Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Question: My wife and I own a home in the Santa Barbara foothills that was built in the early 1990’s. Our kitchen is the kitchen original built with the house and we are very happy with our cabinets, counter tops and appliances. However we would really like to upgrade the lighting. Currently there are 3 lighting circuits in the kitchen each controlled by a separate wall switch. One circuit has six recessed can lights that are spread out over the entire ceiling with incandescent light bulbs. The second circuit controls several recessed can lights over the sink also with incandescent bulbs, and the third circuit turns on and off a hanging light fixture with halogen bulbs over a small breakfast table. We have read much about the new types of LED lighting and would like information on possible ways to convert our kitchen lighting to LED.
Your Handyman: I personally am a big fan of LED lighting for many reasons and my prediction is that within relatively few years LED lighting will become the dominant style of lighting for both residences and businesses. You may have read recently in the local news of the UCSB professor who is credited with the invention of the modern LED light, being awarded the Nobel Prize and being labeled in the press as a modern day “Thomas Edison”.
The most noticeable feature of LED lights is that they emit a very clean natural looking bright light that brings out the true colors and beauty of granite counter tops, drapery fabrics and artwork in homes, and makes fine crystal and jewelry sparkle in stores at the mall. Incandescent, florescent and compact florescent lights emit a light that is less pure and actually illuminates with a slight amber tint that tends to subdue and distort colors. I personally dislike most everything about the twisty compact florescent bulbs (CFL): especially the shade of light they produce and predict that they will soon go the way of the rotary dial phone.
LED lights use a very small amount of electricity and the typical older style recessed can light designed to be used with a 100 watt incandescent interior flood light bulb, can be replaced with a 4” diameter LED can light, that believe it or not only uses 6 watts of electricity while producing an equivalent amount of illumination. This same LED can light is rated by the manufacturer to last for over 50,000 hours while a compact florescent light or incandescent light usually lasts for considerably less than 10,000 hours. Florescent lights work most efficiently when left on for extended periods of time like at a retail store and their life is greatly reduced when turned on and off for the shorter periods of time that are typical in residential use. The life of an LED lighting is not affected or reduced by being turned on and off in a residential application.
LED lights emit much less heat than other types of light, especially halogen, and this is a major benefit especially in retail lighting where a significant amount of the energy consumed by the air conditioning system goes to reducing the heat created by the racks of lights that are typically spread over the ceilings of the most mall type shops. This can also be an energy saving benefit in newer energy efficient homes with high insulation values that trap any heat created by the lighting fixtures. The only disadvantage that I am aware of that is currently associated with LED lighting is that because it is a relatively new technology, the price is considerably higher that other types of lighting but this price difference will quickly shrink as production increases and technology advances.
You can convert the lighting in your kitchen ceiling to LED in a couple of different ways. If there is good attic access over the kitchen then the ideal plan would be to remove the old can lights completely and install new LED can lights using the same wiring, all accessed in the attic. If you want to have the lights in new locations then a little drywall repair and painting will be required. If attic access is a problem or if there is no attic due to a second story living area over the kitchen, then you can purchase conversion kits that allow you to use the existing recessed incandescent can by installing a new LED light and baffle that connects with spring arms that match the way that most baffles and trim rings connect to the recessed can. The LED light has a threaded connector that simply screws into the old light socket, you then next connect the spring arms, slid the new light into the old recessed can, and your new LED light is ready for use.
Your hanging light over the breakfast table can be switched out to an LED fixture just as any light fixture is replaced once you are able to purchase a new LED fixture that you like. Any online lighting supplier now carries a large selection of all types of LED fixtures. The style of your light is probably a surface mounted fixture which is the most common style for a ceiling.
If you are considering under cabinet lighting or ambient lighting on top of the cabinets, then LED ribbon lights are a fabulous solution. The ribbon lights are about a ¼’ wide and have a tiny LED light every ½” or so and have a peel and stick backing with permanent 3M adhesive. The power supply requires a small transformer that can easily be hidden in a cabinet and are fully dimmable. A typical installation has the LED ribbon running along the perimeter of the bottom of the cabinets where they are concealed from view and fully illuminate the counter top and backsplash. The ribbons can also be installed along the top of the cabinets providing illumination to an area of the kitchen ceiling that is often left in shadows.
If you want to have your new LED lighting controlled by a dimmer switch then you will need to install LED compatible dimmer switches. Dimmer switches that worked with your old incandescent lights will not dim your new LED lights.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259