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Ramseys: What homeowners should know about LEDs

Maintaining a home's value requires a combination of maintenance and updating. Some updates can be cost-prohibitive for the average homeowner until consumers adopt new technology and prices drop. Light-emitting diodes, more commonly known as LEDs, are one of those technologies -- prices have dropped 83 percent in the last four years, according to a recent Consumer Reports article.

And the technology has many benefits (along with a few drawbacks):

• They're mercury-free, unlike compact fluorescents, which need special recycling.

• They're more energy efficient. They use about 80 percent less energy than an incandescent bulb and 5 percent less than a fluorescent bulb. However, energy efficiency isn't the only savings. LEDs are designed to last about 20 years or 10,000 hours of use. This means if you put one in your toddler's room now, you won't have to change the light bulb until after she graduates and you've repurposed the room.

• They can handle colder outside temperatures (though not wet areas or enclosed fixtures unless noted).

• They can handle shock and vibration without breaking.

• They come in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit different fixtures — from the longer four-foot tubes, smaller candelabra shapes and wafer-thin undercounter light strips.

• They instantly turn on at full strength and don't lose life expectancy with quick on and offs.

• They're cooler to operate because of an interior heat sink.

• Most are dimmable, when paired with the proper switch or rheostat (though not all work with motion detectors or timers).

However, LEDs are still new enough to be confusing. You need to know if you are purchasing the right LED bulb for the right use. Here are a few facts to take with you when LED shopping.

First, understand the terms. Most homeowners confuse brightness with color. Brightness is measured in lumens (think luminosity), and most packages also note watts, because that measure is most familiar with older consumers. Watts indicates the amount of electricity a bulb uses, but the older technology associated watts with brightness. A 60-watt incandescent bulb is 800 lumens, 75-watt is 1,100 lumens and a 100-watt bulb is 1,600 lumens. So, the greater the lumens the brighter the light produced.

Color is measured in Kelvin, so the warmer the light (the more yellow,) the lower the Kelvin. Color temperature is important because it can change the look of your decor. For example, most people use bulbs in the 2,700 to 3,000K ranges. This works well in rooms with amber or mahogany colors. The 3,500K makes bright reds and greens look better. The 4,100K blubs have a whiter light, so birch and bleached woods look great. At the upper end are the 5,000 to 6,500K bulbs. These bulbs emit a bluer, whiter light, which is more similar to natural daylight and makes a room with gray or slate look better.

However, be careful with the amount of Kelvin used bedside and just before sleeping. A higher Kelvin may disrupt your sleep cycle by interfering with the body's hormones and neuron activity, as well as the creation of melatonin.

Before you purchase LEDs, you should also consider these questions:

• Does the packaging show a limited beam angle or is the light omnidirectional? A recessed housing will need a different light angle (down and out) than one for a table lamp (up and down) or wall sconce (up only).

• Where will you use the bulb? Make certain the bulb is the appropriate wattage for the fixture and don't mix bulb types within the fixture.

• Does the package have the energy star symbol? This shows independent certification that the bulb met higher standards than industry norm to save money and protect the environment.

Finally, before buying all the LEDs you need for an entire room or home, purchase a few bulbs with different Kelvin temperatures to take home and try with your decor. Give yourself a few days to get used to a bulb before deciding whether you like it or not. Remember most of us are used to the 2,850K incandescent lights. A change may not feel right simply because we are not used to it.

Additionally, Alaska Lighting and Supply on Tudor Road has a lighting bar to put in different Kelvin bulbs, side-by-side, so you can actually see the difference in bulbs. They only sell light bulbs and have knowledgeable staff to answer questions.

Barbara and Clair Ramsey are local associate brokers specializing in residential real estate. They can be reached at

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