One reason that falls and injuries are occurring in the home – for people of all ages but especially as people age – is because many of the interiors are not adequately illuminated. While there are many products available to provide sufficient lighting in the home, they aren’t often used to the extent that they should.
Darkened areas, shadows, objects on the walls or floors protruding into a passageway, and general lack of lighting to illuminate work surfaces create many unsafe conditions in the home – ones that are effectively eliminated with more balanced and uniform lighting.
For as far back as we can remember, incandescent lighting was the way homes were illuminated. Businesses had fluorescent tubing, and some use of fluorescent fixtures was found in homes – particularly in closets, laundry rooms, garages, and basements.
Halogen lighting seemed like it was going to offer a good alternative – and it did in terms of light output. However, that intensity created a lot of heat, and one had to be careful where halogen bulbs were used.
Halogen bulbs were so hot that they were a hazard for burning skin that came into contact with them, as well as paper and other combustible materials that came into contact with them. Incandescent bulbs were similarly risky – turning their energy rating at whatever wattage into about 5% light and 95% heat and lost energy as a lighting source.
In recent years, xenon offered an alternative to fluorescent lighting – especially in kitchen areas such as under cabinet and toe-kick lighting sources, but they produced heat as well. Then came the CFLs – the compact fluorescent lightbulbs (the “curly-Q” bulbs).
During this evolution, the mainstay incandescent bulb was falling into disuse due to its relative inefficiency as a lighting source, losing so much of its energy into ambient heat instead. Finally, it was largely banned from production and sale in the US although there are still a few imported products available.
Along the way, LED (light emitting diodes) were coming into their own. Once quite expensive and not suitable for use in lamps and other applications because they were available initially in a downward illumination only and at a relatively low light output, they now are available in a very affordable price point and are offered from night lights to dimmable recessed lighting and spotlights.
It’s easy to love the more than 20-year suggested lifespan of the LED bulbs compared to just a few weeks with the CFLs and maybe a year or so with the traditional incandescent bulb.
So, now that we have LEDs, they are widely available in a variety of sizes (physical size as well as lumens and color output), and they are cost-effective to purchase (available in some places for around $5 a bulb), but this isn’t the end of the story.
It seems that researchers at MIT have been trying to reinvent the incandescent bulbs and have done so to this point by surrounding the filament in the bulb (the tungsten metal that heats up and glows when electrical energy is passed through it) with a special type of crystalline structure in the bulb glass that allows the interior surface to capture the energy that would normally be lost as heat and retain it. The light output appears unaffected.
Are we going to be getting our 60w and 100w bulbs back again anytime soon without worrying about them being so hot and inefficient? We’ll see. Meanwhile, the LEDs are providing plenty of light without generating much heat.
This is great news for us as aging in place professionals and for consumers in general. Interior (and exterior around the home as well) lighting is the key to home safety. Poorly lit homes contribute greatly to incidents that occur because stumble, trip, slip, cut, burn, or otherwise injure themselves when more lighting would have let them see what they were doing and allowed them to be more careful.