Light It Up

Lighting is like the supporting actor in a movie. It’s not going to get top billing, but if it does a good job, the rest of the room shines. Just as easily, poor lighting can throw a room off. “The right lighting plan is the bling of a project,” said Robyn Baumgarten of Interiors by Just Design in Woodbury. “It’s the little black dress that looks good, but turns fabulous once you add the right jewelry.” Paying attention to a room’s lighting scheme is more important than ever because the technology is changing, presenting new design options.

The average household spends about 12 percent of its energy budget on lighting. But the growing popularity of compact fluorescent (CFL) and light emitting diodes (LED), which use 75 percent less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, make it is easy to trim lighting costs. And recent packaging regulations make comparing bulb technologies a cinch. Rather than listing just watts, which is a measure of the electricity used, not the lighting ability, labels must now provide lumens, which actually measure light output. Comparing lumens shows that a 60-watt incandescent bulb, a 15-watt CFL and a 91⁄2-watt LED bulb all produce about the same amount of light, but the CFL and LED bulbs use much less energy and last much longer.

Most of the lighting innovation is happening with those diodes. “LED lights are the future,” said Michael Lichtenstein, Huntington Station’s Lighting Gallery owner and designer. “By far, LED is the most sweeping change in the industry in years and it just keeps growing.” LEDs can replace incandescent bulbs in standard fixtures. They can now be used with dimmers and they render colors closer to incandescent bulbs. “When you dim an incandescent bulb, it gets warmer and softer,” said Lichtenstein. “A lot of companies have LEDs that get warmer as they are dimmed.” Color rendering information is now part of the new labeling requirements as well. Older generations of LEDs only cast light in one direction—up or down—but newer bulbs are constructed to be omnidirectional.

Costs vary for LEDs but they are dropping to a starting price of around $20 for a bulb that is designed to work for more than 25,000 hours. PSE&G Long Island is offering a $6.50 per bulb rebate program for people who purchase more than 21 of the same LED model, making it a good choice for homeowners who are switching out all of the bulbs. There is also a similar rebate program for CFLs.

LEDs also fall into step with the latest design trends. Illuminating a home is a matter of creating layers of light. There is general lighting, which is the light from a chandelier or other ceiling fixtures that light an entire room. Task lighting focuses on work areas, such as under-cabinet lights that cast onto a kitchen counter or hanging pendants positioned over an island. Finally, accent lighting like a wall sconce or lighting above cabinetry, comes in to highlight a decorative object.

“We put a strip of LED tape under the vanity so that it looks like it is floating,” said Lichtenstein. “And at only 11⁄2 watts per foot, the strip serves as an economical night-light.” Other areas for LED tape include behind crown molding, along the bottom of wall cabinets and behind mirrors. The tape has such a low profile it is easy to hide, making numerous lighting effects possible.