Jan 30, 2017

‘LED Guy’ knows his lighting, and has low bills to prove it

Image of Rainforest EMU display

Paul DeMara of North Delta uses a Rainforest EMU-2™ energy monitor – available through BC Hydro – to get real-time feedback on his electricity use. Five years ago he replaced all his incandescent bulbs with LEDs, and his BC Hydro bills are significantly lower because of it.

North Delta man has replaced one LED since installing 124 back in 2012

“I got tired of replacing bulbs.”
– Paul DeMara, February, 2012

When Paul DeMara contacted BC Hydro five years ago, he was a pioneer with a plan. Armed with a meticulously-prepared spreadsheet and a lust for technology, he made the bold calculation that he would save $11,000 over 20 years by replacing 124 incandescent bulbs in his North Delta home with energy-saving LEDs.

So we checked the math with one of our engineers, who confirmed that the numbers looked correct and that DeMara stood to pay off his brash investment in LEDs – $3,000 – within four years.

Mission accomplished.

“It took about three and a half years to pay it off,” says DeMara. “And today, it would be quicker, because the cost of bulbs has gone down. The bulbs I purchased were mostly about $15 with the BC Hydro instant rebate I got. You can get them for a lot less now.”

DeMara says his typical power bill before his switch to LEDs five years ago was about $120 to $130 a month. “Now I’m typically at about $55 or less,” he says.

While DeMara admits to having more than the typical number of audio and other devices in the home – “I’m a techy guy” – his bill doesn’t include heating. He uses gas for his heating, and managed to cut those costs, too, by installing a super-efficient gas furnace a few years back.

Long-term savings of LEDs enhanced by how long they last

Vital to DeMara’s projection of $11,000 in savings over 20 years is the much longer life of an LED bulb. Most ENERGY STAR® LEDs are expected to last 20 years or more under typical usage, which means it will be a long time before he has to pay money to replace a bunch of LEDs.

“It’s been a real tough struggle to keep track of all the failed bulbs so far,” he says with a chuckle. “I had one. And I’m pretty sure the power supply in it failed, not the LED itself.”

Not all LEDs are created equal. Look for the ENERGY STAR symbol and check the life expectancy information on the package.

Colour temperature matters: Tips on selecting the right LED

Before DeMara bucked up for his all-LED swap five years ago, he did research into colour temperature in LEDs. He has selected lighting to ensure it fits the mood, and tasks, of each room. And in one room, he has the ability to program and change the mood via his smartphone.

DeMara opted to go with a series of dimmable, colour-adjustable, Philips Hue lights in a downstairs room where he and his wife hang out, listen to music or play poker.

“Downstairs, I can set the mood,” he says. “I can go with 2700 degrees Kelvin, or switch to 2200K, which is a real soft, brown look. And I have one profile where all the lights are different so that every bulb puts out a different colour and just looks cool.”

Choosing light temperature is about personal taste, and DeMara declares up front that he’s no fan of the “daylight” temperature bright blues known as cool colours. He chooses 2700K (“A warmer, nicer look”) for the bedroom, and 3000K for the hallways, living room and kitchen. And because he has read plenty about how bright lights can interrupt sleep, he has installed a series of red LEDs to give a bit of light on the ceiling of the bedroom – “Just enough to make our way around at night” – plus a one-watt LED in the ensuite bathroom that stays on all the time and which costs him an estimated five cents a month.

Don’t forget to check a light’s CRI rating

Demara learned way back in 2011 that LEDs with a low Colour Rendering Index rating  (CRI) – anything below 90 – made things look “dull and lifeless.”

“You’re probably going to be looking at that LED light you just bought for 20 to 25 years, so why not get something that produces nice looking light?” he says.

As a rule of thumb, he’s found that if a manufacturer doesn’t indicate CRI on the packaging, it’s likely that the CRI is usually low. “You get what you pay for,” he says.

And if he has one tip above all, it’s to set up as many bulbs as possible with dimmers.

“If you turn it down to like 85%, you save 50% on electricity,” he says. “That last 15% is where you get nailed.”