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Guide to Buying LED Lighting

LED lighting. You know what it is. And you know that it’s the way of the future—if not the present—when it comes to illuminating everything from our homes to public spaces to indicator lights on our electronics. But with the technology advancing more and more each year, LED lighting has allowed for more flexibility in design, greater efficiency in use and a host of other benefits that affect our daily living.

Here’s a crash course in LED Lighting 101 to get you started on making the switch:

Buying LED Lighting: The Short Story

LED stands for “light emitting diode,” but that is just the beginning of understanding this cutting-edge technology and its role in lighting design for our homes. At a glance, here’s what you should know:

  • Efficiency: Compared to conventional incandescent lamps, LED lighting lasts longer, is more durable, and is over five times more efficient. LED bulbs typically use only 2 to 10 watts of electricity.
  • Brightness: LED lighting is measured in lumens, not watts.
  • Cost: LED lighting fixtures have a higher upfront cost, but will have a greater lifespan in the long run.
  • Design: The compact size of LEDs make them an ultra-flexible design element, which has allowed designers and manufactures to create shapes, silhouettes and technologies that simply weren’t possible before.
  • Cool, not hot: LEDs convert electricity to light and do not cause heat build-up.
  • Mercury free: No mercury is used in the manufacturing of LEDs.
  • Slow failure: LEDs slowly dim over time at the end of their lifespan, rather than burning out abruptly.
  • Dimming: In earlier years, LEDs did not “dim” in the way incandescent lights did, but they’ve come a long way. More and more fixtures now offer a “warm dim,” which not only lowers the light output, but also the color temperature.
EFFICIENCY Uses up to 80% less energy than an incandescent Uses up to 75% less energy than an incandescent Uses up to 30% less energy than an incandescent 90% of energy is wasted as heat
AVERAGE LIFE SPAN (HOURS) 50,000 10,000 1,000 1,000
COLOR TEMPERATURE Varies by product; select high-quality LEDs for consistency Ranges from warm (3,000K) to cool (6,000K) Ranges from warm (2,700K) to cool (5,500K) Warm (2,700K)
COLOR RENDERING INDEX (CRI) 80-90+ Most are 60-70+ 100 100
DIRECTIONALITY Directional Multidirectional Multidirectional Multidirectional
DIMMABLE Most Few Yes Yes

Buying LED Lighting: The Long Story

If you want to really dig in to the ins and outs of LEDs, there is certainly much more we can cover, from choosing the right brightness to retrofitting your current light fixtures and more.

Efficiency of LED Lighting

It’s not just a buzzword—efficiency is the name of the game with LEDs. LEDs are more than five times as great as its incandescent counterparts. They use only about 20 percent as much electricity to product the same amount of light.

A quality LED lamp can last anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 hours. If you operate the lamp for 6 hours per day, 365 days a year, your LED lamp could last 20 years.

Brightness of LEDs

Brightness is measured in lumens, while the energy a bulb consumes is measured in watts. To produce similar amounts of light, LED and fluorescents bulbs consume far fewer watts than incandescent or halogen bulbs. A standard 60W incandescent produces 800 lumens, whereas LEDs consume 13-15 watts to produce 800 lumens.

Energy Star guidelines recommend the following:

If you used to buy: Now look for:
100 watt incandescent LED watt range of 23-30 (1600 lumen output)
75 watt incandescent LED watt range of 18-25 (1100 lumen output)
60 watt incandescent LED watt range of 13-15 (800 lumen output)
40 watt incandescent LED watt range of 9-13 (450 lumen output)

LEDs Versus Fluorescent Lighting

Both LED and fluorescent lighting are more efficient than incandescent: LEDs consume up to 90% less energy and fluorescents consume up to 75% less. Fluorescents are made of glass tubes and can shatter if dropped, whereas LEDs are more durable. Also, fluorescents contain trace amounts of mercury and several states have special recycling rules.

Disadvantages of LEDs

LEDs have a higher initial cost relative to traditional lamps. However, people typically make back the cost in a couple of years because of LEDs’ energy efficiency and long life. Also, earlier LEDs emitted directional light making them more suitable for task lighting than ambient glow. These days, omni-directional LED luminaires have become more common, pointing light at reflective surfaces or through high-quality lenses to give off an even and diffused glow. And although the first LEDs were associated with poor color accuracy and crispness, measured by the color rendering index (CRI), they have improved in recent years.

Why LEDs Cost More

The components of LEDs are costly: circuit boards, drivers, and some use yellow phosphor, a rare earth compound. However, with advances in technology and growing popularity the prices have been steadily dropping. Keep in mind that the quality of LEDs varies greatly, which will affect the price. Look for ones that provide the best color and light output over time from a reputable manufacturer.

In the Wind LED Suspension from NEMO
In the Wind LED Suspension Light from NEMO. The compact size of LED modules have enabled great strides in modern lighting design, such as the near-flat shape of the shade here.

Best Uses for LEDs

These days, the answer is really: anywhere. From dining room chandeliers to landscapes, LED lighting provides beautiful illumination in just about any space.

But one great advantage of LEDs is their excellent directionality, so they are an especially great option for:

  • Task and reading lamps
  • Cove lighting
  • Under cabinet lighting
  • Stair and walkway lighting
  • Recessed lighting
  • Hard-to-reach places (due to LEDs’ long life and low maintenance)
  • Art lighting (unlike incandescent and fluorescents, LEDs don’t produce UV radiation, making them safe for artwork)

Lifespan of LEDs

An LED does not burn out like a standard lamp, so individual diodes do not need to be replaced. Instead, the diodes gradually produce lower output levels over a very long period of time. An LED is typically considered “dead” at 70% of initial light output.

Heracleum II Small Pendant Light By Bertjan Pot from Moooi
Heracleum II Small Pendant Light by Bertjan Pot from Moooi. Moooi was one of the first modern lighting brands to use LEDs to design decorative light fixtures that were only possible with the technology LEDs brought to the table.

How Warm Lighting and Cool Lighting work with LEDs

When one asks, “Is this a warm white or cool white?” it’s in reference to the LED color temperature in relation to the Kelvin Color Temperature Scale. An LED with a Temperature of 2700K produces a very warm almost golden white light while 7000K is a very cool white that can in some applications appear to have a light blue glow. 3000K is a soft warm white, 3500K or 4000K is in the range of bright warm white, and beyond that it becomes bright cool white.

Which begs the question – how bright is 2700K versus 3500K? Or 4000K? While personal tastes will vary, less than 2700K is best used for areas where a bright light is not needed – for example, an accent lamp in the living room whose purpose is to provide a warming glow. 2700K to 3500K will produce a moderately warming glow and can be used to light most rooms of the home where ambiance is important such as the dining room or living room.  Lighting begins to take on a natural white around 4000K that is great for task lighting, so many kitchens tend to vary between 3500K-5000K depending on the homeowner’s affinity for warm versus cool lighting. Lighting over 5000K is rarely used in the home, but is very common in commercial lighting.

What is the CRI?

The CRI is a quantitative measure of how accurately the LED bulb renders colors in comparison to a natural Light source. Keeping in mind that an incandescent bulb has a CRI of 100, an LED with a CRI of 80 is good. A CRI of 80 to 90 percent is the most common LED CRI ratings you will find on the market today. However, CRI isn’t always an accurate indicator as some LEDs with low CRI’s in the 20-30 percentiles can produce more clear and precise white light than one rating at 90%. This is why the CRI rating is not as important to know as the watts and color temperature.

Dimmability of LEDs

Some can be dimmed, but you’ll need to consult manufacturer specifications for compatibility with your current system because some may not be able to handle the lower wattage on which LEDs operate.

Retrofitting Your Lighting

The ability to purchase an LED bulb and screw it into an existing incandescent or compact fluorescent fixture (like you can with a CFL) is known as retrofitting. Retrofitting is more popular these days and many options are available. However, you may find an LED module that can physically fit into an existing incandescent but the fixture won’t necessarily maximize the LED’s efficiency.

Shop our entire collection of LED Lighting and Outdoor LED lighting at YLighting.

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