Home Automation – Choosing Bulbs

With a New Year’s resolution to replace all incandescent bulbs in the house with LEDs, I actually started the process back in December.  I purchased a ton of these:

Sylvania Ultra LED Light Bulb

These bulbs were already cheap at the local Lowe’s Home Improvement store.  But, for Christmas, they were $2.20 each!  Well, I only needed 7 more to finish up the job I started, in terms of flood light replacement, so I got them.  At this rate, they’re cheaper than incandescents, by a long shot, so why not?

For my particular house, the vast majority of bulbs in common areas, are these floods, so replacing them all will make us feel good about the environment.

In most cases, these bulbs are in sets of at least three or more, so there’s a question of the light switch that goes with them.  In two cases, the family room and kitchen, there are mechanical dimmer switches.  Those are older Lutron dimmers, which were good for the older floods, but not tuned to the all new LED floods just installed.  They work, but in a kind of clunky way.  When you dim really low, the lights might start to flicker, becoming unbearable to be under.  So, some new dimmers are required.

There’s a whole story on dimmers waiting to be written, but there are basically two ways to go.  Either stick with another simple mechanical dimmer, with no automation capability, but at least LED savvy, or go with an automation capable dimmer.

This is as much a cost concern as anything.  I went with both depending.

lutroncfldimmer

This is a typical mechanical dimmer.  I chose Lutron models that are pretty much the same as the old ones, except they handle CFLs and LEDs much better.  This is a good choice when you’re not going to do any automation in the area, you just want to slap that switch on or off when you enter and exit the room, simple and sweet.  So, in my kitchen nook, which has 3 lights, I put this one in.  I also put it in for the 9 lights in the kitchen, but after some thought, I decided I want to do some automation for the kitchen, so I need an automatable switch instead.

lutronautodimmer

In this case, it’s a dimmer that works with the Lutron Caseta automation system.  There are myriad automation systems from all sorts of companies.  I went with Lutron because that’s what was already in the house previously, and I’ve known the name for at least 40 years, and the reviews on them seem to be fairly decent, and they work with the Alexa thing.

These are great because they work with the LEDs, they’re automatable, and you can still just use them locally by pushing the buttons for brighter, dimmer, on, off.

So, that covers most of the lights.  But what about all those others, like the bathrooms, bedrooms, entry way, porch, etc?

Well, in most cases, you can just replace a typical 60 watt bulb with the equivalent 9-11w LED equivalent.  Choosing a color temperature (2700 – 3000K probably the best).  These can still work with standard light switches, so nothing more to be done.  Probably not worth installing a $50 automated dimmer on each one of these lights, but you could if you wanted to.

Now, there are some spots where you actually want to do a little something with color.  In my house, perhaps on the balcony (3 lights), or a play room, or prayer nook.  In these cases, you can install something like the Philips Hue.

huecolor

This is a bulb that is individually addressable.  It requires yet another Hub device, this time from Philips.  What you get though is the ability to set the color to a wide range of colors, as well as the general dimness.  You can set scenes, and if you want to write a little code, you can even hook up a Raspberry Pi to change the color to match the natural daylight.

At $50 a bulb, this is a very spendy option ranking up there with the choice between mechanical and automation ready dimmer switches.  In this case, you get the automation without having to install an automation dimmer, but you pay the automation cost for every single light you buy.  So, for my balcony, it would cost $150 for three lights, or I could go the standard LED and dimmer route for more like $60, assuming I already have the appropriate hub in either case.  What you lose with the standard bulb/dimmer approach is the ability to change the color.  For my balcony, I don’t need to change the color.

So, these automated colored lights make more sense for something like a bathroom, or an office space, or somewhere else where you spend time and care about what the lighting color is doing.

And there you have it.  No matter what you choose, they MUST be LEDs.  At least that’s the mantra of this day.  then you are free to choose a mix of automated dimmers/switches, and automated color changing lights.  In the future, for new homes, all the lighting will be LED at least, because it’s becoming the cheaper choice for builders.  For higher end homes, I’d expect there to be hubs, with automated dimmers and colored lights as a standard set of choices the homeowner can choose, just like carpet, paint color, and cabinetry.

 

 

 

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Home Improvement – LED Lighting

Every few months or so, I get this thing in the mail that shows me a comparison between our home’s energy consumption vs our nearest 100 neighbors.  Every time I get this thing, I see that we’re at 75% or more.  Meaning, we use 75% more energy than our closest 100 neighbors.  I look around the neighborhood and I think “really?  I’m sure we don’t use that much more energy than THOSE people over there…”.  There is a distinction though.  It shows us using a lot more electricity, but about the same or less in natural gas.

Well, being as home competitive as I am, I thought to do an inventory and try to improve things where I can.  As far as electric goes, our house is mostly electric, with the exception being the gas stove top.  Our water heater is one of those “instant on” kind, which is actually constantly heating a much smaller reservoir than a typical home heater, and gives us a continuous stream of hot water, even with two simultaneous showerers (which is rare anyway).  The home heater is one of those heat pump things.  That’s basically an air conditioner running in reverse.  It does have gas fired heater as well, but that doesn’t kick in unless the temperature outside is below 40 degrees, which only happens in the dead of winter.

We did have one of those instant hot water things installed under a sink in the kitchen.  That thing is probably a huge consumer of electricity because not only is it constantly heating water, but it’s constantly keeping it near boiling so you can have hot tea at the twist of a knob.

Then there’s all the lights in the house.  This is a modern house built in 2008.  The sheer number of lights is daunting.  In my office where I’m typing this right now, there are 4 recessed lights in the ceiling, each one an incandescent flood light of 60 – 75w.  That’s a lot of wattage to light a single room.  There are 4 other rooms on this level that are similarly configured.  Then there’s the kitchen with 9 of the same!  So, if this floor is fully lit, that’s got to be enough electricity to run a small city!

Our local utility is running a special lighting rebate right now.  The replacement lights for those floods cost roughly $5 apiece.  That’s quite a savings, and you get LED lighting, which should last for 20 years, and cost roughly $1.30 to run for a year.  Well, I’m all green about that, so I went out and got a bunch of Sylvania Ultra High Output LED flood lights (BR30).

sylvaniafloodSome of the lights in our house are way far up there, and probably will never be replaced, but I did replace all the ones that were readily at hand.  Downstairs, first level, upstairs, it must have been about 40 lights in total.  I also did external balcony, and outside garage.  Knowing the wattage and yearly cost of the lights replaced, I’ve got to think this is going to make some sort of difference.  The lights have what’s known as an “Edison” base, which just means they have that regular sized screw in type of base.  Luckily all these floods were also Edison base, rather than something more exotic.

Next came the entrance to the house.  Currently 3 60 watt bulbs, Edison base.  These stay on all evening, activated by an external light sensor.  The originals were not flood lights, so not a ton of energy to begin with.  I replaced them last year with low energy CFLs.  Since I’m going all in with LED lighting though, I’m going to replace those with Sylvania Ultra LED 75w bulbs.  the package says 1100 lumens, 22+ years of life, and $1.14 per year to operate.  that’s all good right?

Then come the bathrooms.  Each bathroom has at least 3 lights at the vanity mirror.  These are not Edison base, but rather a GU24 base.

gu24cfl

This base has two pins, which you give a half turn to in order to secure in the socket.  Apparently this connector is all the rage, as it allows a much shorter socket compared to the Edison twist connector.  Problem is, the lights with this base are not as common, so choices are more limited.  I’m putting A19 sized bulbs rated at 60w, at 2700K (supposedly soft white).

gu24led

I bought 3 of them at the local Bulbs + Batteries (Duracell ultra, 800 lumens), just to try them out.  They seem to work, so I’m ordering some more through Amazon.

The last kind of light that I have is in the bathroom as well.  These are tiny halogen flood lights for walls in nooks.  They are also pin type, but not the same size as the GU24 base.  These are smaller.  I haven’t found any LED bulbs for that as yet, but I’m sure I will.

I replaced the garage bulbs last year, so that’s all set.

The bedrooms are a different story.  Each room has this dome like fixture, and I finally got around to taking a dome off to see what was needed to replace the light.  Well, it’s a hard wired fluorescent bulb!  I’ve never seen a hard wired bulb in any home I’ve ever lived in.  So, this is rather strange.  I’ll have to shut off the electrical, unwire that thing, put in a twist or GU24 socket, and go on from there.  Surely that won’t happen for quite some time, but since our bedroom lights aren’t on that much, I’m not too concerned with the energy reduction just yet.

Overall, I’m quite happy with our step into the modern era with respect to our lighting.  It’s quite expensive to replace all the lights in our house.  So, it’s not just a matter of cost savings.  Each bulb will pay for itself over the course of our ownership of the house.  Reducing our overall energy consumption is a bigger deal.  Of course, I’m counter balancing with the usage of a massive computer, 3D printers, and CNC router, but those are all occasional usage.  I’ll ride my bicycle more in order to compensate my carbon foot print.

It’s been a fun adventure.  All the different kinds of lights, the balancing act on the stairs with the ladder, and generally contemplating lighting color temperature and the like has been quite an education.  We’ll see if we get our energy usage down around our neighbors with these changes.  Of course, they’re all doing the same, so it’s kind of a race to a coleman lamp fueled bottom.  We’ll see.