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With Incandescent Bulbs Gone, Can LEDs Ever be as Beautiful?

Yes. But it’s complicated.

We’re seeing some terrific coverage on LED technology in the media as incandescent bulbs are phased out:

And we agree that while greater energy efficiency and longer life are part of the promise of the tech, it isn’t perfect yet. The problem? Confusing marketing, uneven quality, complex technology, and unpredictable lighting effects. The bright side? Using the right LED bulbs can offer capabilities far beyond what we ever had with incandescents.

When the first LED bulbs came onto the market, they were touted as far more energy efficient than old incandescent bulbs that wasted energy by creating lots of heat. They were also safer than compact fluorescent bulbs that provided a sickly greenish light and used toxic mercury inside. The problem wasn’t just that they were expensive; since they were rushed to market, the light they provided didn’t show colors all that well. Early adopters complained that things looked “gray” in their illumination.

They were right- LEDs don’t emit the full spectrum of colors like the incandescents do. Instead, they artificially mix pure blue, red, and green light to approximate the white light we want to see, and early on, they did a bad job. The term color rendering index, shortened to “CRI,” describes how accurately colors are lit, with 100 (sunlight) being a perfect score. These bulbs were hitting somewhere between 70-80, so while they looked bright, colors lit by them didn’t.

Also working against LEDs? Unlike the one color available in incandescent bulbs, LEDs can emit many shades of white light, from golden to bluish.

Manufacturers decided to offer these different tones when going to market, but used terms that would be confusing to most consumers. “Bright White,” “Warm White,” “Soft White,” and “Daylight” were all new options that didn’t really mean much to folks just looking for something to replace their 60W incandescent bulbs. And thinking that “Daylight” was a warm and lovely sounding thing, they were appalled when they got home to see the shrieking bluish light that their new bulbs put out.

Even worse, most of these new bulbs weren’t dimmable. That meant that installing them where old incandescent bulbs worked beautifully meant that you’d be assaulted with a surprise strobing dance party when you dimmed the lights for dinner guests. And when bulbs finally became dimmable, they only worked with SOME dimmers and not others. Even then, cheaper “dimmable” bulbs still put out a barely perceptible but migraine-inducing flicker.

But there is good news. Those early days were just an awkward adolescence. And like middle-schoolers, LEDs have grown up and aren’t terrible to encounter in public or at home.

Bulbs now can smoothly dim, provide beautifully rendered color, and like old incandescent technology, can even put out more golden light as they are dimmed down. Not only that, but they can be controlled wirelessly and, if you want, go from white to any color of the spectrum. It just takes having an expert to steer you in the right direction.

Schedule your complimentary lighting consultation with one of our experts today:

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