LED Lighting: What You Need to Know Now

LEDs are energy-efficient, maintenance-free, and builder-friendly.

The use of LED is going to change the way your customers think about lighting. Unlike traditional methods, there is a higher initial cost to LED, but a lower lifetime cost after installation. The reasons to select LED lighting are myriad. First of all, there is the energy-saving aspect. Fossil fuels, like all natural resources, are a finite commodity. There is only so much available. Second, the country’s population is increasing. Areas that had been sparsely populated are now among the fastest-growing cities in the nation. Power lines, sub-stations, and all other electric infrastructure are deteriorating, and energy suppliers are expecting the repair and replacement to cost billions of dollars. Building new power plants would be both incredibly costly and time-consuming.

No one unplugs their microwave oven or TV when they leave the house, right? All of today’s modern devices use energy—and we have more electronic products than ever before. Now consider that the building laws in California and Washington State are mandating energy efficiency and that many utilities are offering consumers and businesses incentives to conserve. Yet, even with all of this overwhelming information and pressure, much of America has not yet embraced the green movement despite the rapid increases in energy costs. A recent survey of homeowners revealed that 33 percent of respondents are concerned about energy efficiency, but they do not want to pay for it at the time of new construction, which is the least expensive time to make efficient changes and improvements.

According to the Energy Information Administration, Americans spend roughly one-quarter of their electricity on lighting (an overall cost of more than $37 billion annually). The light bulbs currently in use in most homes consume a large amount of electricity. To achieve the mandated efficacy, we must move away from that architecture and into fluorescent, hybrid incandescent, and LED light sources. Over the years, there has been an assortment of lighting methods, each improving on the previous technology. Today, LEDs are delivering the highest efficiency of any light source currently available. In addition to improvements in lumen output, new LED light sources are providing better life cycles. In fact, experts in the LED field do not expect LED to plateau until it reaches 200 to 225 lumens per watt. That will make LED two to four times more efficient than the best fluorescent lamping on the market right now. In addition, LEDs’ selling points include: long life, durability, high efficacy/low energy use, compact size, no UV issues, LED chips do not suffer from catastrophic failure, and after 40,000 hours of use, the light output is measured at 70 percent of the original output. It will continue to operate at a lower lumen output for an extended period of time.

Know What You’re Getting

It is important to consider the whole LED system when discussing and comparing life span. In a typical LED system, the chips may be the strongest part. If the circuitry and other components are not designed to last 40,000 hours, what good is an LED chip that will? Therefore, it is vital to assess all of the elements of a lighting fixture when evaluating longevity. If all of the LED components were placed into an exterior cardboard lighting fixture, what would fail first? The cardboard, of course. Remember that the LED is a part of a whole luminaire, so seeking out a viable luminaire manufacturer is paramount.

Underwriters Laboratories (UL) tests lighting fixtures at 25ºC (77ºF). This is typically adequate for most interior ambient temperatures, but exterior lighting is different. In desert climates, temperatures regularly go beyond 77ºF at night. In those applications, it is important to ask the supplier if they have met UL requirements or if they have gone beyond and designed the system to 40ºC (104ºF). If cooler ambient temperatures are used, this will negatively impact life. Heat is the enemy of an LED system!

Finding a reliable manufacturer is critical. Since there are many ways to measure LED life, there are also many ways to present results that might be half-truths. Be careful. Let professional lighting consultants help you select reputable manufacturers that will provide honest data and results.

Understand the Benefits

LEDs have unique characteristics that can make them the best choice for an installation. For example, because they do not have filament to dislocate (unlike an incandescent), LEDs are nearly impervious to vibration. And unlike fluorescent, a precocious child can flick an LED light on and off continuously and it will not affect performance or lifespan. LEDs operate reliably in cold environments and can operate well in hot with proper fixture design.

Buy Now, Don’t Wait

Think about LED in the same way you think about computer chips. If you had waited to buy a computer until the best processor chip was available, you never would have purchased a computer over the last 20 years. LEDs are constantly getting better. They are already very good now—with many hours and dollars of savings available. Yes, they will get incrementally better over time, but they are already at a very efficient level. It’s time to take LED technology seriously. Another benefit of LED chips is the small size, allowing them to be used in locations that would be impossible with old incandescent and fluorescent technology. Most importantly, remember that LED chips are not like other light sources. Because they emit and create light in a different way, they need to be treated differently from incandescent.

In some cases, you might be better using an incandescent or fluorescent fixture instead of an LED fixture that was not designed properly.

Color Is Key

You might have heard about color temperature and immediately think of fluorescent and LED lighting as being too “blue” or “cool” to look natural. The Color Rendering Index (CRI) refers to the way that light interprets color. It is measured on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the top score. The color of light is referred to as “temperature” and is measured in Kelvin (K). The regular incandescent light bulbs we are used to are between 2600K and 3100K. If we want our fluorescent or LED lighting to appear the same color as incandescent, then select those which deliver a 2700 to 3000 Kelvin color. With incandescent lighting, we never really had to consider the color of light. As we begin to use a larger amount of fluorescent and LED light, we must, in turn, understand the color of light and communicate that information to consumers. This information is the most important and most valuable as we transition away from incandescent light sources.

Lumens = Brightness

A lot of consumers are mistakenly under the impression that wattage means energy consumed. Brightness is actually measured in lumens, not watts. For example, a 60-watt incandescent lamp and a 13-watt compact fluorescent can each emit 800 lumens, regardless of the number of watts.

Another aspect to take note of is optics. Pay attention to LED manufacturers that tout optic quality because it will make a huge difference in the light output.

Special Dimmers Needed

Unlike most lighting, developing good electronics is key to good LED. This also means that LED lighting fixtures are more complex than their incandescent counterparts. That complexity results in the higher price we pay for LED. Another important thing to keep in mind is that LEDs are run on DC power. Therefore, precise control of voltage/ current is needed to optimize LED life. Dimming an LED system requires a compatible dimmer; many LEDs will not work with existing, conventional dimmers that are used with incandescent lights.

Calculating the Bottom Line

At first blush, the cost of using LED lighting is more expensive than incandescent. However, to truly evaluate the benefits of LED, it is important to look at the total cost, including electricity and replacement lamps.

There is another factor to consider that has nothing to do with cost. Because LED is a different type of light source from what we’re used to, there is not yet the same type of consistency. The light provided by different manufacturers can be different, so checking light output is now vitally important. Some fixtures may not deliver adequate amounts of light, even though they appear to be exactly the same. Remember, not all LEDs are created equal. Your local lighting showroom is staffed with experts who can help you select the best LED light sources for your homes. LEDs will prove to be most energy-efficient, “green,” and ultimately cost-effective choice for builders and homeowners; it’s just a matter of adjusting to this new light source’s parameters. Offering LED fixtures is a new tool for adding value to today’s homes.


Article by Richard Alan, Richard Alan & Associates, LLC. Richard attained the coveted CLMR (Certified Lighting Manufacturer’s Representative) status from the American Lighting Association (ALA). He also sits on the Board of Trustees for the Educational Foundation for the ALA. Richard received the ARTS Sales Rep of the Year Award in 2011 and 2013 and was awarded the prestigious Pillar of the Industry Award for the ALA. Find out more at www.richardalanandassociates.com and www.thelightshowonline.com.