Xenon Lights

They emanate from coves in hotels and clubs. Glow from under cabinets in the kitchen. Bring images to life in most – if not all – movie theaters. Contrary to popular assumption, xenon lights are not lighting from the planet Xenon. Rather, xenon refers to an element found here on Earth. In nature, xenon is found only in trace amounts in the upper atmosphere, but you can also find it inside the glass envelopes of xenon light bulbs in innumerable homes and businesses. But what are xenon lights?

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What is Xenon Lighting?

Xenon light is produced by lamps that have high-melting-point glass envelopes and contain a tungsten filament surrounded by xenon gas. When the light bulb is connected to power, the tungsten filament heats up and begins to glow. The addition of xenon gas to a light bulb increases its rated life.

Hint: The “rated life” of a light bulb signifies the time at which 50% of a large quantity of these lights will have burned out. (This means that 50% of these lights will burn out before the rated life and 50% will burn out after the rated life.)

Why Use Xenon?

Xenon is one of a few types of incandescent light source, so what’s so special about xenon lighting? One thing is that xenon lights operate more coolly than other incandescent light sources. This is especially true in the case of line voltage (120 volts) xenon lamps in comparison to line voltage halogen lamps, the latter of which can become extremely hot. Did you know that it is recommended that you never touch halogen light bulbs because the oil from your hand, in the intense heat of the light source, can shorten the lamp’s lifespan? Not an issue with xenon. That makes it a nice alternative.

In fact, for those considering swapping out their halogen light bulbs for xenon light bulbs, you can replace your halogen light bulbs with comparable xenon ones as long as the xenon lamp has the same wattage rating, the same voltage rating, the same type of base (bipin, wedge, festoon, etc.), and the same shape and size glass envelope as the halogen lamp.

The other attribute of xenon light sources that make them so popular is their color temperature. Xenon lights generally have color temperatures that are warmer than halogen lamps and a little cooler than traditional incandescent light bulbs. In many instances, it is the perfect combination of flattering warmth and clarity.

For an in-depth comparison of xenon and halogen light sources, see our article on the subject.

Are Xenon Lights Dimmable?

Yup! Plus dimming a xenon lamp will, of course, increase its average life even more than the “rated life.” If the low voltage xenon lamp (12 volts or 24 volts) is powered by an electronic transformer, then the dimmer should be one that is designed to control an electronic low voltage transformer. If the low voltage xenon lamp (12 volts or 24 volts) is powered by a magnetic transformer, then the dimmer should be one that is designed to control a magnetic low voltage transformer. If, however, the xenon lamp is line voltage (120 volts), then the dimmer should simply be a line voltage dimmer.

Popular Applications

Xenon lights are popular for residential and commercial uses. In the home, xenon light fixtures are a great solution for under cabinet lighting in kitchens or anywhere else in the house where there are cabinets. This is largely because xenon lights provide warm white light with excellent color rendering. But it is more than that. Xenon under cabinet lights give you a source of light that is cooler than halogen, and xenon lights are dimmable so you can control the level of light and save energy.

Another popular application for xenon lights is cove lighting. Xenon light strip kits are widely used in coves to create the modern cove lighting effect you see in homes and in places like hotels, casinos, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, and contemporary offices. These kits are a lighting designer’s best friend because they because they are flexible and can wrap corners, and they are very low-profile and easy to hide.

Finally, one lighting application for which xenon is almost always used is for movie theater projectors. In fact, xenon lights were first manufactured for the purpose of replacing the older carbon arc lamps in movie projectors. Why? Xenon lamps offered longer life spans and brighter light. Today, xenon light is the most commonly used light source for movie projection, even in Imax theaters.