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Learn Lighting Basics to Transform Your Space

With lighting, like most things, you get what you pay for.

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RECENTLY I WAS HONORED to be a judge for the PETS+ America’s Coolest Stores Contest. One of the things I noticed was that almost all stores were illuminated by 2-by-4-foot overhead lighting.

For all of your sakes, I hope those fixtures contain LED tubes. LEDs are both wonderful and confusing. They are wonderful because they save money and last 50,000 hours. They are confusing because how do you know how much power comes out of an LED strip, and what is that strange thing called Kelvin color temperature? Oh, and there’s something else: Why is there such a difference between the cost of LEDs?

LEDs are small chips that are used to create bulbs. If they aren’t shielded, they create a lot of glare. If you are replacing the existing fluorescent tubes in your ceiling, buy enough tubes to relamp one fixture and see how you like the quality of light. One LED illuminated 2-by-4-foot fixture could replace at least two fluorescent fixtures.

Before you choose those LED strips, ask about the color temperature (the Kelvin number). The higher the number, the bluer the light. Kelvin (K) colors range most commonly from 5,000K (very blue white), 4,000K (blue white), 3,500K (neutral white), 3,000K (warm white) to 2,700K (golden white). Best for you, your staff and customers and, most important, your pet guests and residents is 3,000K or  3,500K. Those best show off the color and gloss of fur and the tone of human skin.

Something else to inquire about when you are looking at LED strip lights — how many lumens does each 4-foot strip give out? Lumens describe the actual amount of light emitted by the bulb. Believe me, this makes a huge difference. I recently had to replace a lamp in my closet at home — a 100-watt A-bulb that had been there a long while. I replaced it with another 100-watt A-bulb, but the light it gave was yellow and dim, so I ordered an 11-watt SORAA Radiant LED. It arrived last night and I replaced the nasty bulb with this bulb. Amazing — brighter, whiter. What was the difference? After investigation, I discovered that the lumens (light output) were different. Higher in the LED (800) than in the old-fashioned bulb (710), and I’m saving energy.

To highlight your wall presentation, treat bars and other special areas, you will want a point-source light like a track for flexibility, or downlights washing the walls. Another factor comes into play here: beam spread. That means how wide is the cone of light coming from the fixture. Narrow floods (25 degrees) are best to accomplish your needs for overhead lighting, although floods (35 degrees) would work well on the walls. For your service desk, consider highlighting it with decorative fixtures also lamped with LEDs.

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Finally, what about those costs? Sadly, you knew I’d say this: You get what you pay for. There can be a great difference in the quality of the light, the color consistency both when they are purchased and as they age, the actual life of the bulb, and the warranty. Particularly in those overhead fixtures in the ceiling, you want and need color consistency. Lamps made by American, European, Japanese and South Korean companies best provide those qualities.

One of our customers relamped with LEDs, and her electrical bill went down by 40 percent. Not only do you save on the lighting but also on the air conditioning. LEDs use less power and emit much less heat, so you need less air conditioning.

And now for a bit of fun — in the photo above is a decorative LED that sits on my deck. It is completely powered by solar. So, for your storefront, your back deck or porch, somewhere outside, check out decorative LED powered by solar.

Ruth Mellergaard is a principal with retail design firm GRID/3 International. She has been practicing retail interior design for 30 years. She is skilled as an interior designer with environmental awareness; as a lighting expert and a color and materials originator. She is an experienced speaker, a gardener and a pet parent to two cats, Madame and Mandy. Contact her at yates@grid3.com

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