Use LED lighting in your California yard
By Nan Sterman
California maintains an online database of products that meet state-mandated criteria for energy efficiency, including LED bulbs. Visit The California Energy Commission Appliance Database, select the category "lighting products" and the type "high efficacy LEDs."
LEDs are so energy efficient that the state of California promotes them for indoor and outdoor lighting. The state's goal of lower energy use aims to reduce air pollution from the burning of fossil fuels in power plants while producing the same quality of light as traditional incandescent bulbs.
Outdoor LED systems offer both opportunities and challenges. Experts agree that silica-based LEDs are shatter resistant, a definite plus for outdoors.
Cool temperatures are a plus. Incandescent bulbs generate light by heating a metal filament until it glows. Incandescent halogens can reach 500 degrees, according to electrical contractor and lighting design instructor Paul Bussell of Ladybug 'Lectric in Encinitas, Calif. Extreme temperatures singe leaves, branches, and fingertips. LEDs generate almost no heat, making them safe in the landscape and to the touch.
Although burned bulbs are a common complaint for traditional outdoor lights, LED life spans are estimated at about 10 years. However, as Bussell points out, they've yet to be used in outdoor lighting extensively.
Bussell says that LED light quality isn't quite up to his standards.
"You can't put one into an uplight and expect to dim it," he says. "Nor can you put in a sequence of lights and expect them all to be the same color, some might be more blue or yellow."
Joe Bell, general manager of highly rated Light Bulbs Unlimited in San Diego, has a different perspective. Light Bulbs Unlimited sells, designs and consults on indoor and outdoor lighting systems. Bell agrees that color is a key concern.
"We can get warm whites that look like [the color of] an incandescent bulb," he says. "You wouldn't notice the difference."
Although Bell recommends a driver for new LED systems, but for retrofitted systems and those with both halogen and LED fixtures, simply use the existing transformer.
"You can retrofit what you have already," he says. "Still, you have to match the draw to the transformer."
Both agree that reduced energy use is the biggest asset for outdoor LED lighting. Bell says a 13-watt LED lamp puts out as much light as a standard 40-watt incandescent bulb.
Cost, of course, is a factor. At Light Bulbs Unlimited, a normal halogen uplight may cost $9, while an LED uplight might cost $25 to $45. However, if you factor in usage, longevity and replacement, LED systems are a fifth the cost of halogen systems, according to Bussell.
"It's a huge difference," he says. "It's the quickest and most efficient way to cut energy use.
Nan Sterman is author of "California Gardener's Guide Volume II." She's a gardening expert, communicator and designer who has long grown an organic garden of plants that both feed her family and beautify her yard.