You hear about them all the time now.  LED lights.  Energy efficient.  Cool burning.  10X lifetime of an incandescent light.  1/10th the energy of an incandescent light.  Pricey…but prices are coming down and the shelves of every Lowes, Home Depot and Ace Hardware store are stacked full of LED options now.

Replacement Bulbs

Some LED lamps are designed with screw-in bases to directly replace your incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs.  There are dozens if not hundreds of options like this – from manufacturers as large as Philips and as small as EarthLED or Pharox.

Specialized Fixtures

Unfortunately, if you’re in California, the state’s energy code, Title 24, doesn’t allow you to use these super-efficient bulbs in a regular screw-in socket if you’re required to put in “High Efficacy” (very efficient) lighting – such as the state requires for kitchens and bathrooms.  In those situations, you can use a non-screw-in base fixture that accepts Compact Fluorescent bulbs, or you can seek out fixtures that build-in the LED lamps.

For our project at 1566 Sanchez, we elected to do the latter, incorporating Halo 4″ LED recessed lights as the primary light source in the kitchen.  These fixtures can be ordered with different color temperatures, from Warm White at 2700 degrees Kelvin to a more blue Daylight White at 4000 degrees Kelvin.  Call me a softee, but I like warm environments, so we elected to use the 2700K dimmable downlights.

In these fixtures, there’s no bulb.  it’s an LED light engine tucked into a housing and trimmed out like a traditional recessed downlight.  That little orangey-yellow square below is the LED light source.

Dimmer Compatibility

The challenge with LEDs, however, (aside from initial price concerns that some may have), is that the load that they put on a dimmer – basically the amount of energy they draw – is so much lower than incandescent lamps that sometimes using a dimmer results in the LED light either not working, flickering at low light levels, or sometimes not fully turning off.  The net net is that many dimmers just weren’t designed to handle such a low load.  Sadly, as of March 2012, this includes pretty much every electronic multi-way or motion-sensing dimmer.

Even worse, most lighting manufacturers haven’t done comprehensive testing to tell you which dimmers will work with their LED lights and most dimmer manufacturers haven’t done the testing to know what lights will work with their dimmers!

Light at the End of the Tunnel

The good news is that as LEDs become more mainstream, this testing is starting to happen.  Perhaps the best informational chart we’ve seen comes from Philips – who tested their medium-base and GU10 bulbs with numerous dimmers from the leading manufacturers.

This is what we need from all of the lighting manufacturers until we can start counting on any dimmer working with any light the way we now do with incandescent lights.