LED Bulbs In The Home: So Far, So Good

Earlier this year, the company rolled out a new "uplight" accessory for those Haiku models that casts decorative light up onto the deep recessed ceiling downlight. The company is Lexington, Kentucky-based Big Ass Fans, best known for its eponymous industrial ceiling fans, and the maker of the luxurious Haiku line of smart, app-enabled residential ceiling fans. Then, when the pandemic hit, the company thought back to 2011, when it teamed with an architecture firm to equip a hospital in Rwanda with ceiling fans to help improve the efficacy of wall-mounted UV sanitizers used to kill pathogens like tuberculosis.

There have been LED spotlights and smaller lights for years, but now people can buy LED bulbs that give out as much light as a 60-watt incandescent and are designed for use just about anywhere. And rather than purchase them online or in a specialty store, they will be available at Home Depot, Lowes, and no doubt other familiar retail outlets next year.

Early testing looks promising. The researchers installed it in a 1,000-cubic-foot test chamber, then released a small amount of phi X 174, a bacteriophage commonly used as a stand-in for deadlier pathogens in tests like these. After 10 minutes with the Haiku spinning overhead, the researchers removed a petri dish from the room, let it sit overnight, and then compared it with a petri dish from an identical chamber with no fan at all. In April, the company hired a team of third-party researchers from Intertek to study the fan's effectiveness.

In the past year, though, lighting manufacturers have introduced LED bulbs in a shape Edison would recognize that put out a decent amount of good-quality light. They still don't give off light from all sides as incumbent technologies do, but this latest generation of LEDs does a better job dispersing light, which means that you could use one (or a few) for overhead lighting.

An Energy Star-qualified CFL would use 9 to 13 watts for similar output. And they sip juice: the A19 is rated at 8.6 watts but it used just 6 watts when I tested it with my power meter. The race: Lumens per watt per dollar
I installed the 40-watt equivalent, branded the EcoSmart A19 by Home Depot, and a couple of others around my house a few weeks ago and they've fit in nicely. The first thing you notice is that the light is white, not yellow like my CFLs.

"And yeah, we put about four months of additional research and engineering to make sure that we're doing this the right way, but we were already 90% there. "Mid-March, all of a sudden, it's kind of, wait a minute, we're already working on an uplight," says Big Ass Fans spokesperson Alex Risen.

Researchers at Columbia University were recently able to kill 99.9% of exposed airborne coronaviruses like those using low doses of low wavelength, "far-UVC" light that isn't strong enough to penetrate human eye or skin tissue. Just recently, a study published to the preprint database medRxiv on June 26 and currently awaiting peer review found confirmation that UV light kills SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. UV light has already been proven effective against influenza and against other kinds of coronaviruses, including the ones that cause SARS and MERS.

The downside of LEDs, feature-wise, has always been the light color; the blueish light LEDs have traditionally had feels cold, particularly compared with the warm glow from incandescent and halogen bulbs. That makes them great for spotlights but not good for a desk lamp. And LEDs for everyday use are pricey and unlikely to be stocked in your neighborhood hardware store. The other knock (or feature, depending on your usage) on LEDs has been that they direct light.

It was your classic light bulb moment: What if that uplight was a UV sanitizer, with the ceiling fan pulling air up into its disinfection zone? With a head start on the legwork, the company scrambled to action.

The amount of light the A19 gives off--429 lumens--is just not enough for my small home office, for example. But here's where I'm on the fence. It seemed to work better in an old architect desk lamp, but it felt a tad dim from a single fixture on the ceiling.

Florida-based Lighting Science Group, which is providing many of the LED bulbs for Home Depot's EcoSmart line, sent me a package of its products to try out. Overall, I've been impressed and I'm looking forward to what comes next, particularly when you consider the pace of technology change.

The company is in talks with Kentucky's horse-racing industry, too, and looking into ways that the fans might be used to help sanitize places like guest suites and skyboxes between events. Big Ass Fans adds that a number of businesses across the country have already placed orders.

The savings over time will be compelling enough for some consumers, but that's still a lot of money for a single light bulb. (That's one reason why businesses, in the near term, are a more likely customer for LEDs since they are more apt to consider the total cost of ownership.) Pricing hasn't been set yet, but Gibler projects that the 60-watt equivalent will cost about $35.


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