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Pennsylvania needs credentialed interior designers!

I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t know what an interior designer is. That’s one of the reasons why I created a section of this site to explain the roles of an interior designer–what we are and what we aren’t. Unfortunately, not all states protect the title, “interior designer.” Pennsylvania is NOT one of the 18 states that offers protection for consumers and designers when it comes to the profession of Interior Design. Pennsylvania does NOT have any regulations that say, “If you call yourself an interior designer, you must have…experience and training.”

Technical Definition

Technically, interior designers are licensed or credentialed professionals who have completed five or more years in an accredited interior design program. We must understand:
  • Building systems
  • Building codes, including the International Building Code (IBC), Federal Guidelines for Accessibility (ADA) and Universal Design (UD) principles
  • Public health, safety and welfare requirements including fire, electrical and plumbing
  • Construction standards
  • Human dimension and ergonomics
  • Volumes of information on product details and specifications

Actual Pennsylvania Definition

In reality, in Pennsylvania you don’t have to have any of these qualifications. In Pennsylvania, anyone can call themselves an interior designer.

What does that mean for you?

For commercial and residential consumers in Pennsylvania, that means that if you hire an interior designer you don’t know what level of knowledge and experience you’re getting. You could be getting a creative individual who has a talent for how things look but doesn’t know what the building code requires, what standards exist, what laws need to be included. For a commercial client for example, you may have invested a great deal of money in design and aesthetics only to find that when your inspection happens you can’t get the necessary permits to open your business. For a homeowner, things may not show up until you go to sell your home.

What can you do?

Use only IIDA or ASID Members

Just because the state doesn’t define the title, doesn’t mean that you don’t have too. You can insist on only hiring interior designers who are members of the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) or the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID). Interior designers who are members of these organizations must have a 5 year degree, must meet annual continuing education requirements, must have met the required number of hours of work experience and they must pass the NCIDQ (National Council for Interior Design Qualification) exam.

Support Legislation

The Interior Design Legislative Coalition of Pennsylvania (IDLCPA) is a joint effort of the ASID and IIDA and we have been diligently working to promote the Interior Design profession through legislative efforts. I’m an IIDA interior designer and an IDLCPA board member and I believe strongly in our legislative efforts. We introduced legislation in 2016 (PA Senate Bill 1021) that would allow for the registration/credentialing of interior designers in Pennsylvania. Many Pennsylvania homeowners are familiar with (or should be) the Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA.) HICPA requires, among other things, that home improvement contractors register with the Pennsylvania State Attorney General’s office in order to legally practice their trade. Unlike HICPA, PA SB 1021 would not restrict the practice of interior design. What PA SB 1021 would do is create a separate title–“Credentialed Interior Designer.” If an interior designer uses that title today, they can continue to do the same in the future. However, if they want to call themselves a Credentialed Interior Designer, they will need to meet the Pennsylvania state requirements. These requirements are the same criteria required today of any designer who becomes a full member of the IIDA or the ASID. They are industry standards and do not favor either organization.

What difference does it make?

For Designers

For interior designers, PA SB 1021 allows us to practice our profession completely. Pennsylvania interior designers are restricted by the Pennsylvania Architecture Laws. For example, Federal law requires that you must be a Credentialed Interior Designer in order to work on Federal properties. Since Pennsylvania does not have a process for credentialing, and therefore, no title of Credentialed Interior Designer, interior designers must work under the supervision of a licensed architect if they want to work on a Federal project. This means one of two things:
  1. A Pennsylvania design firm will have to spend additional tax dollars to hire an architect to supervise the work.
  2. Credentialed interior design firms from other states will come in and take the jobs from Pennsylvania workers.
PA SB 1021 will also allow credentialed interior designers to:
  • Submit permit drawings for their clients without having to hire an architect.
  • Certify documents for permitting.

For You

For you the consumer, PA SB 1021 will give you a couple of advantages. As I stated before, the bill will NOT eliminate jobs for anyone who wants to practice interior design. You can still choose to work with whomever you want. However, if you choose to hire someone who is a “Credentialed Interior Designer,” you will have a standard of expectation. This standard will also give you protection and an avenue for resolving conflicts. If a credentialed interior designer misrepresents their abilities and this results in an issue with your project, the state can hold them responsible because there is a documented level of ability they have not met. You can also expect some cost savings. The documentation process is expensive. Architects are expensive. You should not be required to incur additional expenses just to meet a state requirement that is specific to only Pennsylvania, penalizes Pennsylvania workers, and allows architects to control the market despite other professions meeting the same documented skill levels. Please support PA SB 1021 by asking your representatives to support the legislation. In the meantime, for your protection, look for IIDA or ASID membership credentials when you’re hiring an interior designer. For more information, see the links below: Frequently asked questions and answers Interior Design Legislative Coalition of Pennsylvania (IDLCPA) Home Improvement Consumer Protection Act (HICPA) Who is my Senator?

Painting Tips: Tricks of the Trade

Painting-Tips-Cutting-In

Painting is therapeutic to me. It’s an easy and relatively inexpensive way to completely transform a room. I’ve been self-medicating with it for sixteen years. While I was completing my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Architecture and Design, I began my interior design business doing regular painting and faux finishes. I recently had some friends ask me for some tips. (A certain Canadian friend had done some painting and when she went to pull her tape off, all of her hard work went with it.) So here are some of my favorite painting tips.

Cutting In With Paint

When you start painting a room, “cutting in” is the first thing you do. Cutting in is the brushwork along the edges and anywhere that’s too small for your roller. Sometimes people are anxious to see the color on the wall and get the job done, so they jump in and start rolling on the paint, leaving the detail work for the end. But it’s important to be patient. There’s a reason why you should cut in first. The tools you use to paint leave a texture in the paint, no matter how good you are. A roller leaves a slightly bumpy texture that we call “orange peel.” A bristle brush, foam brush or paint pad leaves a linear pattern. The perfect paint job is one where the texture is uniform across the entire surface. If you cut in first your brush marks will still be wet and you’ll be able to blend them in with your roller work. If you cut in last, your brush stroke pattern will be much wider and you’ll have competing textures in your paint.

The Cons of Painter’s Tape

Painting-Tips-Cutting-In You can usually tell when someone is cutting in because of all of the taped off surfaces. Some people think they have to use painter’s tape to get a clean edge. But it’s not usually necessary and there are actually negatives to using it. Taping adds additional time and expense to your project. It takes a lot of time to tape off all of those surfaces. In addition, using the right kind of tape is expensive. You can’t just use regular, old masking tape. Masking tape has too strong of a grip. At worst, it can completely remove the paint from the surface; at best, it can be very difficult to remove and it may damage the surface. Painter's-Tape-Not-Masking-Tape Tape can also give you a false sense of confidence. Many people think the tape gives them an airtight seal so they just paint right up over the edge. But it’s difficult to get an airtight seal, no matter how good the tape company’s marketing says theirs is. DIYers can be disappointed when they pull the tape off and find out their paint seeped under the tape. A crooked line looks better than blobs of paint. Painter's-Tape-Seepage And, if they used too much paint when they were cutting in, when they go to remove the tape it will take the paint with it.

Using Painter’s Tape to Your Advantage

Painter’s tape can be a valuable tool too. For instance, I tape off if I’m doing a specialty or faux finish where I’m going to be using a large tool or where I need to overlap the edge to make sure that the texture in the glaze goes all the way to the edge. Also, if I’m painting horizontal or vertical stripes in contrasting colors or sheens, tape is the only way to get a crisp line. So, if you want to use tape, here are some tips to use it to your advantage.
  • Use the right kind of painter’s tape. If you’re new to painting and using tape, you need to look for painter’s tape. It is typically blue. There’s also a new painter’s tape on the market that is green. Regular masking tape is difficult to remove and can damage pre-painted surfaces.
Painter's-Tape-BluePainter's-Tape-Green-Frogtape
  • Burnish the tape edge. As I said, it’s difficult to get an airtight seal along the edge but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. After you’ve applied the tape, take a stiff, smooth object like a credit card, plastic putty knife, etc. and push down along the edge of the tape. This will remove any air bubbles and make sure that the tape is adhering uniformly. Don’t use a thin or sharp item. A metal putty knife, or similar object will end up tearing the tape instead of sealing it.
Burnishing-Painter's-Tape-with-a-Credit-CardBurnishing-Painter's-Tape-with-a-Putty-Knife
  • Pre-paint the tape’s edge. This technique is easier if you’re painting stripes on a surface or you have the paint from the previous paint job. Let’s say your trim is painted white and you’re painting your walls yellow. Tape your trim off as you usually would. Now paint along and overlap the edge of the tape with your white trim paint. What happens is the trim paint will seep under any unsealed edge of the tape. This creates a barrier so that when you go over it with your yellow wall paint, any pockets have already been filled with the trim paint. And you’ll never see the trim paint that seeped under the tape because it matches what’s already on the trim.
  • Use your tape only as a guide. If you’re taping off your trim or ceiling to give you a line between the two surfaces, use the tape only as a guide. Pretend it’s a ruler that you’re following and avoid painting over the tape’s edge to prevent leaks under the edge.
  • Don’t over do it. Don’t overfill your brush and slop paint along the tape’s edge. If you have too much paint, there’s nowhere for it to go. The extra paint is going to try and force its way under the tape. Also, not overdoing it on the amount of paint will make it easier to break that line between the paint and the tape when you go to remove it.
  • Follow the line. Paint along the tape edge, not against it. In other words, move your brush parallel to the tape, not perpendicular to it. If you’re painting against the tape, you’re forcing the paint under the edge of the tape.
Painter's-Tape-as-a-guide
  • Remove the tape at a 90-degree angle. When you’re ready to remove the tape, don’t just grab the end and pull it off in a straight line as if you were opening a package. In order to break any paint overlap, and to break it in the crispest line possible, fold the tape edge over and pull it off at a 90-degree angle.
Removing-Painter's-Tape-Right Removing-Painter's-Tape-Wrong

Primetime

Many paint companies now advertise their paints as being both paint and primer in one. It helps with coverage, and can cut down on the number of coats needed for difficult colors like red. But you still need a good primer for some applications. Unless you’re extremely lucky, you probably have holes and cracks that need to be patched. After multiple steps and sandings, you may be impatient and just want to get done with your project. But don’t skip the primer. Unprimed spackling or joint compound will absorb the water out of your paint and will cause one or both of the following:
  • Your paint will not adhere to the repaired area. You may not notice this because it won’t look different. But if you’ve taped over the unprimed edge, your paint is going to peel right off with the tape.
  • Your sheen is going to differ. The difference in moisture content is going to affect how shiny the paint looks. For instance, if you’re using a semi-gloss, the unprimed area will look closer to satin.
If you’re painting over a wall where you’ve just removed wallpaper, you must not only prime the walls, but you must use either an oil-based primer or a product like Zinsser’s Gardz. If you don’t use an oil-based product, the water in the water-based primer or water-based paint will reactivate any wallpaper paste residue. No matter how many times you’ve washed the walls there is always residue. Unfortunately, it’s not visible until you’ve painted. A lot of residue can make it impossible for the paint to adhere to the wall and the result will be dramatic. In the picture below, we were painting a house that was going to be flipped. We had no idea that wallpaper had ever been on this wall. Once we painted however, it was obvious. Painting-Tips-Wallpaper-Removal Smaller amounts of residue will create odd patterns and differences in the sheen and texture.

Easy Clean Up

Clean up is no fun. Some people wait too long and at the end of the day brushes, rollers, trays or all of the above are ruined because the paint dried on them. So, they throw them out. Or, some people just throw everything out because they don’t want to go to the trouble of cleaning them. It doesn’t have to be difficult. And we don’t want you adding to the local landfill.

Be Neat

The simplest way to make cleanup easy is to be neat from start to finish. Don’t overload your tools.Only so much paint can transfer from your brush or roller to the wall. Any paint that doesn’t make it onto the wall is going to run down into your brush, and then drip off and onto anything around you. Not only will you have to clean your tools when you’re done, you’ll have to clean the floor, baseboard, anything where the paint has dripped.

Less Paint Means Easier Cleanup

To make brush cleanup easier and to protect the life of your paint brush, don’t dip your brush into the paint all the way up to the ferule (the metal band between the brush’s bristles and the wooden/plastic handle). You only need to dip your brush into the paint about a fourth of the bristle length. If you have too much paint on your brush and you’ve dipped it too far into the paint, all of that excess paint is going to run down into the ferule and start to dry. When it’s time to cleanup, all of that excess, dried or drying paint will need to be scraped out. It’s going to take you more time and effort to clean. And, the more pulling and straining you do on the bristles in the ferule, the more you’re going to weaken the glue that holds them together.

Keep Your Tools Wet

When you’re setting up to do your painting, fill a 5 gallon bucket halfway with warm water and either some Murphy’s Oil Soap or Fabric Softener. Then, whenever you finish with a tool—paint brush, roller, stir, rag, etc.—throw it in the bucket. Murphy’s Oil Soap and Fabric Softener breakdown latex paint; water keeps the paint from drying up. When you’re all done at the end of the day, just take everything out of the bucket and rinse them off. My rollers and rags I put through a cycle in the washing machine. My brushes I rinse and brush with a paint brush brush or a wire brush. If you need to take a break, don’t leave your tools lying around to dry out. There are lots of expensive tools on the market for storing a wet brush, roller or paint an. But, one of the easiest, most inexpensive tools I’ve found is Glad Press’n Seal. To keep a painting tool from drying out you just need to keep the Painter's-Tricks-Press'n-Sealair out. You can put a piece of Press’n Seal over your bucket. Wrap it around your brush. Wrap it around your roller. If you’ve got an airtight seal, you can leave your tools for days.

Wash your hands!

Paint loves skin. Whether it’s latex, oil-based, spray paint, wood stain, it’s all difficult to get off of your hands. I remember my dad dousing his hands in gasoline and rubbing them together when I was a kid. Not only is that incredibly unhealthy, but the smell stays with you for days—it would be a good way to get yourself to put down that cigarette though. There are two products I’ve found that work great at getting paint off my hands, arms and any other skin that’s been splattered upon. Goop Hand Cleaner is non-toxic and biodegradable. It also claims to remove stains from washable clothing. (I can’t vouch for that because I’ve never tested it as a stain remover.) But it does work great on my hands. One of the great things about it is that it doesn’t require water. You can choose to rinse it off with water, orPainting-Tips-Hand-Cleaner just wipe your hands clean on a rag or towel. I’ve used some water-free products before and they either left my hands feeling really greasy or the lingering fragrance made me sick and I had to find the nearest sink to wash it off. Goop doesn’t really have any smell. And once I’ve wiped it off, I just feel like I’ve put a little bit of moisturizer on my hands. It’s a great tool to carry around in my paint tools because I can clean up whether there’s water nearby or not. And it only costs $2.99 for a 10.5 oz tube. The second product is a make-it-yourself solution. Mix ½ cup of coconut oil and ½ cup of baking soda together. Apply some of it to your hands and rub them together. When you’re done scrubbing with it, just wash your hands with soap and water. The coconut oil breaks down the paint on your skin and the baking soda helps to rub off the paint. I keep a container of this next to my cleanup station. I’ve cleaned up Minwax stain-saturated hands in just minutes with this mixture. It also does a good job of moisturizing your hands–you’ve just exfoliated with baking soda and moisturized with coconut oil. The coconut oil can be annoying though. It’s difficult to remove all of the residue. So it’s best to use this cleaner when you aren’t going to be doing paperwork, holding pencils or other small objects. There are so many other tips to share. These are just some of my favorites. If you need help with a paint project give us a call.  

Exhausting! How to buy a bathroom fan.

Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Last week we talked about lighting, lighting quality—how to buy the type of light bulb that will give you the color and brightness of light you’re looking for. When it comes to bathrooms, you’ve got a very important appliance that provides more than just light–the exhaust fan.

What’s it for?

A bathroom fan’s primary purpose is to remove the moisture-laden air from your bathroom. It also has the added benefit of removing unpleasant odors. A bathroom fan is not a luxury item.

Bathroom Exhaust Fan

Bathroom fans can have all kinds of bells and whistles, but the fundamental task of removing moisture is a building code requirement. The Residential Building Code requires all bathrooms to have either an openable window or an exhaust fan. And, the ventilation must exhaust directly outdoors – not just up into the attic, out of site.

Why is it required?

A bathroom brings together many destructive forces:
  • Heat and moisture in steam
  • Condensation created from the combination of steam and cold, tiled walls and floors
  • Warm air (because no one likes to shower/bathe in the cold)
  • Additional hot air from heat lamps, room heaters or radiant floor heating

Basically, you’ve created your own personal rain forest.

Moisture is the leading cause of many home and building problems. In the early stages, you may just notice annoying cosmetic issues like bumpy, flaky or chipping paint. As time goes by, you may notice problems with mold. But these are just surface issues. What you don’t see is the rotting and deterioration of ceiling, wall and floor surfaces behind the paint and tile surfaces and the studding.

In the case of fans that just exhaust into the attic and not outside, moisture filled insulation sits on your home’s ceilings making mold and rotting the gypsum board and ceiling joists. If you generate enough moisture, the trapped air can even rot away the structure of your roof. In addition to mold, the high heat/high humidity environment is a wonderful breeding ground for your own personal bacteria and microorganism zoo. So, not only is it destroying your home, it could be destroying your health as well.

Window vs. Fan

In a lot of older homes you may not find a bathroom fan – you may just find a window. Even in some newer homes the builder or homeowner may have opted for just a window. Depending on the location of the bathroom, installing an exhaust fan can be expensive and difficult. But seriously, a window? It’s hard enough to convince yourself to open the window when it’s 20 degrees outside, but how about those bathrooms where that openable window is actually in the shower? (As everyone knows, my two biggest pet peaves are being cold and wet. Combine them and it’s a double whammy. I wouldn’t shower until temps were above 70 degrees.) What happens is the homeowner doesn’t open the window because it’s uncomfortable. So, the builder met the code requirements, but bathroom doesn’t have any protection because the wet air is not going out the window.

Buying Guide

There are two factors to look at (actually three, but we’ll talk about lighting later): 1. Capacity and 2. Noise.

Capacity

A fan’s ability to move air is measured in Cubic Feet per Minute. You’ll see this on the label displayed as CFMs.

For most bathrooms, the calculation is one CFM per square foot of bathroom area. So, if your bathroom is 7 by 10 feet, you have 70 square feet (7’ x 10’=70) of bathroom. That means you need a fan with a 70 CFM capacity.

The Residential Building Code requires a minimum of 50 CFMs. So, your standard hardware store, Home Depot, etc. is going to carry a range of fans usually from 50 CFMs to 110 CFMs. With fan capacity, the higher the CFM number is, the better. So, if your bathroom is 20 square feet and you get the minimum required 50 CFM fan, it just means the stale, moist air will be taken out of the room faster—and you want that out as fast as possible anyway.

Here’s an easy reference:

Less than 50 sq. feet — 50 CFM 50-100 sq. feet — 1 CFM per square foot of floor space

If you have a bathroom larger than 100 square feet, or multiple water fixtures, you’ll need to do some additional math. And, one fan is probably not going to do it for you. You’ll need multiple units in different locations. The Home Ventilating Institute (HVI) recommends that you use the following CFMs per fixture.

Toilet: 50 CFM Shower: 50 CFM Bathtub: 50 CFM Jetted Tub: 100 CFM

HVI also recommends the following:

  • If your toilet is in its own room within the bathroom, it should have its own fan.
  • Locate the fan as close as possible to the fixture it’s venting. For instance, if possible, put the exhaust fan in the shower rather than in the middle of the room.
  • Fans should also be located away from vents. In other words, don’t put your fan next to your furnace outlet. You want it to suck out the bad air, not to suck out the new air that’s coming into the room.
  • Your bathroom doors should have at least ¾” clearance to the floor to let fresh air in as the stale air is being pulled out.
  • Bathrooms with ceilings taller than 8 ceiling may require additional ventilation.
  • When you’re finished in the bathroom, don’t turn of the exhaust fan. Leave it on for 20 minutes after so that it will continue to pull out the moisture.

So, when it comes to the capacity, the higher the CFM number the better.

Noise

Noise is not damaging like capacity. If you pick the wrong capacity, you could have moisture damage in time. If you pick the wrong noise rating, you may just be annoyed and you may not enjoy showering or using your bathroom. Or, you could just pretend that you’re showering at the airport. Whether noise is a factor or not for you, rest assured that exhaust fan labels include this measurement. However, they wouldn’t want you to get by without being confused. So, it’s the noise value is the opposite of a CFM’s rating—meaning, the lower the number, the quieter the fan.

Fans are measured in “sones.” A sone is a measurement of sound in terms of comfortable hearing level for an average listener. The lower the sone measurement, the more comfortable the listening environment. Sones are not decibels or volume, but rather how sound is “sensed.” One sone is equal to the sound generated by a quiet refrigerator. I don’t know how they came up with this measurement, how they define an “average listener” or a “quiet refrigerator.” Does that “quiet refrigerator” include the noise that scares you to death when the icemaker drops the next load of ice when you weren’t expecting it? And, as many of us parents know, if they used a teenager as the “average listener,” they may as well have measured the wall’s reaction. Nevertheless, it is what is it. So… sones it is.

I’ve seen ratings as quiet as .5 sones. But quiet isn’t always the best thing. If it’s too quiet you may end up doing what I did with a hybrid rental car once—you just leave it running because you forgot that it’s on. I’ve also seen ratings as loud as 4.0 in which case I kept getting this feeling that I was missing my flight because I was in the bathroom.

Quiet bathroom fans will be rated as 1.5 or fewer sones. But ultimately you’ll want to consider the size and setup of your bathroom and not just look at the number. A 1.5 sone fan in an enclosed toilet room is going to sound louder than a 1.5 sone fan in a 7’ x 10’ bathroom. Likewise, if you have cathedral ceilings over the shower, you may not even hear the 4.0 sone fan.

Lighting and Other Functions

Fancy Exhaust Fans

As I mentioned before, the primary purpose of the exhaust fan is to protect your bathroom room from the destructive effects of heat and moisture. However, if you’re going to the effort and expense of installing one, you might as well see if there are some other functions for which you can use it.

Many fans feature lighting—heat lamps, ambient light, nightlight or some combination of the three. Unfortunately, you don’t get much say in the quality of the light (see last week’s post). Many fans today are incorporating LED lighting that can’t be replaced or swapped out. And the lighting temperature tends to be in the blue to bright white color range. So, if the quality of light you already have in the room is warm, you may not want to break that up with harsh, cold lighting. Some come with CFL bulbs with low lumens and a very yellow light quality. So, they don’t produce usable, attractive light. If either of these is a concern for you, I would recommend choosing a fan without a light, or, make sure that the lighting is a standard bulb size so that you can choose a bulb with the light quality you want.

Just as LED bulbs are incorporating other technology like Bluetooth and wifi, I wouldn’t be surprised if soon bathroom exhaust fans become wi-fi connections, Bluetooth speaker systems and a whole host of other things we haven’t even imagined yet.

I didn’t get into style choices and design considerations in this post. But just for fun, check out these awesome styles. You’d never guess some of them are exhaust fans.

There are also design considerations for placement and function of bathroom exhaust fans. So, if you need help, or you’d just rather sone out and have someone else take care of your bathroom function and design, email us or give us a call.

All Light Is Not Created Equal

lightbulb comparisons

Light is a wonderful thing. I love light. I like things to be bright. Darkness is dingy and depressing to me.

But buying light is frustrating. Each company labels their light bulbs differently. So, it’s difficult to get the same quality of light if you’re switching brands or types of bulb.

When there was one type of light bulb everyone got used to referring to light bulbs by their wattage because, for the average homeowner, that was really the only differentiator besides shape. But guess what? The only thing wattage tells you is the amount of power your light bulb uses.

That’s great if you’re only concerned with how much energy you’re using. But wattage tells you nothing about the quality of light. Would you buy food based only on calories? A Snickers bar is the rough equivalent of two hard-boiled eggs. Just because they have the same calories, does that mean you’re getting the same nutrition?

For example, your lamp uses a 60-watt bulb, so you go for the CFL or LED bulb labeled, “60-watt replacement” or “60-watt equivalent.” But it’s too bright, too harsh, too yellow, etc. So, you blame all LED bulbs or all compact fluorescents thinking that the new bulbs just don’t look the same and those tree huggers are messing everything up again.

But, you aren’t comparing apples to apples. What should you look for to get the quality of light you’re used to, or want to see? Buy based on the BLT: type of Bulb, amount of Lumens and color Temperature.

Type of Bulb

There are three main types of bulbs when looking for residential bulbs—incandescent, CFL and LED.

lightbulb comparisons

Incandescent

Depending on your age, incandescent is the light bulb that most people know. Because most of us grew up with incandescent light, we tend to compare all other light to it. If light doesn’t look like the light we’re used to, we usually don’t like it.

Incandescent bulbs are VERY inefficient. Of the total energy they use, 90% goes to creating heat and only 10% goes to actually generating light. Yes, the individual bulbs are cheap, but 12 to 15 percent of an average home electrical bill is spent on lighting. So, that’s a big expense for you, and an even larger expense and carbon footprint when we total it around the world. Incandescent bulbs also have a short life; they typically last 1,000 hours.

Compact Fluorescents (CFLs)

CFLs were the first big wave of energy efficient light bulbs to hit the retail market. They initially sounded good. They were 75% more efficient than incandescents, lasted much longer—an average of 10,000 hours—and they weren’t too much more expensive. CFLs appealed more to people’s sense of doing what was right by the environment. They were willing to give up being able to dim their lights, having to wait for the bulbs to warm up to reach their full intensity and the harsh color of CFLs, because they felt they were doing the right thing by the environment.

But as more consumers switched to them, we realized we might be switching to the wrong side. Studies began popping up showing that CFLs contained up to 4 mg of mercury per bulb. In addition, they had to be recycled at specific facilities or local retail stores. And the instructions for cleaning up after a broken bulb almost required a Hazmat suit. So, how could this be a more environmentally sound form of light?

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

The latest craze is LEDs. LEDs are 85% more efficient—which is why you find them in so many battery-powered applications. They last 25,000 to 100,000 hours. Unlike CFLs, they are dimmable and they are immediately full-intensity. They also produce very little to no heat. So, you can use them in sealed light units or in creative uses with paper and plastic where the heat from incandescent bulbs would have caused a fire or melted the plastic.

They’re also being combined with other technology like li-fi and sound, making them compact solutions, rather than just light bulbs. On top of all of those benefits they are considered to be the closest match to the quality of light generated by an incandescent bulb.

The only negative at this point is the cost–and, even that is coming down. They actually aren’t that expensive when you consider that you probably won’t have to change the bulb for 20 years. But, considering how often people move, unless you’re taking the bulbs with you, you may not want to make the investment.

Amount of Light

With incandescent bulbs, more wattage meant more light. But now that we’re dealing with energy savings, we need a different measurement of brightness. Lumens are the most crucial measurement of intensity. The amount of lumens tells you how much light you’re actually getting from a bulb–basically how bright it is.

The FTC requires that manufacturers include lumens on their labels. I don’t know if it’s old inventory or the FTC not policing their policies, but I see lots of labels without this critical information. The other problem you may run into is not knowing how bright your incandescent bulbs are. The FTC regulations don’t apply to incandescent bulbs. So, you may have no idea how many lumens to look for because you don’t know what your current bulbs are putting out. That makes it impossible to compare apples to apples. I’ve seen 60 watt “equivalent” labels, span anywhere from 400 to 800 lumens. So, judging the brightness of bulbs across incandescent, CFL and LED while only looking at the wattage equivalent, is like judging the height of three different breeds of dogs by the number of legs.

Here is a rough estimate of lumens per wattage.

Lumen Comparison Chart  

If you don’t know what your current incandescents are putting out, you may just have to buy a few LED bulbs and make notes as to how many lumens you like/need, then return the ones you don’t like. Through trial and error, I have found that the CREE brand soft white light bulb is one of my favorites. It’s a reasonably priced LED bulb that has a very good light quality. And you don’t have to go anyplace special to get them. Your local Home Depot carries them. I’ve switched all of our light fixtures to them and my family hasn’t even noticed.

Temperature

The temperature of light sounds scientific, nerdy and like you have to be off the charts picky to even care about it. In the incandescent days it was mostly reserved for the interior designers and highly technical people who were looking for a specific result and didn’t want the colors and surfaces in the room to be changed by the color of the lighting. For the rest of us, it didn’t matter because most incandescent lights looked the same. But temperature is more of a factor in lighting today.

Ever hear someone say, “I don’t like that light because it just seems so cold and clinical” or “That light is really yellow”? That response is a response to the temperature of the light.  Temperature determines how light appears to the human eye. “Cool” light looks blue; “warm” light looks yellowish. The warmer the light, the more yellow it is; the cooler the light, the more blue it is. Think of ice and the sun.

It can be a little confusing. Color temperature is measured in degrees Kelvin (K). The word descriptions for the light will describe it in terms of warm or cool. But if you look at the actual temperature number,  the lower temperatures are the “warm” colors and the higher temperatures are the “cool” colors.

Light temperature and its effect on color

New standardized labeling will usually show both. So you can go by the descriptor (warm or cool), the numeric temperature (2700k here) or where the arrow visually shows on the chart range.

Light bulb packaging

Incandescent bulbs typically fall in the warm temperature range—2700 to 2800K. So, if you are looking for a light that is similar to light from an incandescent bulb, or a warmer, more yellow light, you will want to look for a light bulb in this temperature range. To make things easier, if a package says, “soft white” it’s in this temperature range.

If the light bulb package shows a temperature of 3000 to 3500K, the light will tend to look blue because it’s a cooler temperature. Because it’s “cold,” light in this temperature range can feel cold and sterile. A package labeled “bright white” is in this temperature range.

If you’re looking for a neutral light that appears “white” instead of yellow or blue, look for light bulbs with temperatures between 3500K and 4000K.

It can be more important in commercial than residential use, but temperature does affect how colors appear. I have a friend in the print industry. He printed signs for a client and installed them. A few months later the client called him and told him that the signs had faded and now looked green. Nothing actually had changed with the signs. The company switched to fluorescent lights and the temperature they chose was changing the way the signs appeared. Ever hear someone say, “It looked different in the store?” That’s the lighting temperature. Try and get a sample for you to examine in your own home before making a purchase.

BLT

So, if the only thing you are shopping for is energy savings and you don’t care about how the light looks, just look at the label’s wattage replacement and pick the cheapest bulb.

But, if you’re picky like me and you only like a certain look to your lighting, or you’re trying to match what you currently have in an energy saving model, then you need to remember BLT–the type of Bulb, amount of Lumens and color Temperature. It sounds a bit overwhelming but, measured on these three things you will be comparing apples to apples. Once you find the amount of lumens and the temperature you like, the brand or price won’t matter. You can look for the same BLT every time. Take notes and keep them in a file on your phone or tablet so you always have them available.

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