Call it the Ikea-fication of America. It seems that more and more people are getting interested in design, especially when it comes to their own home. In decades past, household furniture and decorations didn't vary a whole lot. Growing up in the twentieth century, odds are your friends' homes probably had a pretty similar couch and coffee table as your own. Thanks to new technology and an explosion of interest in retro styles, that has changed.
Let There Be Light
New construction methods for residential developments over the years have ushered a new level of diversity in housing stock. There's the prewar single family home, the mid-century condo, and the newer steel-and-concrete buildings. Tastes vary more than ever, and interior designers are enjoying the array of projects. But design is not just furniture and hanging art. A huge component to the feel of a home is the lighting, and new technology on the market is changing the way our homes look and feel. The changes are also economic. Emerging technology will influence maintenance costs, energy bills and even how we interact with light on a daily basis.
For decades, the American market overwhelmingly depended on incandescent bulbs since electricity entered residential homes in the 1910s. Incandescent bulbs use a thin filament that heats up with an electrical current, and emits a very pleasant, warm yellow light. Despite their warm glow, they are very inefficient. Incandescent bulbs work at about five percent energy efficiency, and they burn out quickly. “A high-voltage [incandescent] bulb will draw 100 watts of power. The 100-watt lamp usually works for about 500 hours,” says Harold Salkin, the president of Custom Lighting of America in Royal Palm Beach.
Before the advent of newer technologies, most consumers considered wattage to be synonymous with brightness. A 60-watt bulb worked well for a reading lamp, and a 100-watt bulb was typically used for overhead area lighting. But in fact, wattage only signifies the amount of power being used to generate light. “A 12-volt low voltage system to equal 100 watts, we would use a 35-watt halogen lamp for the same output,” says Salkin. When growing energy prices prompted more demand for efficiency, the easiest switch from incandescent was halogen. For the most part, halogen lights maintain a similar quality of warm light, and are considerably more efficient that than incandescents.
Incandescents, Halogens, Fluorescents
For years the most reasonable alternative to the incandescent and halogen bulbs was fluorescent light. Everyone knows fluorescent light from offices, malls, and many other commercial spaces. “Fluorescents are never really a good choice, because it's a harsh type of lighting,” says Arnold Schulman, founder and principal designer at Arnold Schulman Design Group in Miami. That's why they never gained favor in residential homes, despite their much greater energy efficiency. Today, compact fluorescent bulbs, which work in a typical incandescent socket, are replacing incandescents on the residential market, due to the demand for greater efficiency and new federal laws, limiting the sale of the incandescent bulbs. “Incandescent gives you the warmest type of lighting, but with new laws incandescents are going to be a thing of the past,” says Schulman.