Call it the Ikea-fication of America. It seems that more and more people are getting interested in design, especially when it comes to their own home. In decades past, household furniture and decorations didn’t vary a whole lot. Growing up in the twentieth century, odds are your friends’ homes probably had a pretty similar couch and coffee table as your own. Thanks to new technology and an explosion of interest in retro styles, that has changed.
Let There Be Light
New construction methods for residential developments over the years have ushered in a new level of diversity in housing stock. There’s the prewar single family home, the mid-century condo, and the newer steel-and-concrete buildings. Tastes vary more than ever, and interior designers are enjoying an array of projects. But design is not just furniture and hanging art. A huge component to the feel of a home is the lighting, and new technology on the market is changing the way our homes look and feel. The changes are also economic. Emerging technology will influence maintenance costs, energy bills and even how we interact with light on a daily basis.
The American market overwhelmingly depended on incandescent bulbs since electricity entered residential homes in the 1910s. Incandescent bulbs use a thin filament that heats up with an electrical current, and emits a very pleasant, warm yellow light. Despite their warm glow, they are very inefficient. Incandescent bulbs work at about five percent energy efficiency, and they burn out quickly. A high-voltage [incandescent] bulb will draw 100 watts of power. The 100-watt lamp usually works for about 500 hours.
Before the advent of newer technologies, most consumers considered wattage to be synonymous with brightness. A 60-watt bulb worked well for a reading lamp, and a 100-watt bulb was typically used for overhead area lighting. But in fact, wattage only signifies the amount of power being used to generate light. “I did my first recessed-LED lights about three years ago, and they were big 5-inch [bulbs]—it looked like an airport when I was finished—but that was all they had,” says Jeff Swanson, a principal at Renovation Planning in Boston. When growing energy prices prompted more demand for efficiency, the easiest switch from incandescent was halogen. For the most part, halogen lights maintain a similar quality of warm light, and are considerably more efficient that than incandescents.
From CFLs to LEDs
For years, the most reasonable alternative to the incandescent and halogen bulbs was fluorescent light. Everyone knows fluorescent light from offices, malls, and many other commercial spaces. “I just did a house Boston, and they had a cove with crazy fluorescent lights from years ago, and we put in LED lights, with such a simple install. They plug into each other, and you can go as far as you want to go. It was very easy to do,” says Swanson.