The other day I read a NY Times story about an interesting LED product. Given that the story was in the NY Times, I took notice. It has to be good, I reasoned. But something about the story was too good to be true. I copied the link and sent it to two of my lighting experts. Their responses were similar. Lousy product but great marketing. But to be honest, their reaction scared me. Although I have been writing about LEDs since 2007, I too can get sucked into the marketing hype.
I can imagine how the average Joe feels when trying to figure out the LED fact or fiction. They aren’t lucky like me with lighting expert friends who pour water over my head when I get too giddy about a product. In this vein, I decided to call upon three lighting expert to provide me with a road map on selecting the right LED for my home or business.
Why Do I love LEDs?
In a previous article that I wrote for Practically Green, I explained the advantages and disadvantages to LEDs. Without going through my 1300 word explanation, basically LEDs are efficient, have a long life, do not contain mercury, instant on, great for high unreachable places, yadda, yadda, yadda. I could go on for days why I love LEDs. (OMG, here comes the bucket of water!)
But as much as I love LEDs, there are issues. They are expensive but believe me, the prices have fallen since my first puppy love crush on Cree’s LR6 downlight. I hope they continue to fall without sacrificing quality. In addition, not all LEDs are alike. Some have terrible color, some don’t dim, others wear out quicker than expected, and some don’t give you the type and/or the amount of light you love. Shopping for LEDs is like shopping for cars. You have to do your homework and figure out what you can live with or without for the price.
So How do you decide which LED to Buy?
As I mentioned above, with all the LED marketing hype, I enlisted three lighting experts to provide consumer tips to buying LEDs. Thanks to Haro, a free journalist resource, I spoke to the following experts in person or via email: Lynn Schwartz of LPS Lighting, a LED lighting consultancy/manufacturer’s representative firm, Ira Krepchin, Director of Research at E Source, a research and advisory firm that assists utilities and large energy users with technology and energy assessment, efficiencies, and related topics, and Eric Hansel, Vice President-New Project Development of Midwest Illumination Inc, an energy savings company. In Part 2 of this article, Lynn Schwartz walked me through more detailed tips and showed me some lights via video and podcast.
Look at the Label
Krepchin and Hansel felt it was paramount that the bulbs were independently third party tested. Krephchin told me that one should look for the Department of Energy’s Lighting Facts’ label and the ENERGY STAR® logo on the lighting package. The DOE instituted a voluntary program for manufactures to include on their label a “lighting facts” which indicated light output, watts, and other lighting information.
On the other hand, Energy Star required that a product must pass a variety of tests to prove that the product will display various characteristics such as constant light output, excellent color quality, and brightness equal to or greater than existing lighting technologies.
In addition, Krepchin suggested the DOE’s CALiPER Program as a good source of information. Periodically, the DOE publishes detailed test results of non-LED and LED products. (See here to download the CALiPER Benchmark Reports.)
Hansel explained that a product should contain the UL logo. Underwriters Laboratories® offers ENERGY STAR® qualification testing through a strategic partnership with Luminaire Testing Laboratory, Inc., as well as photo-biological safety testing “to protect the user from potentially harmful effects on health of the optical radiation produced by solid-state lighting devices”.
Schwartz added that bulbs should have more than a one year warranty. The longer the warranty, the better. In addition, all three experts explained that the LED label should state that its wattage is “equal to” or “equivalent to” not “similar to” a comparable incandescent wattage . Otherwise, you will be disappointed in the light output.
Heat Sink, Heat Sink, Heat Sink
I am sure you have heard the phrase, “location, location, location” in terms of when people talk about real estate. Well for LEDs , heat sink is a very important part of an LED. Only 20% of an LED’s energy is used to create light. The balance is heat must dissipated otherwise, it will shorten the life of the bulb. Excessive heat to an LED is like Kryptonite to Superman.
Krepchin further advised me there is no agreed upon procedure on how to measure the life term of a bulb. According to the DOE, testing a 50,000 rated LED would not be fruitful. By the time, they finished testing the light bulb, the technology would be obsolete.
Schwartz’s answer to this dilemma is to buy a bulb that you can return and test it. Screw it in for 30 minutes, and then unscrew it. It should feel like how a car feels when the motor is running. Hot to the touch but not burning hot. If it is burning hot, the bulb will never last. If it is too cool, you will never get the lighting output you desire.
Schwartz further advised to examine the fins around the bulbs. They should be made of aluminum not plastic. If the fins look cheap, then you will be unhappy since the bulb will never last.
What about the Big Box Stores?
Hansel and Schwartz were unimpressed with the Big Box LEDs since they felt their quality is usually diminished to meet a price point. Schwartz suggested buying from lighting design stores. In this same vein, Hansel felt that consumers should buy from larger well known companies such as GE, Phillips, and Sylvania
Make Sure You Know What Your Lighting Needs
Do you want a warm or cool light? Do you want a narrow direct beam or a wider beam? How much lighting output do you want? Schwartz stated in his emailed response
“[c]heck the light color…warm light is between 2700K and 3000K on the package. Look for beam angle degrees, not just spot or flood. LEDs by nature are spots so a flood can be between 40 degrees and 80 degrees. That’s a big difference”
On the other hand, when I asked Krepchin how to make sure you were buying the same lighting color, he stated that you should find your replacement light at a store. Then, compare the information on your old light and the LED packages. The color renderings should be the same. However, he did note that a cooler temperature color might look preceptively brighter than the warmer tones you previously had.
Do I need to Replace My Dimmer?
I noticed when I tried Lighting Science’s EcoSmart bulb that my dimmer acted a little funny. Some LED bulbs flicker. Schwartz told me that it could be your dimmer is incompatible with a certain LED bulb. Lutron has a new dimmer available that is more compatible with dimmable fluorescents and LEDs. (See here which bulbs are compatible with this new dimmer.) Hansel has not noticed any problems with LEDs dimming.
Which Lighting Recommendations?
Schwartz felt the MR 16 is the best bang for your buck along with all other PAR lamps (spots and flood lights.) Additionally, he likes LED lighting for parking lots due to the LED lighting quality. He reasoned the lighting makes people feel safer. Hansel liked Phillips Color Kinetics lighting and Cree’s CR6 downlight.
On the other hand, Krepchin felt that LED linear tubes are not ready for general illumination.
Any last Advice?
Schwartz summed up how to buy an LED. Treat it like buying stereo equipment. You wouldn’t buy stereo equipment with lousy sound? Both Krepchin and Hansel advises me to do your homework by reading the pros and cons of LED technology.
The best advice? Always make sure you can return the light bulb if you are unhappy.
Join in the Conversation:
- What advice do you have in choose a LED bulb?
- Do you have any LED lighting in your home? If so, which brand do you like and why?
- Has your company switched to LED lighting?