How To Choose Solar Lights For Your Yard

victorian-solar-led-lamp-and-post-7-foot-height-17When given the choice between spending money or getting something for free, which would you pick?

While this dilemma seems a little too good to be true, in the outdoor lighting industry, it’s an increasingly valid question. Conventional outdoor lights run on the electricity you pay for, but solar lamps are powered by the always-free sunlight. Once you invest in your favorite solar lights, the costs stop. No money spent on difficult installation, upkeep, or energy.

Who doesn’t love that?

However, because solar powered lights are still a fairly new technology, you need to make sure that the lights you buy aren’t going to let you down. Until just recently, most solar powered lights only produced a dim amount of light, and weren’t very reliable.

To choose good solar lights for your yard, you need to be informed. Here’s what you need to look for when you’re shopping:

LED lights: We recommend you always use solar powered lights with durable LEDs. They last longer than other light sources, and can hold up under harsher elements. LEDs require less energy to produce light, so they are much more dependable.

Efficient Photovoltaic Cells: You should stay away from older models, making sure your lights have durable solar cells and the most efficient batteries.

Function and Decoration: Make sure your lights will be able to perform the functions you require. When lighting an outdoor area, we recommend you use 3 kinds of solar landscape lights – accent lights, path lights, and task lights. Here are some examples:

  • Solar accent lights: Accent lights are used to mark areas or highlight features in your yard, but not illuminate a large object or area. They aren’t as bright as other kinds of lights, meaning they last longer. Their purpose is mostly to add visual interest.

hanging-basket-with-solar-led-accent-light-7

  • Solar path lights: Path lights are brighter than accent lights, and used to guide you around an area in the dark. They come in a variety of sizes, and operate in a range of different ways – timers, motion sensors, or dusk-to-dawn photocells. (more…)

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How To Buy LED Light Bulbs (When You’re Used To Fluorescent)

LED Light Bars ShowcaseFluorescent light bulbs are all the rage. Today, the majority of households in the U.S. have begun to adapt their lighting, exchanging inefficient incandescent light bulbs for energy-saving compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). These familiar spiral-shaped light bulbs hide under our lamp shades, within our ceiling lights, behind our wall sconces, and are quite pleasant to use. Often, you can’t even tell the difference between a classic incandescent and a CFL.

As incandescent lights become a thing of the past, and energy efficient lighting becomes more of a priority, the fluorescent lights have gained popularity.

Fluorescent lights use much less energy to produce the same light output as any incandescent lamp, and they last many times longer. Plus, improvements in fluorescent lighting technology have turned these lamps into a pleasant source to have around your home or work space. The cost upfront isn’t terribly more than an incandescent, either.

Presently, cost and technology make fluorescent lights and LEDs (light emitting diodes) rivals in the energy efficient lighting market. But it won’t stay that way for long. Lighting experts say that while fluorescent lighting technology has reached its peak, LEDs are still evolving and improving. Even now, manufacturers are coming out with new LED lights that surpass fluorescent technology in many different ways.

Let’s examine how fluorescent light bulbs compare with today’s LED light bulbs:

  • Efficiency: While both light sources are considered efficient, LED lights have pulled ahead. A CFL produces 30-50 lumens or light per watt, while an LED on the market today can produce 60-100+ lumens per watt.
  • Rated Life: LEDs and fluorescent lights also both have long rated lives, but again, LEDs win. A CFL can last between 6,000 and 15,000 hours. An LED can last between 25,000 and 60,000 hours.
  • Mercury: Fluorescent lights contain mercury, and LEDs don’t. While operating fluorescent lights on a daily basis won’t put you in danger, a broken light bulb will expose you to a small amount of this toxic substance.
  • Infrared and UV: LED light bulbs don’t emit infrared or UV radiation in the same direction they emit light, but fluorescent lights do. Thus, LEDs will not damage sensitive material, and they won’t attract bugs. (more…)

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Buying LED Light Bulbs (When You’re Used To Xenon)

LEd Bedroom LightingIn this post, we’re going to cover how LEDs can replace xenon lights.

Xenon light bulbs are a kind of incandescent lights. If you’re not a dedicated lighting nerd (like yours truly), you’ve probably heard of xenon in reference to car headlights – but they’re also great to use around your living space. They’re great as under cabinet lighting, puck lights, light strips, night lights, and more.

What makes a xenon light bulb different from a regular filament lamp is the small amount of xenon gas inside the glass envelope. The gas helps prolong the life of the light bulb, and makes it more efficient – producing more light with less energy.

Xenon lights also have the upper hand on halogen lights (another type of gas-filled incandescent) in a few different ways. They produce much less heat than halogens, and aren’t as sensitive. You don’t have to worry about touching them with your bare hands – the oils from your skin won’t cause them to fail prematurely.

So overall, xenon lights are pretty great. But they could be better.

While xenon lights are more efficient, longer lasting, more durable, and cooler than halogen and regular incandescent light bulbs, they still don’t beat LEDs. If you want to use lights with the longest rated life, that use the least energy, that are the most durable, and the least hot, it’s time to transition.

You’re probably thinking – what about looks? Sure, an LED looks better on paper, but what if it’s illuminating your counter tops? Xenon lights are notoriously good looking, so you need an LED that can measure up. (more…)

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Buying LED Light Bulbs (When You’re Used To Halogen)

LED Picture LightWith LEDs, you have so many possibilities. Earlier this week, we published a post about replacing old incandescent light bulbs with LEDs. But, LED light bulbs are much more versatile than that. Their innovative construction makes them great replacements for almost any kind of light bulb.

In this post, we’ll cover how LEDs can replace halogen light bulbs. 

A halogen light bulb is an incandescent light bulb filled with a halogen gas. This gas within the light bulb’s envelope helps the light last longer and use less energy to produce light. There are certainly good reasons to use halogen light bulbs, but these lights also have their shortcomings.

Before we get into how to replace halogen light bulbs with LEDs, we need to understand the pros and cons of using halogen lights:

Halogen Pros:

  • Color Temperature: Halogen lamps emit crisp, flattering light, only slightly cooler than a regular incandescent’s color temperature. The added blue and green tones make a halogen light bulb appear whiter and brighter than the average incandescent.
  • Rated Life: These lights last longer than incandescent light bulbs. A halogen light’s rated life can range from 8,000-20,000 hours, while an incandescent usually lasts around 1,000-2,000 hours.
  • Efficiency: They’re more efficient than regular incandescent light bulbs, generating about 10-35 lumens per watt, compared to about 8-24 lumens per watt.
  • Color Rendering: Halogen lights have a CRI of 100, which means they render colors perfectly. This makes them great for display lighting, accent lighting, and more.
  • Dimming: These lamps still generate light with a filament, so you can use them with standard dimmer switches.

Halogen Cons: (more…)

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Buying LED Light Bulbs (When You’re Used To Incandescent)

LED Light BulbsThere’s nothing quite like the glow of an incandescent light bulb. It’s warm. It’s flattering. It’s familiar.

When you buy an incandescent light bulb, you know what to look for. You know how bright the light will be by looking at its wattage. You know what shape and size to get. You know any incandescent light will work with your dimmer switch.

Incandescent lights are easy. But if you’re still using them in every light socket, things are about to get real. As part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), incandescent light bulbs are slowly being taken off the market. In an effort to conserve energy, consumers are encouraged to use more efficient, longer-lasting light bulbs like CFLs and LEDs.

Long story short: You might have to give up your beloved incandescent lights.

While this change might seem daunting at first, can be a great opportunity to save money on energy bills and light bulb replacements.

But what about that incandescent glow? Or those familiar features? Are they gone forever?

Thankfully, no. After years of research and testing, manufacturers have finally found a way to make LED light bulbs that mimic incandescent light bulbs to near perfection. If you’re looking to replace your filament light bulb with an LED, here’s what you need to look for:

1. For that warm, inviting glow, you need an LED with a warm color temperature. An incandescent’s color temperature is normally around 2,800 degrees K.  (more…)

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Choosing Recessed Lights (An Infographic)

What do you need to know about recessed cans? If you wouldn’t exactly label yourself an expert on these popular ceiling lights (welcome to the vast majority, my friend), it can be a huge pain to skim through pamphlet after pamphlet, manual after manual, trying to discern how to find the right lights for your space.

Instead, try taking a quick (and colorful) glance at our latest infographic, which illustrates the basic components of a recessed light, and what you should look for when picking one out. Learn what kind of housing you should use, the kinds of trims you can choose from, and how light sources like incandescents, LEDs, and more compare with one another.

Check it out:

Recessed Lighting Guide

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10 LED Task Lights Under $60

When I talk to people about LED lights, the response is often the same: “That’s very exciting. LEDs are really cool. But they’re so expensive.” While you can say the prices of LEDs are going down, and you can promise that once you buy an LED it will save loads of energy, this doesn’t change the fact that many LED lights and light fixtures still cost a pretty penny.

But finally, LEDs are becoming less expensive. Today, you can buy a high quality LED A lamp for well under $50, and many kinds of LED fixtures for around that price as well. For today’s blog post, I’ve come up with a list of my 10 favorite LED task lights that cost less than 60 bucks each.  If you’ve never used an LED light fixture before, give one of these a whirl and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

1. The LED Flexible Work Light – $29.90

LED Flexible Work Light

This handy utility light has a magnetic base and strong clamp to mount exactly where you need it. Its long flexible neck will fit in small places to provide bright light that can help you complete all kinds of tasks. Use it at the grill or in the garage, at a workbench or out on the road.

2. LED Straight Edge Linear Strip Light – $50.50

Linear LED Light Strip

(more…)

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How To Choose A Dimmer

Dimmer Pegasus LightingThe dimming process seems simple enough – the push of a button or the pull of a lever makes your lights brighter or darker. However, there are actually many kinds of dimmers, designed to function with different light sources and lighting systems. For your lighting system to work properly, you need to choose the right one.

In this post, I’ll explain how different kinds of dimmers work, and what kind of dimmer you need to use with your lights. We’ll cover dimmers made for use with the following:

  • Incandescent Lights
  • LEDs and CFLs
  • Line Voltage Systems
  • Low Voltage Systems
  • Magnetic Transformers
  • Electronic Transformers
  • Hardwired Lights
  • Plug-in Lights

Standard Incandescent Dimmers

If you aren’t dimming anything fancy – just your standard incandescent, halogen, or xenon lights – you should use a standard incandescent dimmer. This switch uses an electrical component called a triode alternating current switch, or a triac. To dim, the dimmer turns the lights on and off very rapidly, about 120 times every second. The flashing happens too rapidly for us to notice. This process is similar to how video works – the still frames move so quickly that what we see looks smooth and continuous. For brighter light, the triac keeps the lights “on” more than “off.” For dimmer lights, they’re “off” more than “on.”

LED & CFL Dimmers

Standard incandescent dimmers can cause newer light sources to malfunction. When used with the wrong switch, LEDs and CFLs won’t dim fully, may turn off unexpectedly, and could fail to turn on. To ensure all your lights dim correctly, you need a compatible dimmer. Take Lutron’s new C-L dimmers, for instance. Using HED technology – the advanced circuitry necessary to dim most high efficiency lights – C-L dimmers smoothly operate LEDs, CFLs, and even mixed loads with incandescent lights. Always make sure your light bulbs are manufactured for dimming, and are listed as compatible with the dimmer you choose. (more…)

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What You Need To Know About LED Drivers

LED Electronic Driver
The switch to LEDs isn’t just about trading your old light fixtures for new ones. Just like fluorescent lights need ballasts to function properly, your LED lights need something called a driver. Sometimes, in smaller LED fixtures, drivers are build right in. But, if that’s not the case for your lighting system, you’ll need to pick one out for yourself. If you’re unfamiliar with the LED driver, what it is, how it works, and the many varieties available, this post will teach you everything you need to know.

Let’s start with a basic definition:

An LED driver is an electronic device that supplies power to LED lights. To ensure the LEDs function properly, the driver converts line power to the appropriate voltage (typically between 2 and 4 volts DC for high brightness LEDs) and current (around 200-1,000 milliamps or mA). Drivers might also include dimming or color correction controls.

All this ensures that your LEDs will operate with a steady lumen output and no variation.

Before we go any further, you should note that the quality of your driver will have a significant impact on your LEDs. A good driver is about 85% efficient, reducing the efficiency of the LEDs it powers by about 15%. To make sure that your LED lighting system is the most efficient, you need to make sure you’re using the right kind of driver. Finding your perfect driver depends on such factors as the type and number of LEDs you’re using, whether you’ll place them individually or in a series, any size limitations you may have, and of course, your installation’s main design goals. (more…)

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What Turns You On? A Guide To Fluorescent Ballasts

Fluorescent Ballast
Replacing old fluorescent ballasts? Adding new ones? The array of fluorescent ballasts is more diverse than ever before, so you’ve got to know exactly what you’re looking for. Whether you want to reduce the noise and flickering of your lights, prolong their rated lives, or save as much energy as you can, there’s a ballast out there for you.

But first, some fundamentals:

What is a fluorescent ballast?

It’s an electrical device used to power many kinds of fluorescent lights. The ballast supplies the right voltage to start and run the lights, and controls the current during operation. The right ballast should allow your lights to turn on quickly, and prevent annoying flickering or humming.

Which is the right ballast? (Magnetic vs. Electronic)

There’s an easy answer to this one. The U.S. Department of Energy phased out most magnetic fluorescent ballasts back in 2010. Electronic ballasts are more efficient and function in a more reliable way.

Let’s compare:

Magnetic ballasts: These use a core made of laminated steel plates, wrapped in a copper coil to regulate the lamp’s voltage by magnetic inductance. While magnetic ballasts are less expensive, they’re also less efficient, noisier, and heavier than electronic ballasts. Magnetic ballasts also don’t alter the frequency of electricity supplied to the lamps, so you can expect the lights they control to flicker.

Electronic ballasts: To function, these replace the older magnetic core with electronic components that increase the standard operating frequency of electricity from 60 cycles per second to about 20,000, or 20+ kHz. This reduces that pesky flickering that causes headaches and eyestrain. Compared to magnetic ballasts, electronic ones are lighter, quieter, more efficient, and they produce less heat. (more…)

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