A new light is about to break on the horizon of residential illumination: light emitting diodes, or LEDs.

LEDs have been used for years in indicator, electronic readout, and signage applications, as well as in the theater industry. More recently, LEDs are increasingly used as architectural accents in high-end homes. But in the not-so-distant future, LED technology will conquer general home lighting, according to industry experts.

"LEDs offer a nice alternative to folks who both want to save energy but also ... want to have lighting that shows off their home," points out Kevin Dowling, vice president of innovation for Color Kinetics.

The key to LEDs achieving general-use status will be manufacturers' ability to develop a high-efficacy white light with warm tones. The industry is trying to replicate the glow of incandescent light, which is the most desirable light.

LEDs have great potential to close the gap between the efficiency of fluorescents and the warmth of incandescents, according to Ron Mascenti, marketing director for enLux LED. LEDs provide warm white light that uses less energy than incandescents, but most still cannot match the efficacy of cool-white LEDs--which tend to have a blue or green cast--or of many fluorescents, lighting experts say. But the technology continues to improve.

Long Life
In addition to energy efficiency, LED lighting offers several other benefits that leave incandescents in the dark. With possible lifespans of 50,000 to 100,000 hours, LEDs don't need to be replaced as frequently as incandescents and fluorescents. Also, LEDs generate very little heat and can be nearly any size or shape, so they can be used in applications simply not possible with hot-burning incandescents or halogens.

According to London-based lighting designer Marcel Jean Vos of Vos Solutions, low heat output allows LEDs to be incorporated into nearly any type of material, even fabrics, and more importantly allows them to be used in locations that carry a risk of burns--to people, artwork, or other belongings--with traditional light sources.

Meanwhile, LEDs can be integrated into many home lighting control systems, and installations can be as simple or as complex as the client wishes. Intensity and dimmer controls as well as color controls can be built into an LED system, allowing designers to program specific color changes or process through the entire spectrum without the need for filters.

For the immediate future, most LED lamps and fixtures will follow traditional lighting formats and some manufacturers offer recessed downlights, decorative pendants, strips, and pucks.

Nevertheless, LED fixtures can be designed in entirely new forms. The light source can be integrated into the body of the fixture in such a way that there is no separation between the two, a concept made feasible because of the long service life LEDs provide. Some experts predict that this is the direction LED-lit fixtures will eventually take.

Industry experts agree, including lighting designer Barry Bruckoff of Sausalito, Calif.-based Bruckoff Design Associates. He thinks LEDs will replace other light sources in many applications, such as for illuminating a 15-foot-high ceiling cove. "You want to be very sure that you're providing light sources that the client won't be cursing you over a few years later when they have to replace bulbs," he says. But he also thinks that conventional light sources will be mixed with LEDs for some projects.

However, it's unlikely that traditional fixtures will be abandoned. "It's because it's up to individual taste," Vos points out.

LED technology opens up a whole new world of lighting potential; it can be integrated into a home in many unconventional ways, becoming less of a lighting fixture and more of an architectural element. In time, experts agree that LEDs will allow builders, architects, and designers to rethink the role of lighting in homes and promise a bright future for general application lighting.

--This story first appeared in Custom Home magazine.

Lighting Services. Ideal for illuminating collectibles and other displays, LumeLEX track-based LED fixtures provide 1,000 lumens of useful white light and a 16-degree beam spread that delivers a flat, even field. Light output is easily controllable and can be dimmed down to 10 percent without any shift in color temperature, the manufacturer says. A stepped range of six color temperatures enables designers or homeowners to change the color temperature to suit the application. 800-999-9574. www.lightingservicesinc.com.

Duravit Freestanding Starck X Acrylic Bathtub

Freestanding Starck X Acrylic Bathtub

Duravit. The freestanding Starck X acrylic bathtub features a channel in its platform base filled with white stones to catch overflowing water as well as an integrated LED chromatherapy system that washes the tub exterior with changing colors. The Starck X tub offers models with one or two backrests or without backrests. 888-387-2848. www.duravit.com.

Winona Lighting Pops Series Acrylic LED Fixtures

Pops Series Acrylic LED Fixtures

Winona Lighting. The Pops series of pendants, chandeliers, flush mounts, and wall mounts feature shades machined from solid acrylic in 20 shapes, including cylinders, spheres, bulbs, beehives, and spikes. Three sizes are available, as well as eight LED colors: warm white, cool white, amber, blue, cyan, green, orange, and red. 800-328-5291. www.winonalighting.com.

Kichler Low-Voltage LED Outdoor Light Fixture

Low-Voltage LED Outdoor Light Fixture

Kichler. Offering five watts of white light with low energy use, new LED lighting averages 40,000 hours of life, about 18 years of consumption. Designed in small profiles for use in tight spaces, the lighting system connects to a direct burial LED 40-watt driver and wires into a low-voltage transformer. Faceted hexagonal fixtures and a line of accessories also are available. 866-558-5706. www.kichler.com.

io Lighting Luxrail Low-Voltage LED Handrail

Luxrail Low-Voltage LED Handrail

io Lighting. The Luxrail low-voltage LED handrail, for indoor and outdoor applications, is available in standard and high-output light intensities with several beam-spread options suitable for illuminating pathways or as accent lighting. The handrail is constructed of stainless steel, aluminum, or brass and comes in several finishes. The integrated linear LED offers cool-white or warm-white light options. 847-735-7000. www.iolighting.com.

KWC Canyon Series LED Faucet

Canyon Series LED Faucet

KWC. The monolithic, minimalist design of the Canyon faucet creates a bold stream of water illuminated by an LED light band that reads from blue to red; electronic sensors detect the water temperature and determine the color of light accordingly. Electronic on/off touchpad controls and temperature controls are located on either side of the faucet. Canyon also is available as a tub filler. 678-334-2121. www.kwcamerica.com.