Lighting design starts with knowing what the gear can let you do. Especially with the increasing emphasis on energy efficiency and sustainable design, even small improvements in tried and true products might mean the difference in a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) point or two. These days just one point can make the lighting designer or electrical engineer a real LEEDing hero, not to mention the energy savings and other benefits to the client.

However, among those who provide the less glamorous lighting efficiency, retrofit and maintenance, some of the products are essential elements of everyday work. Specialists in this part of our field live for a 2-watt savings on every lamp, and you can bet with rising energy prices that providers of energy efficiency will be busy for many years to come. These products often are critical in giving them the edge over competitors who are not quite up to speed.

In preparing this, I have surveyed the product introductions and innovations throughout the industry in the past couple of years that I consider really important. I do not mean to offend a company who introduced the most beautiful incandescent lamp or dimmer because while appearance obviously is important, to me it is innovations that affect the way I make major decisions.

LAMPS Let us start by admitting that light-emitting diodes (LEDs) generally are not lamps like we know them. We need an entirely new way of evaluating LED systems. (Architectural Lighting will discuss this topic in its upcoming LED Supplement to coincide with the April/May 2008 issue.) But there are a few exceptions in which an LED product fits into a conventional socket and basically works like a regular lamp. Of the products I have seen, the ones that genuinely jazz me are the medium-based and GU24 R-lamp products. They tell an important story—while the LED is small, the heat sync is big. As long as you have the room for an R40-sized lamp, you can now get a 10W to 12W, 50-plus lumen per watt, 2700K LED that honestly competes with the 65W incandescent R-lamp it is intended to replace.

Surprisingly, there are still incandescent lamp developments. The majority of them are variations of infrared reflecting PAR lamps that reduce watts while maintaining roughly the same beamspread and intensity of common products. For instance, 48W lamps can be used where 60W lamps were the original design. For retailers with a large investment in PAR lighting systems, this is a good alternative before succumbing to metal halide. Another impressive product is the aluminum-reflector 300W halogen PAR56, a noteworthy improvement over regular incandescent versions. I also was pleasantly surprised by the 20W PAR36 for landscape lighting, which allows for subtly beautiful landscapes.

One very special tungsten development is the 18,000-hour MR16. I like MR16s for applications such as elevators and outdoor steplighting, and these lamps are ideal for these and other applications where lamp maintenance is a major issue.

Among fluorescent lamps, the most impressive new products are conventional T8 lamps that can achieve up to 46,000 hours rated life on a programmed-start ballast. Also having very high efficacy, these lamps might cause you to reconsider using LED or other ultra-long life but expensive lamps like induction. In addition, almost all popular T8 lamps are available with a color rendering index (CRI) of 80-plus, high lumen 2700K and 5000K as well as the more common 3000K, 3500K, and 4100K lamps. We are still waiting for the 2700K T5 but at least we can get the rest of the range, including 3000K, 3500K, 4100K, and 5000K lamps. You can even get a 6500K lamp if a project demands it. In the mainstream lamp market, T8 lamps are available in 25W and 28W energy-saving products from just about every lamp manufacturer, and one company has introduced a new generation of ultra-low mercury products. There also are, finally, high-lumen lamps in the important and often overlooked lengths of two feet and three feet.

Being an energy-efficiency freak, my favorite lamps are T5, and the big deal is the “super” T5. These lamps have 3,050 initial lumens, 10 percent more light per watt than regular T5, pushing the source to more than 100 lumens per watt. Another group of new low-energy T5 and T5HO lamps generate the standard lumen output with lower watts; imagine saving 3 watts per T5HO lamp just by using a different lamp. There also is the amalgam T5HO; this is a lamp that maintains its high lumens per watt over a wider range of temperature than a regular T5HO lamp. Think about gyms, skating rinks, and other applications where the lighting system operates over a wide range of ambient temperature and this might be ideal.

Among lamps, my new favorites still tend to be ceramic metal halide. Lamps are available from 20W to 400W and in a wide variety of envelopes including MR16, PAR20-64, ED17-28, double-ended R7, and even the exotic AR111. We have gotten pretty used to these lamps, but recently a new T9 250W lamp caught my attention. This is the first of a generation of ceramic lamps over 150W with universal burning position, which happens to be a rare and useful product. There also are some new 90-plus CRI ceramic metal halide lamps with great color, which are promoted wisely for retail lighting.

I cannot leave lamps without mentioning the veritable plethora of medium screw-based products. While we are overwhelmed by cheap compact fluorescent lamps, take a look at these not-so-ordinary lamps: