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Cold Cathode Lighting Systems
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Chameleon light systems capable of turning a cloudy day into a sunny day on the interior of the home are very much the rage in high-end home theaters these days. Often, the lighting is used to set the mood for pre and post-show parties. And during the movie, when the room is supposed to be dark, a computerized dimming system adjusts the lights to barely perceptible.

?You can do blue for Cowboy parties; you can do autumn colors for fall, sunrise colors, sunset colors,? said Innovative Lighting president, Scott Perkins (972-721-1177; ?It?s really cool stuff.? In fact you can create over a million different interior lighting effects with the cold-cathode chameleon light system.

Chameleon lighting requires a minimum of three tubes of cold cathode lamps, each tube in one of the three primary colors (red, blue, and green), and all three tubes aligned in parallel about the room or room perimeter. When the lights are connected to a computer, you can add or subtract the shades from the primary light palette. Combining all the colors together make white (daylight and sunlight): don?t confuse the light palette with the paint palette (red, blue, and yellow), where all the colors mix to form black. After a little practice with the chameleon system, you can create an ambiance to suit every mood or occasion. Costs run about $200 a foot, which includes computers and installation, and generally add up to about $7,000 to $8,000 for an average size home theater.

Cold cathode lights also make excellent toe-kick lighting systems?single-tube lights that automatically turn on when someone walks into the room at night. The lamps are placed under the toe-kicks of the cabinets (hence the name), where they light up the floor. The lights are controlled by motion sensors and don?t come on unless the room is dark. Cost for this system runs about $50 a foot; it?s more economical to route the tubes along the entire length of cabinetry and hook up to one transformer than to segment the tubes.

Cold cathode lighting is manufactured in 40 different shades of white, making it applicable for many areas in the home. In master baths, the lights can be put in coves above bathtubs, and when hidden behind the vanity, the lights create an illusion of floating mirrors. In wine cellars, cold cathode lighting dims down to a warm glow that lacks any perception of electrical spots and softens the light flickering off burning candles. Some of the more popular uses of cold cathode lighting are with murals in the ceiling, high up in rotundas and around chandeliers, tucked inside recesses, and, especially, on fine art.

?Where we come into play is in hard to reach areas?places where you don?t want to get to?like if you?re over certain types of counters?or places where you?re going to be lighting art up and you need really good color rendition,? Perkins said. ?So, you?ll definitely want to use our product there because the phosphors are a lot higher quality than what?s available in the fluorescent.?

?A cathode is basically a hybrid fluorescent light fixture,? Perkins said. ?It?s got a lot of the same characteristics of fluorescent light, plus it lasts for 15 years verses 2 years. In reality, cathode will last way beyond 15 years.?

Neon is an even closer relative to the cold cathode light, which is, in essence, a hollow glass cylinder coated with phosphors and sealed at both ends with electrode filaments. The cathode lamps are filled with gases containing mercury and small amounts of other elements like argon and neon, which when ionized by high voltage applied to the electrodes, produce ultraviolet energy that reacts with a tri-phosphor coating on the glass to emit light. The technology was developed near the beginning of the 20th century along with the discovery of argon in 1894 and neon in 1898. By 1913, Irving Langmuir developed the first gas filled electric lamp, and shortly thereafter in 1915 came the first patented neon sign?a bright orange. Cold cathode lighting and neon lighting are much the same technology except for size?the neon light being considerably larger for signs and requiring higher voltage?the cold cathode light being smaller and running on relatively lower voltage.

?Neon is not safe,? Perkins said. Do not install neon lights in a home. In fact, neon lighting will prevent a home from getting home insurance coverage because it is a fire hazard. But homeowners have asked for neon in the past, and installers have inadvertently put in neon lights when cathode lights should have been the lighting of choice.

In the 1940?s and 50?s, cathode lighting was very popular in the home. With the advent of commercially available fluorescent lighting at cheap prices, homeowners made the switch to fluorescence. Even today, fluorescent lamps are cheap and popular while cold cathode lighting remains a custom made product. Innovative Lighting is one of only two companies in Texas who manufacture lighting products certified as UL (Underwriters Listed). So, their designs and installations go worldwide, 80% commercial and 20% residential.

Cathode lighting is gaining popularity in the home, once again, because of the new energy codes, which make the energy efficiency of cold cathode lighting more appealing. For instance, a cold cathode lamp can light up 100 feet of indoor space at the cost of one 250-watt light bulb.

?You could go all the way around your room and light it up unbelievably even and unbelievably clean for what you?d put in three regular floodlights,? Perkins said. Installing cold cathode lighting, however, is not like screwing in a new light bulb.

?If you?re building a home or remodeling, we need to be part of your design team because the home has to be built to accept that product,? Perkins said. ?If that?s something you think you?d like to have, you need to get a hold of us and let us give drawings of the size of the void we need to our product in.?

?We?re designing stuff all the time,? Perkins said. ?These lights start as 8-ft sticks, and we bend them and shape them, we can even do knots if you want. The interest is definitely there. Most of it is education?people realizing there is another way to do something.?

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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