Question

Are there efficient alternatives to halogen track lighting?

Asked by Melissa
Burlington, VT

We're considering office lighting options. Recessed seems potentially wasteful given the concerns about insulation above it. We really like the look of track lighting, but everything we've seen is halogen. Are there good alternatives?

Answer

David Bergman

Answered by David Bergman

New York, NY

David Bergman Architect

August 2, 2011

If you’d asked this question a mere year or two ago, the answer would have been: no, there really aren’t energy-efficient alternatives to halogen track lighting, at least not for residential or small commercial applications.

  • There are fluorescent track fixtures, some quite nice.
  • But they are usually for a different sort of lighting -- wide spread or wall washing -- than the more directed, focused lighting that halogen offers.

Rapid growth in LED lighting

Since then there’s been a rapid growth in LED lighting and, with it, an expanding choice of LED track fixtures. As an eco-architect, it seems I get new product announcements almost daily. 

  • Sticker shock, rather than availability, may be the primary barrier here;
  • LED track heads are significantly more expensive than halogen.

As we’ve discussed in other posts, you may recoup that upfront cost in energy savings and bulb life over time, but the initial cost may still be hard to swallow.

Recessed lighting

You also mentioned considering recessed lighting. Insulation, though a valid concern, isn’t a deal breaker.

There are recessed fixtures designed to be installed in contact with insulation.

  • They will be labeled “IC,” which -- unsurprisingly -- stands for Insulated Ceiling.
  • That will solve the problem of heat buildup and, not incidentally, fulfill building code requirements.

However, there is an additional issue here: air leakage. Recessed lights basically create a hole in your ceiling. To address that, you need a fixture that is also labeled “airtight” and inhibits the flow of air between insulated and uninsulated spaces.

What type of lighting do you need

But let’s step back a moment.

A larger question to ponder is what type of lighting you’re looking for. In addition to looking quite different, track lights are good at some things and recessed lights are better at others.

  • If low ceilings are a consideration, recessed lights may be the solution.
  • But they aren’t as flexible; track lights can be aimed where you want them (and re-aimed if things move around).

In other words, don’t pick your lighting based solely on energy efficiency. It needs to provide the right kind (or kinds) of lighting, or it won’t work no matter how efficient it is.

 

For more information:

Read "Is there a more energy efficient lamp that I could use? I am using dimmable halogen flood lamps in my kitchen's recessed lighting." a Q&A answered by Florian Speier.

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