It’s no secret that I am a fan-girl of solid-state lighting (see my article on the future of electricity here). It’s also no secret that my degree in energy efficiency makes me obsess on things like ROI (Return on Investment), resource outlay, commodity cost, and the lifetime consumption or lifespan impact of products. I am also an advocate of using dollar bills to ‘vote’ with producers and let my money tell them that I am willing to pay to enjoy feeling good about what I consume. Education is vital; I always want to learn more – and I want to share what I learn with everyone around me, like its something magical and revolutionary, world-changing and going to save the day. LEDs are for me like the unicorn of energy efficiency – shiny, pretty, efficient, affordable, and they leave the world feeling full of rainbows and butterflies (that might just be my imagination).
However – there’s all kinds of amazingly cool, nifty, neat-o things you may or may not know about LEDs. It helps that LED technology is growing in leaps and bounds everyday, meaning the prices are falling and technology developments are coming faster and more frequently. There’s a lot of science behind those little pieces that beam light so easily and efficiently. You might or might not know these things – some of them I didn’t even know until I read about them – but I guarantee you will find it all interesting (I sure did!)
LED’s are nowhere near as toxic as compact or tubular fluorescent lights.
A traditional incandescent light bulb is the glass bulb, a finite metal element strung between two posts, and an inert gas. It’s level of environmental impact is relatively negligible (depending on the level of responsibility and stewardship from landfill maintenance companies). Fluorescent lights are glass, tungsten, a combination of inert gases with phosphorous, and mercury vapor. Mercury has been identified as being toxic or at least hazardous to humans since as early as the 1920’s; however, it is something we continue to use in mining, manufacturing, production, and lamps. The irony is that while using fluorescent bulbs increases energy efficiency – which means we consume less energy and burn less coal, thereby releasing less airborne mercury – we are instead putting this hazardous material into our homes more frequently. Remember – dispose of CFLs and expired fluorescent lights as if they are hazardous materials, because they are! If you break any kind of a fluorescent bulb inside, please follow the EPA’s step by step guide to clean it up.
LEDs do not broadcast light at the same wavelengths as traditional bulbs.
Incandescent bulbs radiate infrared waves – that means it generates heat with its light, amongst other things. Fluorescent bulbs and incandescent both generate UV waves – that is, ultra violet bands of light. This might sound like a good thing, but UV rays cause damage – they can break down human skin, cloth exposed to it, and encourage the breakdown of proteins. This means in things like food, fluorescent lights actually cause damage to raw meats, causing them to suffer from something called ‘UV rot’. Stores don’t like using them because UV exposure causes physical damage to the cellular makeup of products, most notably clothing and meats. LEDs are phosphorescent and do not generate either ultraviolet or infrared light waves.
LEDs are flexible, in so many more ways than one these days – you can actually choose a specific color range, or bandwidth, or spectrum for light and custom design, build, or program a series of lights that will produce what you need. Mix a million tiny red, green, and blue diodes to come up with your perfect temperature of ‘warm white’; program lights with only the wavelengths you desire! Better yet – use amber LED lights to illuminate the outdoors at night; animals find the color less distracting and disruptive, and will not find themselves confused by artificial white lights or drawn to an unnecessary death.
Speaking of night – LED headlights offer a higher temperature (which actually means they look cooler) and that means you get better low-light vision from the LEDs. It’s blue-tinged fan of light means you get much better peripheral perception and will be a safer driver every night! Best of all – bugs are in reality attracted to ultraviolet and blue-spectrum wavelengths – not actual lights themselves. Imagine enjoying a night with your home wide open, and no bugs trying to crawl inside your light fixtures or their bulbs! Because LEDs come with drivers, they are programmable – like the Drift bulb, an LED programmed to imitate the fading light of sunset when you activate it, letting your bodies natural desire for sleep at sunset assert itself once more.
LEDs and extreme temperatures work a lot differently.
The internet literally has thousands of videos of exploding light bulbs. Anything can do it, too – droplets of liquids, things inside light bulbs, etc. The reason this happens is because an incandescent bulb generates not just light but heat and the filament is combusting, which can offer spark or a source of ignition. Incandescent bulbs can get very, very hot on their surfaces – they can also radiate that heat outwards, which is why we love to use them in heat lamps. In a home, this means you are not just powering that bulb with electricity, but also paying for more electricity to the air conditioner to cool down the air that it is heating up around your lights. On the opposite end of the spectrum, because fluorescent bulbs do ignite their gas interiors, when the surrounding air is too cold they either have trouble igniting or don’t completely light, sometimes flickering aggressively and making it feel like we are in a bad zombie movie. LEDs do generate heat, yes – but that heat isn’t in the the light they generate; instead it is from electricity passing through the diode. LEDs have built in fins and ‘sinks’ to help dissipate this heat – but the light itself is cool to the touch. Not only that, but because of their special properties, when an LED is colder it actually operates better, burning brighter than it does at room temperature.
More Than Meets the Eye
It might look like a flashlight – but what it really is a weapon, made up of light. Called the Incapacitator, it is a light that is a weapon. Due to its very specific design, its powerful LEDs and circuit board work in concert to bring people down. Bright strobing can induce retinal blindness, making it hard to move away; spinning, flaring, flashing colored lights can be completely debilitating when they induce a nausea so deep you can’t even move away and are incapable of doing anything but vomiting. This is, apparently, a side affect of overwhelming the brain with so much visual stimulation it becomes completely over stimulated. Yet on the opposite end of the spectrum, NASA has been experimenting with LEDs affect on astronaut wounds since 1995 – LED light therapy is now a regimented part of their recovery process. Hospitals have dispensed with their ultraviolet and infrared radiating lamps for jaundiced babies, instead utilizing LEDs that will not risk making the baby sick nor damaging its gentle skin; hospitals also use them to treat sleep and mood disorders, cancer, acne, vitiligo (a pigmentation disorder), and depression. Who knew a single flashing diode could do so much?
The War of the Bulbs is coming; a hundred years ago we fought about how to power our homes – coming is the day when we as a society become as vehement about our lighting methods as we are about our sports and our politics. (I’m probably being completely ridiculous here, but a girl can hope huh?) How we think about buildings, indoor space, and illumination is changing across the nation – efficiency is important, saving money means saving the planet, and everyone can make a difference. Low voltage LEDs are the way of the future – they are adaptable to all people, in all walks of life; they are flexible and powerful and only getting better every day.
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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