Harry Truman once said that the way to get a mule's attention "is to hit him between the eyeballs with a two by four." It may come to that if we are going to get the public's attention about new technology in the residential lighting industry.

It's a sad fact that most consumers are unaware that in many applications the incandescent light bulb belongs in the same museum as the Model T Ford. The Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program has heightened awareness of energy-saving appliances, but public demand for long-life, energy-saving bulbs is still a small blip on the radar screen.

Industry experts attribute consumer apathy to three issues: perception, a lack of consumer motivation and up-front costs. Mention fluorescent lighting and most consumers still think of a long tube suitable for a workshop. Add that the cost of lighting a home is 7 to 12 percent of total energy cost, modest compared to the price of heating and air conditioning. Finally, though new bulbs may last 5 to 10 times longer than their predecessors, higher initial cost is slowing demand.

My crystal ball predicts residential lighting's future lies in the combination of several elements. Couple aesthetically pleasing fixtures with the installation of compact fluorescent and energy-saving halogen bulbs, and control systems that allow homeowners to set a mood or convey an image with the flip of a switch, and you've changed the personality of a room.

The new fluorescents

The major impediments to the use of fluorescent in the home have been appearance, color rendition and the fatal flicker, an irritating pause before the lamps reach full output.

Newly designed compact fluorescents will fit in standard sockets and, assuming the use of a shade, are nearly undetectable. Candle-shaped tubes may have diameters as small as 5/8-inch, making them as invisible as long incandescents.

The second major objection to fluorescent lights has been color rendition, and that argument is also a nonissue. On the Color Rendition Index, incandescent bulbs are given the maximum rating of 100. The new fluorescents are rated at 85, a 20 percent improvement over older models.

Add that electronic ballasts afford the use of dimmers and three-way switches, and we can create moods well beyond the brightness we experience when we visit a dentist's office. The dimmer range on an incandescent bulb is 0 to 100 percent. Fluorescents now range between 20 to 100 percent, meaning we can nearly duplicate candlelight when attempting to create a moody environment.

A 100-watt fluorescent has a life six times greater than an incandescent while using 25 to 35 percent as much energy, making them the subject of close scrutiny by energy czars, as contractors in California are learning. A recent addition to California energy standards mandates that the first light on in a bathroom must be a hard-wired fluorescent.

Then there's halogen

Walk into many newer homes, glance at the ceiling, and you may think you're looking at a moonscape. Despite efforts to camouflage them, recessed ceiling floodlights do not enhance a room's appearance. They are highly efficient however, and versatile, which has slowed the acceptance of halogen bulbs in ceiling applications. Look for a change there.

First, the introduction of short-neck halogen lamps makes them more suitable for overhead installations. Plus, the new lamps are so small and add such significant punch to lighting a space as to be nearly invisible. New technology will produce lamps that disperse a beam over an 80-degree arc, twice what we have come to expect.

Like the newer fluorescents, they take less wattage to produce the same amount of light as old incandescents, so in the long term are tremendously less expensive.

Maestro! Lights, music, please

On the fun side of the ledger is the marriage, or courtship, of light fixtures and sound systems, which add creativity to the design process and may produce large deposits to a contractor's checking account.

Imagine a scenario in which your client and his significant other arrive home after a late evening. The movement of the vehicle triggers a lighting sequence, resulting in the driveway being lighted as the SUV moves towards the garage. Same for the walkway to the entry. Upon entering the abode, lights automatically illuminate areas at preselected levels as quickly as motion is detected.

In the living room, Mr. Client touches buttons on a handheld pad and lights dim as Frank Sinatra croons in the background. With the passage of time, white light is replaced by a softer tone, and violins replace Sinatra.

Too farfetched?

Hardly.

"We devised a system something like this for a friend of mine," said Joe Rey-Barreau, University of Kentucky Lighting and Design Center director, someone on the cutting edge of the new technology.

"He was married shortly thereafter." EC

LAWRENCE is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at hrscrk@mcn.net.