Stories & Features

Retro Edison-style bulbs now available as efficient LEDs

Image of LED filament bulbs against a brick wall
You're still going to see incandescent versions of vintage-style lighting in bars and other places, but there are now energy-efficient alternatives as filament LEDs, including options in B.C.

From Manhattan bars to your home, filament bulbs are all about ambience

Rob Klovance

I was first wowed by them on a 2010 trip to New York City, in an uber-cool Manhattan speakeasy called Elsa. Lining the interior of the underground bar were these retro bulbs with bright filaments in clear glass, casting a funky glow that made everything look just that much better, from the late-night crowd to cocktails like Two French Sisters and Death of A Ladies Man.

Fast forward to 2016, and those Edison-style bulbs are not just available as efficient LEDs; you can now get them at the likes of Costco and Rona.

You know a bulb has hit the mainstream when there's a photo gallery of 1,000 images in an Edison Lighting gallery on Pinterest. There's a lot of creativity on display there, including bulbs housed inside mason jars and even liquor bottles to enhance the retro effect. But what we're most pleased about at BC Hydro is that a lighting style used so often in multiples (in commercial settings in particular) now includes LED options, including some that are ENERGY STAR® qualified.

There's a great look at the energy savings associated with a theoretical switch to filament LEDs at a Toronto restaurant, on a post from 2014.

What are these Edison bulbs based on?

The filament bulb goes all the way back to Thomas Edison, who filed a patent for his light bulb back in 1879. And while there have been many light bulb variations over the past 127 years, there's something irresistible about the soft, warm glow of that original design.

Edison's original (and many recent attempts to replicate it) were inefficient incandescents. So several lighting manufacturers have embraced the challenge and come up with an efficient LED version that offers a similar retro effect.

BC Hydro lighting engineer Cristian Suvagau has been watching closely the emergence of the Edison-style LED, from clunky early attempts out of Asia to today's more impressive versions. He says there are two big advantages in the Edison-style bulb for LEDS, including a glass-based filament LED technology, which allows for better cooling and distribution of light, and to a glass bulb, which offers flexibility for a variety of shapes.

You'll see Edison-style LEDs as popular A19s and as chandelier lamps, and the filaments can be parallel, or crossed in a fire-like effect. They may not be an exact mimic of the incandescent Edison bulbs, but the nostalgic warmth is there.

"There's beauty in watching that filament, in having that yellow glow, a fire look," he says.

Image of Luminus LED filament bulbs
When shopping for filament LEDs, look for the ENERGY STAR® label, which is your assurance of energy efficiency.

Tips from a designer: Use them for ambience, not for primary or task lighting

Vancouver-based designer Jamie Banfield, principal of the eponymous Jamie Banfield Design, counts himself as a fan of Edison-style LEDs. But he emphasizes caution in the way you use the bulbs.

"They're great for any place where you might want to create an effect," says Banfield, who designed the BC Hydro Smart Home display at the upcoming Vancouver Home + Design Show. "It could be wall-mount sconces in a bedroom, where you're not using them as task lighting. And we've seen them used outside a lot, for dining areas, used as bands of lighting, almost like Christmas light strings."

Banfield's team has installed filament LEDs above kitchen islands and kitchen sinks, but always in the cause of adding that warm effect.

"My suggestion is to use them as secondary lighting," he says. "In a dining room, maybe clad the ceiling with potlights, or a coffered ceiling with hidden LED strip lighting, and then have that fixture hanging to showcase more ambience with [filament LEDs]."

It's no surprise to Banfield that bars and restaurants use Edison-style bulbs.

"That's probably the perfect spot for these bulbs, because you want to look good in that bar, right?," he says. "You want your food and your drink and your atmosphere to look good. And clustering them together gives an even bigger effect."

You'll still see the incandescent version of the Edison bulb used in bars, despite the fact that the LED version uses about the tenth of the amount of electricity. Perhaps the use of those cool lights led to the demise of that bar in Manhattan, which has since closed. Electricity prices in New York are about 30 cents per kilowatt hour, almost three times higher than they are in B.C.

Home and design show set for October 27-30

Don't miss out on this year's Vancouver Home + Design Show at the Vancouver Convention Centre, where the Banfield-designed BC Hydro Smart Home will feature a variety of "smart" devices supplied by Best Buy.

While some smart homes featured in magazines today include connected systems that are priced beyond the reach of most of us, Banfield says the devices you'll see in the BC Hydro home are more practical and – in some cases – enjoy the benefit of do-it-yourself installation.

"We've been looking at off-the-shelf products we can use in the show space, which we're really excited about," he says. "Our emphasis will be on how to introduce smart choices and technologies on any kind of budget."

Learn more about the Vancouver Home + Design Show.