Museums need perfect light to protect priceless history

Our museums are home to the most famous of artefacts – paintings worth millions of pounds, bones dating back to the Jurassic period and valuables from the ancient Egyptians to name a few.

All are items plucked from the timeline, a piece of history perfectly preserved for thousands of years, and to the human race are priceless with nothing being able to replace them.

However, in recent years, museums have become home to something that is in desperate need of replacement – the lights.

Most museums use either fluorescent tubes or dichroic lamps to light their areas, being both harmful to the environment and expensive to maintain. Fluorescent tubes also tend to flicker and can noticeably change the colour of the paint and the gold in the frames.

We have moved on drastically from the days of the incandescent light bulb created in Thomas Edison’s basement, as the fluorescent tube would suggest.

Legacy lighting

However, knowledge has increased and fluorescent tubes are becoming a thing of the past just like the incandescent light bulb – perhaps without the longstanding legacy.

Light emitting diodes – or LEDs, as we know them – are the proposed solution. These eco-friendly alternatives have been around for years, but only recently are they being considered as a genuine option.

There are several advantages to using LEDs, the first being its long lifespan. The operational lifespan of LED bulbs can be up to 50,000 hours, and this means if the museum left the lights on for eight hours a day (bearing in mind opening and closing times) it would be 10 years before you’d have to replace the bulb.

This is a stark contrast to the regular replacement of the lamps that museum owners currently face, meaning LED lighting is both more time efficient and cheaper to maintain. LEDs can also be dimmed or brightened to suit the exhibition.

LED payback

There are a few disadvantages to the use of LEDs though, the first being the cost. LEDs are currently more expensive than more conventional lighting technologies but when you consider payback time and energy and maintenance costs they are a sound investment.

Some LEDs, those that have a poor manufacturing standard, also have the tendency to shift or change colour over long periods of time and this can be caused by their age or temperature. These disadvantages can be easily managed by a museum through right band choices and appropriate power supply and should cause no problem when making the decision to change.

But what do museums actually want in lighting? Lights in museums provide quite a few essential resources, not just the brightening of a room so people can see what they are doing. They are also used for setting a mood on an exhibit, focusing on particular artefacts and ensuring the conservation of any items by protecting them from ultra-violet damage.

For these reasons museums require convenient and high quality lighting that is not so powerful that it damages the artefacts yet gives a strong illumination.

The lights must also be sustainable and cheap – 16% of all electricity bills in museums are accumulated through the lighting system with only ventilation and cooling having larger effects.  If a museum of average size spent £100,000 on updating the whole lighting system to LED, they would have a payback time of around three years through lower energy and maintenance costs.

Lights in museums must also not damage the artefacts, and as LED emit no infra-red and no ultra violet, sensitive items that may usually need a filter with other light technologies may no longer need them, making the whole experience better.

Colour render

Museum lighting can be greatly improved by the fitting of high quality LEDs that have a high CRI (colour rendering index), more than 90. This can be provided by brands such as Soraa, which has been chosen by many leading museums.

At SaveMoneyCutCarbon, there are many services available for museums to gain the maximum benefit from LED lights, from full survey to identify potential savings to supply, installation and full testing. There are also finance options available.

Museums are one of the most vital services for displaying and holding some of the most valuable artefacts in our human history and the right lighting is essential to enhance the experience. What’s more, LEDs reduce energy use and so cut costs and carbon footprint.

Museums are home to the theatre of history stretching over millions of years, items so special and unique deserve to be protected, preserved and illuminated in their best light.

Find out more about our lighting solutions for museums here.



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