Archive for the 'Alpenglow Lighting Design News' Category

October 26th 2010
Light bulbs? Heavens no, they’re heaters.

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

If you listen carefully, you can hear my forehead slamming on the desk.


Banning old lightbulbs seems like low-hanging fruit, an easy way to significantly reduce energy usage with little to no loss of lifestyle comforts. But the bulb bans persistently promote protest, and bring out the curmudgeons resistant to change.

European regulators jumped aboard the bulb-ban bandwagon in 2009. Since 1 September of that year, it has been illegal to sell light bulbs that do not meet “eco-design” standards. In short: no more incandescent light bulbs. But a decision celebrated for saving enough electricity to power a small country has met its match. The incandescent bulb is back. But this time it’s not a light. So what is it?

It is Not a Light, It’s a Heater
The incandescent bulbs back on the European market are offered for sale at a German website,, that delivers Europe-wide. According to the Heatball website: Heatball is the “best invention since the lightbulb. Heatballs are technically similar to incandescent bulbs, except that they are not intended for lighting, but for heating.”

Are they serious? Dead serious. It appears the bulbs are selling so well, that the orders page warns of delivery delays due to strong demand.

How do they live with themselves? Well, the matter is more complex than first meets the eye. Allegedly, Heatball is more than just a marketing gimmick aimed at people who lined up to hoard 100 Watt bulbs before they faded into oblivion.

First, Heatball donates 0.30€ from every bulb purchased to projects for the protection of the rain forest. (Conscience compensation?) Second, Heatball aspires to be “protest art”. The home page elucidates:

“A Heatball is an electrical resistance, that serves to heat things up. Heatball is Protest Art. Heatball is resistance against regulations that are enforced outside of all democratic and parliamentary procedures, reducing citizens to wards of the State. Heatball is also a resistance against the disproportionality of measures to protect the environment. How can someone honestly believe that we can rescue the global climate by using energy-saving light bulbs, and simultaneously allow the rain forests to wait decades in vain for protection.”


Could Heatball Help?
And there is one final question: could the Heatball concept help to kill the incandescent bulb? Could the ironic suggestion that incandescents are more suited to heating than to lighting finally convince the consuming public that the waste of energy is real?

We seriously doubt it. The truth is not hard to find: lighting consumes a large percentage of electrical supplies, for example. The amount of mercury (which can be recycled) in compact fluorescent lightbulbs is less than the amount released from generating the added electricity needed to power incandescents. And heating with an electric lightbulb is not efficient.

More to the point: Heatball is selling lightbulbs. Not art. There are better ways to drum up support for the rain forest. And better ways to educate the public, in both peaceful protest, as well as environmental protection. And, well, better art.

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September 28th 2010
More on LED retrofits

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

Recently, Alpenglow worked with an electrician to produce retrofit scenarios for a local commercial project. Our analysis shows that a total retrofit cost is about $110,000 for luminiaires and labor, but that Federal tax credits and local utility energy rebates return almost $50,000 immediately. The reduction in lighting load and associated cooling loads total about $16,800 per year in a single facility. The LEDs also allow instant-on switching in warehouse situations, allowing even further savings (LEDs, unlike metal halide or other arc-sources, do not require lamp warm-up). The model shows that the facility will save over 233,000 kWh annually, and will save about 137 tons of CO2. This is the equivalent of taking 12 SUVs off the road annually.

Individual projects require analysis as more LED products are available on an almost daily basis. New replacement lamps for 400W metal halide fixtures are now available, and larger lamps are coming soon. Before-and-after studies are required for Federal tax credits.

Contact Alpenglow to discuss how LED retrofits can save you money and improve your bottom line.

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August 19th 2010
Why retrofitting with LEDs makes sense

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

LED retrofit lamps, such as MR-16s, are a great alternative to their halogen counterparts. Here at Alpenglow, we did some simple calculations for a typical small retail store (1500 square feet) with 50 halogen MR-16s. This is about 1.5W/sft, or in compliance with the basic retail criteria in the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2009.

If we assume (50) 50W lamps at $0.085/kWh, and the store is open 10 hours per day, 7 days a week, the store will burn about 9,100kWh per year at a cost of $773, plus 2 lamp replacements (based on 2,000 hour lamps at $6 each), so annual cost is about $1,373. If cooling is added in (again, for simplicity, we assume cooling is every day, heat is ignored), annual electricity cost for lighting and the cooling to balance it is about $1603.00 and generates 6.95 tons of CO2.

If the (50) lamps are changed to 9W LEDs (50,000 hours, about 40 each), the lighting power drops to 1,638kWh, or $139. If we assume that the in the first year 50 lamps are purchased, powered, and cooled, the total cost for the first year is about $2,180. This number drops significantly the second year, as the total power cost(lighting plus cooling) drops to about $180. Total tons of CO2 drops to 1.25. This represents a total savings annually of about $1,423. The Internal Rate of Return over 10 years, at 4%, is 246%.

Even if your actual IRR is half of this model, isn’t that a good investement? Other benefits include the reduction in labor costs to replace the lamps, as well as marketing opportunities that show tangible results, not just ‘greenwashing’.

Naturally, this is a simple example, and many variables can affect the results, such as kWh rate, operation hours, and quantity of lightbulbs. Contact Alpenglow today to discuss how relamping can help your bottom line, from retail, to warehouse, to hospitality.

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August 10th 2010
Musings on CFLs and LEDs

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) have been with us for a long time, and have improved vastly since their first incarnations. The original versions were long twin-tubes, and it was common to see them screwed into shallow downlights, resulting in 2-4″ of lightbulb hanging below the ceiling. Fortunately, things have improved. Current CFL designs are tight spirals, intended to emulate the shape of the classic A-lamp (the plain-old lightbulb). The reason for this is that most downlights and table lamps are designed for this shape of bulb.

The price of CFLs has dropped considerably, from $15-20 to now as low as 99 cents. The screw-in CFLs are all self-ballasted, meaning that they do not require a remote ballast installed in the fixture (as plug-in CFLs and linear fluorescents do). Considering that the ballast is a somewhat complicated bit of electronics, and that the glass and phosphor coatings in the tube are also complex, it’s amazing that the bulbs are available for under a buck. However, keep in mind, that in lighting, you get what you pay for.

If you buy a lightbulb with complex electronics and manufacturing processes for a dollar, you have to assume that the cost of producing, packaging, and shipping it has to be under 25 cents, or the manufacturer is losing money. I have noticed that many people who complain about the quality of CFLs are using these low-end lamps.

Lamp life is also a topic of discussion with regard to CFLs. Lamp life is rated on 3 hours per start, so in essence, a 10,000 hour bulb is a 3,000 start bulb. If you use a CFL in a pantry or powder room, where it is switched on and off frequently, chances are it will burn out more quickly than a bulb used in a hotel lobby table lamp.

Mercury is an issue with all fluorescent lamps. The basic principle is that a small amount of mercury is vaporized in an electric arc. As the mercury is vaporized, an electron is moved to a higher valence. When it returns to its natural valence, it releases a photon in the ultraviolet range. The photon hits the phosphor on the inside of the glass, and is shifted to the visible light range. The phosphor coatings are tuned to release visible light in certain color ranges. Obviously, mercury is a toxin, and recycling the lamps is the best way to keep the mercury from escaping into the environment. It is important to keep in mind that watch batteries have more mercury than modern CFLs, so each lamp has a tiny amount, but cumulatively, the mercury can add up. In the Roaring Fork Valley, you can recycle lamps at hardware stores and Alpine Banks.

Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), are gaining ground as the latest light source. They offer low wattage, low heat, and each generation is brighter. Right now, they seem to be evolving faster than consumer electronics such as phones and DVD players. Although it is easy to sit and wait for the latest version, installing them now as replacements for incandescent lamps is still an instant energy savings.

LEDs have some challenges of their own, mainly in heat and dimmability. LEDs do not feel hot to the touch, but the heat generated by the lamps and trapped inside the luminaire can decrease their light output and lifespan. For this reason, most LED lamps have extensive aluminum heatsinks. Many of these heatsinks are milled aluminum, which is a costly manufacturing process. Some LEDs are dimmable with ‘regular’ dimmers (forward phase control, or chopping of the electrical sine wave) while others want to see a 0-10V DC control signal. Consumer LEDs, if dimmable, work fairly well with household dimmers and most dimming systems. The biggest challenge to dimmability is dimmer minimum loads: most household dimmers don’t work well when the connected load is under 40W. If you experience flickering with your LED lamp, this is typically the culprit. At Alpenglow, we have tested Vantage Scenepoint dimmers with loads as low as 14W with no flicker.

LED color is another challenge. White LEDs are about 10 years old, and the first generations were very cool white. Since the white LED evolved out of blue LEDs, this makes sense. However, warming up the color also reduces the light output, so some products are using a remote phosphor and very cool-white LEDs. Basically, this system relies on a color-correcting lens in front of the LED array. Currently, this system is found in complete luminaires rather than retrofit lamps, but at the rate of change in the products, this could change by the time I finish typing this sentence.

So, which lamp is better to use? There is no blanket answer. Lamps and luminaires are constantly changing, and the correct choice is based on the application rather than the lightbulb. CFLs are very good at washing walls but do not provide sparkle; LEDs can provide sparkle but are not ideal for floodlighting. The high rate of change in the product evolution also means that constant research and education is required for the best solution for a design challenge.

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August 5th 2010
Stuff We Like: Lightbulb Nutrition Labels

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

Lightbulbs are becoming increasingly complicated and confusing, but the Federal Trade Commission has come to the rescue. Starting in 2011, all lightbulbs will come with a ‘nutrition label’ style chart which will help consumers make sense of the new bulbs.

Nutrition label

The “plain old lightbulb” as we know it will start to go away in 2012 by federal law as we catch up with the EU and British Commonwealth. Edison’s original patent was issued in 1880, and the basic incandescent bulb has not changed significantly since then. Other technology has moved forward since 1880, so the time to say goodbye to the inefficient light bulb has come. As LEDs and CFLs have become more commonplace and accepted by consumers, the current labeling and packaging has not helped to explain the benefits of the new bulbs. Hopefully, these new labels will reduce the confusion with selecting a new lightbulb.

Contact Alpenglow for more information on what new lightbulbs have to offer.

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August 5th 2010
Stuff We Like: Vantage Easytouch II Keypads

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

Vantage Lighting Controls has released a new series of stations, and here at Alpenglow, we are excited about the products. The stations use a standard Decora-style cutout and are available in either 3- or 5-button configurations. The best part about the stations is the engraving: laser-etched and backlit. The buttons also feature tri-chrome LEDs, meaning they can mix colors in the engraving. Integral photocells in the stations autmatically adjust the brightness of the LEDs for night and day, and the stations also have InfraRed receivers. Both metal and plastic faceplates are available, and the Decora coutout matches other devices, such as outlets and third-party controls.

The stations are a full family: line voltage dimmers and relays, dual relays, and low voltage keypads, with both wired and wireless versions available. With these stations, Alpenglow can design unlimited station configurations for control of lighting, shading, AV, and more. Contact Alpenglow today for a demonstration of these new stations.

EasyTouch II

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April 6th 2010
Stuff we like: Lightolier Xceed Downlights

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

About a year ago, Lightolier released a remarkable residential fluorescent downlight. It has a relatively small aperture (5″), is insulated-celing rated, and fits in 2×4 framing. The fixture is shower rated, can also be used in closets, and is perfect for mudrooms, laundry rooms, garages, and similar locations. It is available in both square and round apertures and has a sloped ceiling/wallwash version. The fixture ships complete with housing, trim, and 4-pin commercial-grade lamp in 3 wattages and 2 colors. Several colors of trim and reflector are available, as well as a dimmable ballast.

This fixture is a very good alternative to ‘standard’ downlights used in residential construction, and with the high-efficacy fluorescent lamp, uses about 1/3 of the energy of an incandescent. The fixture ships complete with housing, trim, and lamp for an extremely reasonable price, and is in stock at distributors nationwide.

Products like this one can help reduce the connected load in residential projects, which reduces power bills, reduces CO2 emitted by power plans, and helps projects meet the requirements of IECC 2009. Contact Alpenglow to see a sample of the fixture.

Xceed Downlight

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March 30th 2010
Stuff we like: Vantage Controls Dual ScenePoint Relay

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

A fairly new product on the market, Vantage’s Dual ScenePoint Relay is a welcome solution for switching controls. It is available for both new construction and retrofit (wireless). Alpenglow has tested the product in our system, and it works extremely well for both switched loads (fluorescent and LED) as well as line voltage shades. The device has a hardware interlock for shade applications which ensures that up- and down-functions cannot be operated simultaneously, which will protect the shade motors.

Like all other ScenePoint devices, the Dual Relay can have up to 6 programmable buttons with 2-color LEDs (either red/green or red/blue). The benefit of (2) 5A relays (600w each) in a single gang cannot be underestimated. It not only allows reduced wire pulls and home runs, but also helps reduce wall clutter and keeps more stations at a single gang.

Contact Alpenglow for more information and to see the device in action.

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March 26th 2010
Stuff we like: Vantage iPhone App

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

The fine folks at Automation Connection have come up with a spectacular app for the iPhone to control Vantage systems. Alpenglow prefers Vantage over other systems due to excellent dimming products, great support, and ease of use. This app makes the Vantage system even easierto use, and it can be setup without a programmer’s assistance (provided you can follow directions and are reasonably computer literate).

Alpenglow has been testing the app for several months, and it works very well. With it, you can control any Vantage-enabled house from any location, on either a Wi-Fi or cellular network (Note that you cannot just capture someone’s house – you need to link the app to the processor’s IP address). In our area, 3G is sort of a fantasy, but the app works on 2G/Edge networks, just a little slowly. It automatically finds each load and keypad in the project, and gives realtime feedback of loads (with slider bar), thermostats, and buttons. You can even create your own keypads that only exist in the app, although you will need access to the Design Center software to get the VIDs to enable the buttons.

Although it may seem excessive to be able to control a house from far away, we have found that the app is very handy when you are simply running to the store or to dinner. It is a breeze to simply start the app and check to see that you did in in fact turn the house off when you left. For vacation homes, it allows you to monitir the status of the house or to turn up the heat before you arrive. Similarly, since the Vantage system at Alpenglow is also controlling multi-room audio and video, we are using the app as a simple remote for volume, iPod control (pause, forward, reverse), TV power, and audio source selection.

With the iPad on its way soon, we expect that the iPhone/iTouch/iPad platform will become the go-to touchscreen solution for dimming and AV control.

Contact Alpenglow to see the app in action at our location or yours.

VantageiPhone site

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March 26th 2010
More exciting LEDs on the way

Posted under Alpenglow Lighting Design News

Recently Alpenglow has started using a 9W LED lamp as a replacement for a 50W MR-16 in downlighting and art applications. The new lamp is dimmable, works on AC or DC transformers, works on both electronic and magnetic transformers, has great halogen-like color, and lasts 50,000 hours. A standard halogen 50W MR-16 will use about 1,000 kWh over its 2,000 hour lifespan. This LED version will only use 180 kWh for the same period, or in dollars, $125 for the halogen vs. @22.50 for the 2,000 hour period.

Even though the LED MR-16 costs about $45, it will save about $57 in electricity in its first year.

We have samples of this lamp available for mockups and testing. Contact us today to set up a demonstration.

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