Lighting is one of the most crucial elements in interior design, and not surprisingly, it also has one of the biggest impacts on energy consumption as well. When a room is illuminated intelligently - both naturally and artificially - it can reap a bevy of benefits, affecting the comfort, mood, health, and in turn the productivity of a space's occupants. Thankfully, with massive improvements in green lighting technology in the last few years, the options for energy-efficient illumination are greater than ever. Moving far beyond the ubiquitous CFL, companies and eco-conscious designers are carefully considering human health and comfort in addition to the energy consumption of their products. But you don't need to spend big bucks to transform your space - in fact, implementing these alternative lighting options can put extra money in your pocket. Read ahead for our eco-friendlylighting tips, which will arm you with exactly what you need to transform your interior space with beautiful lighting while cutting your energy bill.
Energy Efficiency and Good Health
Time and time again, studies (such as this piece published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2004) have shown that exposure to natural light affects your vitamin D and immune system, serotonin and melatonin levels, as well as your circadian rhythms, sleep cycle and hormones. In fact, scientists at the UNC School of Medicine recently published a study in which they pinpointed the key connection between light signals and circadian rhythms. The study is anticipated to give insight on how light influences molecular signals in our bodies to affect a broad array of biological processes ranging from the sleep-wake cycle to cancer growth and development.
In addition to the aforementioned studies, the lack of proper lighting can lead to issues such as depression (S.A.D.), immune problems, and your susceptibility to life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and cancer are exacerbated – particularly as related to Vitamin D absorption. Researchers from the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego have found that 600,000 cases of breast and colorectal cancers could be prevented each year worldwide, if vitamin D3 levels were increased.
Only within the last couple years have we seen the building industry begin to embrace green lighting that’s not only cost and energy-efficient, but also concerned with issues related to human health. However, with heightened awareness, today’s consumers are increasingly able to tailor various lighting options to meet their individual needs.
Change Your Bulbs
Despite all the support of many green enthusiasts, the road to the CFL switch has been a rough one. While compact fluorescent bulbs are considerably more energy-efficient than incandescents (they save at least $30 in energy costs over the life of the bulb), many individuals continue to dislike the quality of light given off by these bulbs. Add to that the fact that most compact fluorescents have the toxic chemical mercury in them, and you can see why many people are resistant to switching their bulbs. Luckily, in just the last year, the field of energy-efficient lighting has produced a whole new breed of super energy-efficient LED bulbs that have no mercury and better mimic the quality of light we are accustomed to with incandescents. LEDs are gaining speed in the world of interior lighting, with new iterations consistently outperforming the ones that preceded them.
Just this year alone, we’ve seen the release of square LED alternatives to the round bulb, companies switching off incandescent bulb production in favor of LEDs, and most recently the release of LED replacements for the common bulb in local stores. Unlike CFLs, LEDs can be filtered without a dramatic loss in output, meaning that achieving ambient lighting isn’t an issue. For example, Philip’s A19 AmbientLED delivers the same illumination as a 60 watt white light incandescent, at a mere 12.5 watts — and like incandescents, they can also be dimmed and fit into just about any lighting fixture. The new LED bulb also boasts a life of 25,000 hours. And if we’re talking cash, a single bulb can shave hundreds of dollars off your electricity bill.
The reality is, if every state in the US were to switch to these LEDs we would save 32.6 terawatt-hours of electricity each year — enough energy to power 17 million homes. LEDs are very much the future of lighting.
Paint Your Rooms and Utilize Reflection
Beyond bulbs, there are simple renovations you can make on your own at home. You can maximize the light in a given room by choosing light colors and reflective materials for your walls, ceiling and floor. By painting your windows’ adjacent and opposing walls white, you can dramatically brighten up your space naturally. While white is ideal, if you’re one who prefers to have a little color in your space, you can paint the wall that finds the least natural light (a low-VOC paint is a good idea if you’re concerned about indoor air quality). As the walls reflect upon one another, your chosen color will set the overall tone of the room, finding a happy balance that won’t come at the cost of illumination or color. Moreover, light-colored and shiny flooring options like linoleum or polished wood also have the power to reflect a significant amount of ambient light and further open up a room.
Consider Mood Lighting
Convenience store lighting could easily qualify as the most horrendous lighting known to man. If there’s anything to be learned from this illumination faux-pas, it’s that overhead lighting is unattractive. Moreover, not only is overhead lighting unflattering, but it requires a lot of unnecessary energy as it lights up every corner of a room. Our recommendation? Lose the overheads and start getting down with mood lighting! Consider which areas in your space require the most light and set up independent fixtures that can also utilize walls for reflection or the diffusion of light. If you need more focused light (for reading, your work desk, etc..) set up individual sources geared specifically for these tasks. By reducing the number of bulbs you’re using at night, you can easily create that welcoming and cozy feel that you’ve been aching for while cutting down on your energy costs.
Mood lighting also offers a remedy to another important health concern related to our melatonin and serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical that keeps us pepped up during the day, helps us sleep, and keeps anxiety at bay. During the evening the pineal gland in the brain converts serotonin into melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep and our body’s self-repair process while also mitigating stress and depression.
Although we have developed many technological innovations that allow us to defy the darkness of night, our bodies unfortunately are still wholly bound to the 24-hour cycle of day and night. We’re sensitive to the rising and setting of the sun, and even changes in the season, and our bodies constantly seek out natural cues to initiate and regulate internal processes. Darkness stimulates the production of melatonin, while light suppresses its activity, and exposure to too much light at night and too little during the day can disrupt the body’s normal cycle. Using bright lights (and even common household appliances that emit low-frequency electro-magnetic fields) in the evening can upset the production of melatonin and produce an overall negative effect on our bodies, making it difficult for us to get the most out of a full night’s rest. Opting to use mood lighting at night won’t compromise the balance, but will instead act as a more effective signal for regulating these two chemicals for the betterment of our health.
Take Advantage of Natural Light
What better way to save some bucks than to take advantage of all the free, ample, light offered by the sun? While daylighting often depends on how your space was initially designed, you can’t underestimate the value of properly-positioned windows and skylights. If you’re looking for a long-lasting solution to your limited light woes, there are some more significant investments you can make into upgrading the design of your home or space.
If you do have the option of renovation (or the money), adding another window or skylight could dramatically improve your lighting situation. While the initial costs may be more than a new lightbulb, looking at the larger picture you’ll easily reduce your energy use while opening up a new way to heat and cool your interiors. Well insulated windows and skylights can keep heat in (or out) while improving air circulation and keeping your spaces cooler during the hotter seasons.
Another alternative to artificial lighting is a sunlight transport-device. These devices collect sunlight on your roof and transfer the light through fiber optics into the different rooms of your house. One company, Sunlight Direct, even combines sunlight transport with fluorescents and a photovoltaic energy system – so during the day your lamp emits real sunlight from outside, but at night it emits energy-efficient light that is powered by the solar panels.
Turn Your Lights OFF
This is one gesture that has been drilled into our minds since we were children, and as simple as it may sound, many people still fail to do it. If you’re troubled by the thought of walking into a dark room, consider motion detectors. Many new models are discreet and can be easily installed without outside assistance. But let’s bring things to a close by being sensible – turn off your lights when leaving a room!