In 1999, I went through the back service doors of Wolf Electric, a local supplier, and fumbled my way along the poorly lit, uneven floors to drop $37 and tax for one light bulb: a compact fluorescent light (CFL) made by Philips.
For me, this was the start of energy-efficient lighting. That moment in time might even have represented the apogee of CFLs. Store shelves today are littered with crappy CFL lights that aren’t dimmable, are filled with hazardous mercury, and include ballasts that give off so much waste heat that the white plastic base quickly gets cooked to a yellow crisp as the bulbs sputter to an early death. So much for energy conservation.
Suddenly, LEDs have arrived
But hang on… Is it just us, or did 2015 usher in a new era of LED lighting? It seems that LEDs have jumped out of the dark ages by offering dimmable features and lighting systems that tie into home automation and can change hue in response to commands from a smart phone. These LEDs produce a truly beautiful light that doesn’t oscillate — light that is good enough to permit one to read a book (that is, a durable, sharable, battery-less device made of bound paper, having stories printed in ink). And let’s not forget the fact that these mercury-free lights could be substantially more durable than CFLs.
As readers may imagine, pot lights (also known as recessed can lights) installed through the air barrier of a home’s topmost ceiling have been a big pet peeve of mine — not because I don’t like the lights, but because they kill home performance. The great news is that some of the new LED lights that have flooded the market recently might be able to significantly reduce heat loss due to air leakage.
No need for an airtight hat in the attic
Lotus LED Lights (Surrey, B.C.) has been retailing some exciting low-profile pot lights that could substantially reduce the fussiness of installing pot lights.
It should be noted that good quality LEDs typically have aluminum heat sinks, and for good reason: the heat needs to dissipate. So take this next sentence with a grain of salt: These new lights could potentially eliminate the need for a large housing box that punctuates the air barrier system and projects into the attic, disturbing the uniform layer of continuous insulation and leaking conditioned air like a sieve.
Sadly, many electricians don’t understand the need for air sealing. These new faux-pot lights might be able to help them in new construction, because many models install directly in the drywall and are plugged into a proprietary low-voltage junction box. That simple!
What’s really exciting is that these lights may offer the opportunity to easily eliminate 90% of the air leakage that occurs through existing pot lights by simply retrofitting these new types of LEDs. Coming from a guy who made a living by sending other guys into hot, itchy attics to air seal the backs of pot lights — the LED product from Cree shown in the photo at the top of the page seems like a no-brainer retrofit solution.
Philips CFLs last a long time
I’m proud to say that for the last 16 years, the original Philips CFL light bulb that I bought in 1999 has been on a motion sensor in my back yard, extremely exposed to the elements, protecting us from marauding raccoons. It is still going strong. In this next wave of LEDs, my money’s on Philips — for their commitment to quality and durability.
Greg Labbé is co-owner of BlueGreen Consulting Group, a high-performance home consulting firm that works with architects, builders, and homeowners to optimize the energy performance of new and existing homes through detailed energy modeling and site testing.
Get building science and energy efficiency advice, plus special offers, in your inbox.