With a stalling economy and rising utility costs, saving money has become the most common objective of business owners. For electrical contractors, that equates to a shifted focus on upgrading existing electrical systems rather than on new construction. And many business owners are seeking ways to save without losing quality indoor lighting. Fortunately, technology is bringing this kind of adjustment increasingly within reach.

Standard fluorescent lighting is gradually giving way to the smaller, more-efficient T8 and T5 (high-efficiency) bulbs. But some forward-looking companies are ready for light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which may become a leading indoor lighting choice in the next 10 years.

Fluorescent options

Fluorescent light remains the standard in commercial indoor lighting, averaging about 80 percent of the U. S. market. But companies are shifting to new technologies already common in other parts of the world.

T8s and T5s have few of the disadvantages of standard (T12) fluorescents and come with dimming options in the ballasts that allow energy-saving alternatives. T8s are smaller and less cumbersome than T12s, allow businesses to dim lights, save on utility costs and have lower mercury levels. The T5s are smaller, less obtrusive and more flexible than any other fluorescent. They can be bounced off a ceiling and provide a tremendous amount of light.

Eric Marsh, of Philips Lighting, points out that while T5s are popular in Europe, there are still obstacles to their use here. Because T5s are all manufactured in Europe, they tend to be more expensive than standard fluorescents and suffer a conversion problem since they are built according to the metric system. Often, businesses need new fixtures to retrofit the metric-based lighting to the ceiling. High-ceiling sites may not have this problem since they can drop a pendant light and avoid reconfiguring.

T8 linear fluorescent lamps and fixtures (with three lamps per fixture as the approximate standard) are a popular compromise. The Pentagon, for example, is installing T8 lighting in its reconstruction; the bulbs costs less than the T5 and still offer dimming ballasts and mercury reduction.

T5s and T5 HO (high-output) are popular choices for designers and businesses that want to showcase a product or indoor area. Because the light can be more easily directed and evenly distributed, T5 lamps offer greater efficiency and more optical control. They can be used in smaller system wattages, which makes them a popular choice in some market areas. Their shorter length and smaller diameter offers fixture manufacturers greater design options. Businesses can use a lower light level with T5s than they would with direct lighting, because indirect lighting generally cuts glare and improves light quality.

Philips Lighting offers the Silhouette T5, low-level mercury fluorescents well-suited to retrofits in hospitals, schools and other buildings originally built with those kinds of fixtures.

LEDs pick up speed

LED lighting is catching on fast. LEDs are used in a variety of applications as innovative alternatives to conventional lamps. LEDs are made up of semiconductor materials that convert electrical energy directly into light. Besides using a minimal amount of power, LEDs have a longer life. According to manufacturers and vendors, LEDs, with no filament to burn out, can last up to 100,000 hours—as long as 10 years. (That’s still untested since LEDs have not been long on the market). LEDs are shock resistant, which allows them to withstand vibrations, temperature extremes, and switching on and off.

Kathy Pattison, vice president of marketing at Color Kinetics, said companies have two major lighting goals: energy efficiency and incorporating a more “entertainment-like experience” in their businesses. LEDs solve both problems, Pattison said, since they provide higher performance and use less energy. According to the Department of Energy, in 20 years 85 percent of all lighting will come from LEDs.

Color Kinetics is prepared. The company has been in the LED business for five years, offering specialty lighting intended to create a dramatic effect.

While still much more expensive in white lighting than fluorescent, LEDs are competitive in the color market. LEDs come in red, blue, green, orange and amber. And prices are coming down. For example, for a system comparable to the company’s original C-200 fixture, Color Kinetics now delivers a higher-intensity product at a 55 percent lower price than when the technology was introduced. They also offer an installation package for electrical contractors and customers, including an expert on site to supervise and assist and help program the system.

Other manufacturers are also on the leading edge of LED product development. Advance Lighting launched Xitamium electronic drivers that automatically sense the output current to LEDs and keep it at a constant level over an input voltage from 108V to 132V. EC

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at claire_swedberg@msn.com.