LED Lighting

Selenite Rock over LED Light in Farm House Library

In our current house we mostly use florescent lightning, primarily of the compact florescent design. Florescent lights used to be odd colored and have annoying flickers. The newer ones are improved although I’m still very disappointed in that they do not live up to the long lives claimed by the manufacturers. The other thing that bothers me about florescent bulbs is the disposal problem: most of them contain mercury which is a hazardous waste.

While I do use florescent lights and think they are a good idea, I totally disagree with the government that they should be legislated as mandatory. They are not suitable for all situations and the heat of incandescent lights is actually quite valuable in some circumstances such as keeping chicks warm. The heat is not a waste here in the frozen north. But enough politics even if it was just a couple of sentences.

In our new house we will continue to use some florescent bulbs, especially over the aquariums which in turn also light our living space. For these bulbs I have the better high output electronic ballasts. These are quieter than the older tar ballasts, use even less power, don’t flicker and I think they make the bulbs last longer as well as being brighter. One ballast powers four 4′ 1.5″ bulbs. By combining our lighting needs with the aquariums we save bulbs and energy. We’ve been doing that for years but the tiny cottage is designed around the idea so it will be even better than in the widely spread out old farm house we have now.

For lower level lightning we’re planning to use Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) in our tiny cottage. I’ve been experimenting in our farm house. The effect is wonderful. As we do the concrete of the house we’re leaving tubes for this wiring. We’ll have a dedicated low voltage wiring system just for this. Since the cottage is so small the wire lengths are short so a single low voltage system works well rather than having multiple power supplies. In a large house the long runs of low voltage would present a problem with power loss over long wiring runs – another advantage of living small.

Originally when I was planning this years ago the LED’s were not so bright so I was just going to highlight the edges of doorways. Now though with brighter LEDs I envision using them for spot lights and desk lights too. Maybe for primary lighting if LED’s keep getting brighter. I also plan to use them in the dawn and dusk as well as moon lightning of our aquariums. The blue LEDs are especially good for that in the marine tank.

The first spot we’ve identified for LED’s is along the edges of doorways, especially down low near the floor, steps, etc for night time trips to the bathroom and such. This is a simple little safety feature that means larger lights won’t have to get turned on in the middle of the night. For this I’m planning very small low powered LEDs. The goal is to outline the edges of the room to help with orienting and avoid bumping into the rock of the house so as to prevent the stubbing of toes and barking of shins both of which can be quite noisy. Low level lighting at night is easier on sleepy eyes and prevents one from losing night vision.

To further save energy I’m planning to use passive circuits based on spring wires that detect vibration in the room and turn on the lights on a simple electronic timer. Every vibration resets the timer to keep it going. This passive system avoids a continual drain of energy that you get with most personnel sensor systems.

Another way to turn on lights automatically is pressure plates so when you step on a floor it moves a millimeter connecting a switch and turns on a light. This would be for places like the toilet stall which has a floor that is all one granite tile. Again it could use the timer and ends up being a passive system.

For more primary evening lighting in many places up higher such as next to windows and in corners of the rooms we’re planning to place clear rocks such as Selenite and other crystals sitting on top of the LED’s. I have a rock with an LED in the old house as shown at the top of this post. It produces a wonderful quiet glow.

I may also setup LEDs that would be turned on inside drawers, cupboards and closets when they are opened. This will provide spots of light just where it is needed and go off when the door or drawer is closed. Simple switches, nothing complicated. Another place for small amounts of light is under desks and counters.

Other ideas we’re toying with include putting LEDs behind glass bottles, chips of glass and crystal in the concrete, along the edges of thick pieces of window glass and along side glass blocks to create diffused lighting.

Another thing about LEDs is they are easy to dim so you can also put the LEDs on a photo resistor or a rheostat to dim them and brighten them against the current sky lighting. The photo resistor in combination with the rheostat gives automatic dawn and dusk adjustments. A timer can be added to turn them off at night as well as the personnel sensing.

Note that if you do LED lighting, it is important to socket the LEDs so they can be replaced as they do sometimes burn out despite their generally very long life span. The primary cause of burnout is over voltage situations so pay attention there when designing the circuits so as to protect the diodes. I would not suggest permanently installing lights in unmaintainable spots.

Keeping power usage down helps with our eventually goal of going off grid using power we generate from micro-hydro. Water and high head is something we have plenty of and it is very reliable. Wind, while we have it is not so dependable in August. Solar is not dependable nor cheap. Both wind and solar require batteries which are expensive and need replacing. With the hydro we can skip the batteries for lower maintenance and greater savings.

One other advantage of the LED lighting is it is low power which means it can be setup to run off of a battery. This makes for great emergency lighting instead of candles and flashlights and the battery can be a deep cycle marine battery which one can charge in the car, tractor or with a solar trickle charger rather than having to have a large expensive solar electric system. We get a lot of power outages here so this is an important consideration.

Tuesday: Outdoors: 30°F/43°F Partially Sunny, Rainy
Farm House: 54°F/49°F no fire
Tiny Cottage: 52°F/40°F form work, poured cores in tank wall next level

Wednesday: Outdoors: 32°F/52°F Mostly Sunny
Farm House: 58°F/52°F no fire
Tiny Cottage: 57°F/42°F poured 2nd bathroom shelf, form work

About Walter Jeffries

Tinker, Tailor...
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8 Responses to LED Lighting

  1. crystal says:

    Wow how cool! You always have things planned out so well with so many great ideas. Have you thought of using red LEDs for your night lighting? My husband does that to preserve his night vision even more. Here’s what wikipedia says “The peak rhodopsin build-up time for optimal night vision in humans is 30 minutes, but most of the adaptation occurs within the first five or ten minutes in the dark. Rhodopsin in the human rods is insensitive to the longer red wavelengths of light, so many people use red light to preserve night vision as it will not deplete the eye’s rhodopsin stores in the rods and instead is viewed by the cones.”

  2. PV says:

    So cool!!!!!!!!! I want to live in yor house!!!!! So are you gonna start selling hous plans or building cool houses for peopl?

  3. karl says:

    if i understand your topography, you might consider wind and solar and use the upper pond as a huge battery. if you pump water up hill from lower elevations using wind and solar your hydro could be kept topped off during arid periods. sure there are efficiency issues moving all that water around but it probably would even-out given the type of low tech wind mill and solar D.C. pump necessary plus, the lack of batteries.

    just a thought…


  4. Crystal, back when I originally came up with this idea the only LED’s were red so that is what I used for my first versions of night lights. But I read somewhere that as we age we may lose the red sensitivity and it could be an issue for partially color blind people. Now that the white LED’s are available those are what I’m using. The light is so dim and near the floor for the night lights that it doesn’t seem to be causing much in the way of loss of night vision.

    Karl, I’ve considered exactly what your suggesting, but we get soooo much water flowing down from the mountain year round that I don’t think I’ll need to do it and it would make the system more complex. Still, I might, as I’ve always been fascinated with wind mills. A big wind farm company wanted to put up windmills, big ones, 30 MegaWatts, on our ridges, but it never happened. They went bankrupt or something just as we were nearing signing the contract. There were some issues to – sometime I’ll tell the tale of the windmills that almost were.

  5. EllaJac says:

    Draws? Are those what we out west would refer to as drawers (pronounced ‘droors’) or something else? I used to watch a guy on PBS make furniture… Norm Abrams? He said, “draws”, and I think he was referring to drawers… :)

  6. Oops! Yes, I meant ‘drawers’ not ‘draws’ there! :)

  7. sergio says:

    Walter, check this site: otherpower.com

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