Study Gives LEDs High Marks in Recessed, Undercabinet Applications
March 7, 2012 - 3:44pm

Score one more point for LED lighting. The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory recently conducted a real-world experiment comparing LED lighting to incandescent and halogen lighting in two homes in Eugene, OR, and found that the LEDs not only save money, but looked good, too.

In the experiment, researchers measured light output and energy usage from 65W incandescent reflector lamps and 75W halogen reflector lamps in the recessed cans in the kitchens, dining areas and living rooms in the homes.

Then they replaced those same lamps with LR6 LED bulbs made by Cree Lighting Solutions.

The result was a whopping 82 percent drop in energy consumption compared to the 65W incandescent lamps and an 84 percent drop in energy consumption compared to the 75W halogen lamps, while the light output from both sources remained virtually the same.

The researchers also tested halogen undercabinet lighting in the kitchens made by CSL and then replaced the light with LED undercabinet lighting, the eW® Profile Powercore by Philips.

Here, the energy savings were even more dramatic — 83 to 90 percent, depending on whether it was tested at a low-power setting or a high-power setting, compared to the old undercabinet lighting.

More impressive, however, was the fact that a group of builders who toured the home after the switch gave the LED downlights high marks for quality and performance. In fact, two-thirds of the respondents said they preferred the LED lighting to the existing lighting in the homes.

The builders especially like the change in the undercabinet lighting, saying they liked the way the LED undercabinet lighting “sparkled” as it bounced off of the granite countertops.

“They were pleasantly surprised at how well the replacement products performed,” said Marc Ledbetter, Emerging Technologies Program Manager at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Ledbetter said the researchers chose the Cree products and the Philips products for the experiment because both products have good energy performance and both give off light that closely matches the color of incandescents, rather than the bluish tint that has given LEDs a bad reputation.

Ledbetter said the experiment proved LED lighting for the home isn’t a mythical concept.

“I think it showed that LEDs are viable now for downlight and under cabinet replacement products,” Ledbetter said.

However, there are still two main factors that are inhibiting the widespread adoption of  LED lighting for recessed cans and undercabinet lighting.

The first is that not all LED lighting will work with a home’s existing dimmer applications.

In fact, in this experiment, the builder accidentally installed a dimmer control that was not compatible with the LED lighting that was selected by the researchers, although later the builder was able to find another brand of dimmer that did work with the LED lighting.

Although Ledbetter said there has been talk of creating an industry standard to deal with the dimmer compatibility issue, he said the most lighting retailers can do now is make sure they read the fine print before they sell products to customers.

“Dimming is an issue with LED products,” Ledbetter said. “There’s still some kinks to work out.”

The other factor that is holding consumers back from installing LED replacement bulbs or undercabinet lighting is the high cost of the fixtures. At the time of the study in August, the LED replacement bulbs for the recessed cans ranged in price from about $69.99 to $149.99, and the builders actually paid $95 per unit for the bulbs at a local distributor in Portland, OR, for the Cree bulbs. The undercabinet LED fixtures from Philips were $140 compared to the halogen undercabinet fixtures, which were $80 a piece.

However, given the energy savings, and the fact that the LED fixtures are expected to last up to 50,000 hours, the researchers calculated that the LED fixtures will pay for themselves within as little as 4.4 years to, at the most, 17.6 years, depending on the fixture. And Ledbetter said the faster LED products are adopted by the public, the faster the price will start to fall.

At this stage, Ledbetter said recessed cans and undercabinet lighting are the two areas in which LED replacement products are the most viable, but he said manufacturers are making strides in other forms of lighting, too.

“As LEDs improve, they will improve to the point they will be able to be used in a fixture that requires an omni directional light source,” Ledbetter said.

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