About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Local History Services Office at the Minnesota Historical Society has received several calls in the last couple of months about whether museums should switch over to LED lighting, as suggested by energy and lighting consultants. This question was put to the Society’s own museum lighting designer, Rich Rummel, who has studied LED lighting for museums. His response is printed below, and local historical organizations considering their lighting needs should feel free to consult with Rich, as many local historical organizations have successfully done.


Rich replied:


Please be cautious about LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting, and here are some reasons:


First, LED is not an established technology, and therefore not sustainable. The units bought today will be obsolete as quickly as PCs were in the late 1980s. Museums typically have limited resources, so don’t be too eager to spend scarce money to help someone else develop this technology.


Second, a standard 60-watt lightbulb, as simple as it seems, must meet a number of performance standards- measurements for light output, life, and color temperature, which are all defined by government-approved, industry-wide standards. There are no standards for LED lighting systems. While standards for LED are currently being developed, it will likely be a number of years before any are implemented.


Third, LED lights are very expensive and the payback (energy costs saved vs. product cost) usually extends past the claimed life. In other words, the amount you save in energy will not pay for the unit you buy.


Finally, there is not a white LED available that has the color temperature and color rendering ability required for museum lighting.


The most energy- and artifact-conserving option is to use energy-efficient quartz halogen lamps, and where appropriate fluorescent tubes, controlled by occupancy sensors so that lights remain off unless there is a visitor in the gallery.


Richard Rummel, LC

Lighting Designer

Minnesota Historical Society


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9 Responses to LED Lighting and Museums

  1. Mel Sando says:

    We did a test with a few of the LED flood (they can’t be hard focused) and after spending $15 a lamp we were extremely dissapointed. The diffuse quality and color temperature were both unsatsifactory for display reinforcment. There may be future for LED’s in the security or general utility / task lighting role. We have had the similar results with the flourecent floods. I have been trying to get the local utility to help us with an energy audit as we spend a lot of money re lamping our 100 fixtures throughout the season. Heat in the summer is a concern as well, as our historic buildings do not have air conditioning. Any solutions or recommendations would be appreciated.


  2. Here is what Jim Druzik, Senior Scientist with the Getty Conservation Institute and project leader for the joint O’Keeffe Museum – GCI – University of Texas El Paso light damage prevention project has been qouted as saying on the AAM PACIN website.

    “It has been demonstrated that some LED mixtures will accelerate damage more rapidly on natural yellow dyes. The SPD is useful for calculating gamut area mapping and CRI – so between those two metrics one can determine color rendering. But there are no damage-activation spectra of most dyes and pigments. Because so much is piled on to narrow bands in LEDs, the possibility of hole burning is very possible and trying to be “green” with so little knowledge is Russian Roulette and the LED green committee is playing with fire. At this time I don’t think LEDs are ready for prime time both from the point of view of color rendering and conservation. Clearly two LEDs with a bridging phosphor is better than all LEDs but some manufacturers have driver problems, green is mismatched for optimal color rendering, and only one manufacturer hits the Energy Star specification. I know all this because I just came back from NIST which is a hotbed of research on LED lighting and that’s most of what all the current research is about. The one Energy Star qualifier does achieve an amazing 65 lumens/Watt but I didn’t see it turned on so I don’t know how good its color is. As you know, it could be any CCT yet if displaced off the spectrum locus for blackbody illuminants, it’ll still could be a disaster. I have it on my “To Do List” to buy a few of the Energy Star qualifiers and measure their spectrum. I just got a piece of NIST software which will display two sets of Munsell swatches according to their appearance side-by-side with a reference illuminant. That might be the way to go first.”

    I will try to post more later.

    Stevenson G. Williams

    Blue Planet Museum Consulting, LLC
    1223 Skyline Drive SW
    Rochester, Minnesota 55902

    P 507.280.6888
    E ste...@blueplanet-consulting.com
    W http://www.blueplanet-consulting.com


  3. Mary Warner says:

    Rich – Could you explain how standard incandescent bulbs stack up to fluorescents, quartz halogens, and LEDs in terms of artifact conservation? Thanks.


    Richard Rummel reply on April 22nd, 2010:

    Hi Mary,
    Sorry for the delay in responding. I’m not going to be able to give you a clear cut answer. But, leaving LEDs out of the equation, each of the light sources, incandescent, quartz halogen (which is a modified incandescent) and fluorescent have appropriate applications for museum lighting. Keep in mind that all light, not just UV, causes damage, no matter what source is creating it. The standard process for museum lighting is to use only as much light as needed to illuminate the objects on display; only have the light on while visitors are present and finally, filter out the UV. A quartz halogen source is generally going to give you the best color rendering ability, so that is where I start when picking out a source. However, high quality fluorescent lamps can do a great job where a diffuse light is needed over a large area (remember to filter out the UV) and plain old incandescent lamps are often used in visible sources in period room displays. Hope this helps. Feel free to contact me directly if you have specific questions or concerns and if you are fortunate enough to have some money to spend on lighting, spend it on occupancy sensors first. If the light is off, its not causing any damage.


    Mary Warner reply on April 29th, 2010:

    Thanks for the reply, Richard. As it happens, we’ve been turning off lights in our display rooms when they’re not needed for years now. This past year, we installed a couple of master switches at our front desk, so we can easily turn on the lights when visitors arrive without having to run ahead of them into the exhibit rooms. We now have motion-sensor switches for lights in our Research Room (installed the same time we got the master switches). Our hallway, which has a full bank of windows (coated w/UV filter), has display cases that we keep covered when the museum is not open. Keeping the lights off has the dual benefit of preserving the artifacts and saving energy.


  4. tamara edevold says:

    we recently added a couple of small tracks of LED lights inside two cabinets. we hooked them to the motion sensor track lights so they don’t stay on any longer than our other can lights and so far its works great. it’s just enough light for the cases without being too bright. the lights are 48 lumens, 50,000 hours. we could have added a dimmer to them but didn’t.
    we have only had them about a month but so far so good.


    Stevenson Williams reply on April 28th, 2010:

    Hi, Tamara,

    What is being displayed inside the cabinets? I would be very careful about lighting artifacts and objects with LED lights. To again quote Jim Druzik, Senior Scientist at the Getty Conservation Institute, “Because so much is piled on to narrow bands in LEDs, the possibility of hole burning is very possible and trying to be “green” with so little knowledge is Russian Roulette . . . At this time, I don’t think LEDs are ready for prime time both from the point of view of color rendering and conservation.”


  5. Mel Mackler says:

    I’m interested in the application/use of LED for lighting black and white and color, fine art photographs. I am very concerned about the potential for color fading in color prints (I know the Wilhelm research on same, and read the article on Lighting Services Inc. blog). Has anyone any experience, or know any research, regarding the use of the Xicato Artist Series Module LED which, evidently is being used in several museums? How would the use of the Xicato lamp compare to the use of a compact florescent bulb?
    Thank you.


  6. Our museum is in a 1855 high bay building with huge skylights. Due to the light and leaks we plan to cover the skylights. The only existing lighting is a few widely spaced merc vaps. These are about 30 feet up, and used only a few night a year.

    So, new lighting fixtures are needed to recover from the darkening. Contractors have recommended high efficiency flourescents form an economic viewpoint. I have looked into led’s and “induction” lights.

    Would like to have your recommendation for the “high Bay” light fixtures-needed for occupancy.(Luminus has very high output led assemblies-up to 90 watts.


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