What’s the Big Deal About LED Lights?
In 2005, Brazil and Venezuela began phasing out incandescent bulbs in an effort to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions. Most of the developed world followed suit including Canada, which banned the sale of incandescent bulbs in 2014, and the state of California which banned them in 2018, as a part of their new energy efficiency standards for lighting.
As incandescent bulbs phased out, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) grew in popularity as a replacement—you know, those bulbs with the curved or folded tubes. CFLs used one-fifth to one-third the power of their incandescent predecessors and lasted significantly longer; but they contained toxic mercury, were significantly more expensive than incandescent bulbs, and generally took a while to “warm up” before they provided full light output. Another alternative to incandescent bulbs are halogens; but while they’re up to 40% more efficient than incandescent, they get extremely hot and can pose a fire hazard.
Enter the LED. They can be pricey depending on lumens (light output), color rendering (CRI), quantity purchased, and brand. But what, exactly, is an LED and why are they better than CFLs or halogens?
LED = Light-Emitting Diode
LED bulbs use the same technology as those digital readouts on your watches and alarm clocks. LED is stands for “light emitting diode,” and they produce light as electricity passes through layers of semiconductors. The technology is fairly new—the first LEDs weren’t created until the 1960s while incandescents and fluorescents were developed in the mid-1800s.
The Benefits of LEDs
One of the biggest benefits of LEDs is that they last a very long time — up to 20 or 30 years. This explains why LEDs have been used as indicator lights in electronics and machinery since the 1960s. This long life is especially helpful for lights in hard-to-reach spots like cathedral ceilings and tall hallways.
LED lifespan is measured in terms of how long it will take for the bulb to drop from 100% brightness (when it’s new) to 70% of its original brightness (referred to as “L70”). Why 70%? Studies have shown that people don’t notice a difference when light levels drop by 30%. The bulbs will still put out light after this point, but it will be noticeably dimmer and of poorer quality.
Nevertheless, in most cases the LED bulb will outlast the fixture in which it’s installed. This is why manufacturers are now offering products like out-of-the-box LED downlights that include both the light and fixture in one easy-to-install package—like the Philips “Light to go” product line. Other fixtures use the small size of LEDs to offer extremely low profiles or innovative shapes in wall sconces, chandeliers, bathroom bars, pendants, and more.
Aside from longevity and size, the other huge advantage is that LEDs use about half the electricity of CFLs to product the same amount of light. For example, a 60-watt equivalent CFL will use 13 to 15 watts, while an LED will use only 6 to 8 watts.
LEDs are also extremely durable—since they’re solid diodes on a circuit board, they don’t have fragile filaments or glass that can break. And although you probably won’t have to do it for another 15 to 20 years, LEDs are easy to dispose of because they can’t shatter and don’t contain mercury like CFLs. While LEDs do contain extremely small amounts of other toxic compounds such as lead and arsenic, they can be safely disposed of in the trash.
10 More Reasons to Love LEDs
Not convinced yet? Here are a few more reasons to love LED lighting:
1. They reduce overall energy consumption, using up to 90% less electricity over standard incandescents. This reduces the load on electric power plants which in turn reduces fuel (and greenhouse emissions) needed to generate electricity.
2. They reduce light pollution. LEDs provide highly focused directional light, thus reducing scattered light in the environment.
3. They stay cool. LEDs have very high electricity to light conversion efficiency—as high as 90%. This results in minimal heat loss in the environment, and less need for air conditioning in the summer.
4. They reduce waste. Because they are engineered to last for so long, they need to be replaced less frequently resulting in fewer bulbs in the landfills.
5. They are safer. Manufactured with advanced, solid state technology, LEDs are highly durable and more resistant to vibrations, impact, and harsh weather conditions. Plus, there are no glass parts to cause injury if a bulb breaks.
6. They reduce noise pollution. LEDs are designed to not vibrate or create a humming noise like that produced by some conventional incandescents.
7. They attract fewer bugs. LEDs emit less UV light and heat which tend to attract insects.
8. They’re good for plants. Incandescents increase the temperature while LEDs produce cool light that’s not harmful to plants.
9. They’re better for the environment. CFL bulbs contain 4 to 5 milligrams of mercury each, which is hazardous to the environment and public health. LEDs contain no mercury and are safe to dispose of with other trash.
10. They can be “smart.” Today’s LEDs can integrate technology that allows you to control their brightness and even color from apps or digital assistants like Alexa and Google Home.
Consider Making the Switch
You don’t need to run out and replace all of your lights with LED bulbs and fixtures. Let your old bulbs burn out and keep your fixtures until they need replacing. But if you’re adding on or remodeling, or you’re tired of getting out the ladder every time you need to replace those light bulbs in your vaulted ceiling, or even if you’re looking to begin a smart home upgrade, think about the benefits of LED lighting.