The Minnesota Historical Society’s Local History Services helps Minnesotans preserve and share their history. This blog is a resource of best practices on the wide variety of museum, preservation, conservation, funding, and non-profit management topics. We’re here to help.
LED Lighting and Museums
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.
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
Minnesota Historical Society