room:  Kenroy 806362ORB Builders Modern Mission Builders Modern Mission Ceiling Light 3 Lamp with LEDwiser bulbs.
Office:  Kichler 70598 Zen Table Lamp with Philips bulbs.

Kitchen Breakfast Bar:  Kichler 65292 Joya Mini Pendant with Philips bulb.

Dining Room:  Kichler 65290 Joya Chandelier with LEDwiser bulbs.

Living Room:  ELK Lighting 7647-5 Elysburg 5 Light Chandelier with LEDwiser bulbs. 

Deck:  Kichler 9031DCO Morris Longbody Outdoor Lantern with LEDwiser 

Porch:  Kichler 9838DCO with LEDwiser

Bedroom:  Sconce with Green Creative bulbs.

You may have noticed that we used quite a bit of LEDwiser bulbs.  Kurt met the entrepreneur behind this up and coming company in San Jose through Cleantech Open and we were impressed with their product.  LEDwiser’s product had the best lumens/watt ratio and had good directional coverage.

4) Measure actual performance.  We used the Kill A Watt to measure the watts drawn by the light bulb.  This was an interesting exercise to see if the actual electricity consumption measured on this device is what’s advertised on the box.  We plugged in the Kill A Watt into the electrical outlet on the wall then plugged in a table lamp to the Kill A Watt.  Then different light bulbs were screwed into the lamp to measure their electricity consumption.  We found that all of the LEDs we tested measured below the watts advertised on their boxes.  The TruDim CFL from TCP had the characteristic of shooting above the advertised wattage when warming up then settled near the advertised number.

Performs as advertised
Overshoots while warming up

If you’re interested you can check out the summary of our test.  Once we decided which bulbs we liked we totaled up the numbers and placed orders with the respective companies.

…And then there’s Title 24

One area where we felt “handcuffed” in our lighting fixture selection was the kitchen.  Lighting in kitchen is subject to energy efficiency standards specified in California Code of Regulations, commonly known as Title 24.  Instead of using the Arts and Crafts style ceiling mount fixtures with LED bulbs we had to get a very specific kind of lighting fixture that forced you to using a specific type of high efficiency lighting.  Perhaps this code was meant to prevent homeowners from using 100 watt incandescent light bulbs all over the kitchen. The intention is good but it makes it harder for those of us who want to have better energy efficiency than code minimum.  Because this is part of the code where building inspectors check and there are limited number of manufacturers and models we had little choice.

If you’re curious about what Title 24 details take a look at this website, Title 24 Express, which seems to have the layman’s explanation of Title 24 in an easy to read layout.

If you are really into government regulations and want to read more about Title 24 then enjoy this government site.