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LED Lighting Buyer’s Guide

LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. This is light produced using a semiconductor in a process call…
Squiggle LED Chandelier in an open living room.
Exclusive Squiggle LED Chandelier by Paolo Rizzatto for Rotaliana by LUMINART 

While LED lighting isn’t brand new, the technology is booming, and now is a great time to make the transition. We often get questions about LED lighting, so we’ve included a set of frequently asked questions with answers to guide the decision-making process. 

What is LED Lighting? 

At its most basic, LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. This is light produced using a semiconductor in a process called electroluminescence. The process is much more efficient than what’s used by traditional incandescent lights and has a much longer lifespan. Its small size and relatively cooler operating temperature mean that LEDs can be used in shapes and forms that would have been impossible to light with traditional bulbs. 

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

Buying LED Lighting: The Short Story 

At a glance, here’s what to know: 

  • Efficiency: Compared to conventional incandescent bulbs, 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 makes them an ultra-flexible design element, which has allowed designers and manufacturers 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 become dimmer as they age, 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 fixtures now offer a “warm dim,” which not only lowers the light output, but also the color temperature. 
Three Pina Pro Rechargeable LED Table Lamps.
Pina Pro Rechargeable LED Table Lamp by Zafferano America 
LED FLUORESCENTHALOGENINCANDESCENT 
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 
ANNUAL OPERATING COSTS Low Medium-Low Medium High 
LIGHT OUTPUT (WATTS/800 LUMENS) 6-8W 13-15W 45W 60W 
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 
DIRECTIONALITYDirectional Multidirectional MultidirectionalMultidirectional
DIMMABLE MostFew YesYes

Buying LED Lighting: The Long Story 

To really dig into 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 efficient as their incandescent counterparts, using only about 20% of the electricity to produce the same amount of light. 

For more details about LED cost-saving measures, check out Energy STAR

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 fluorescent bulbs consume far fewer watts than incandescent or halogen bulbs. A standard 60W incandescent produces 800 lumens, whereas an LED bulb consumes 13-15 watts to produce the same level of brightness. 

Energy STAR guidelines recommend the following: 

LEDs Have a Range of Color Temperatures 

LEDs come in a range of light color temperatures. Every lightbulb has a Correlated Color Temperature (CCT), which corresponds to a Kelvin (K) temperature scale. The lower the number of Kelvins, the warmer and more yellow the light is. The higher the Kelvins, the cooler and bluer the light. 

Deciding what light color to have is a matter of personal preference. Light color that’s “natural white” or “cool white” are great choices for general ambient light. They also work well for the kitchen. Bluer, more natural light or “daylight” bulbs would be best suited for your bedside reading lamp. 

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 states are increasingly adopting special recycling rules. 

Tubino Single LED Pendants in a modern kitchen.
Tubino Single LED Pendant by Marcello Pozzi for Ricca Design 

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 dramatically 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 those that provide the best color and light output over time from a reputable manufacturer. 

In the Wind LED Suspension Light above a dining table.
In the Wind LED Suspension Light by NEMO

The compact size of LED modules has 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: 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) 
Heracleum II LED Chandelier in a dining room.
Heracleum II LED Chandelier by Bertjan Pot for 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 color temperature of 2700K produces a very warm, almost golden, white light—while 7000K is a very cool white that can appear to have a 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. 

Kelvin Color Temperature Scale Chart.

Frequently Asked Questions: 

Here, we’ve answered some of our customers’ most common questions so when you’re ready, you can shop like an expert. 

What is the CRI? 

The color rendering index is a quantitative measure of how accurately an 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 considered good. A CRI of 80 to 90 percent is the most common LED CRI rating you will find on the market today. However, CRI isn’t always an accurate indicator, as some LEDs with low CRIs 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. 

For more information on CRI, read our comprehensive guide

What does “Integrated LED” mean? 

To fully understand the possibilities with LEDs, it’s important to distinguish between integrated and retrofit options. 

Integrated LED lights have the LEDs actually built into the fixture itself. Whether on a panel, strip or disc, the diodes are installed into the fixture, so you won’t find a standard socket for a bulb. 

A reference to retrofit options essentially means using an LED bulb in a standard light fixture. This means that some LED upgrades are as simple as buying an LED bulb and screwing it into a socket like you would any other light bulb. 

Can I put LED in any fixture? 

Yes and no. While LED technology charges forward, there are still some limitations. Standard sockets like E26 (medium base) or E12 (candelabra base) offer many LED retrofit bulb options. There are even viable options for some of the smaller halogen bi-pin bulbs as well. But some socket sizes still don’t yet have compatible LED bulbs. 

Are LEDs dimmable? 

As we become more attuned to the role lighting plays in our homes, many of us want to make sure fixtures are dimmable, and this has been a concern with LEDs. While most newer LED technology is indeed dimmable, that’s not the case across the board. 

Before you purchase an LED fixture, make sure to find out if it’s compatible with a dimmer, and be aware that most dimmable LED fixtures will require specific types of dimmers. 

For the most part, dimming an LED lowers the lumen output of the light, versus making the light warmer. However, fixtures with “warm dim” functionality are beginning to dominate the market, so it’s only a matter of time before LED lights truly dim in the way incandescents do. 

How long do LEDs really last? 

LED has a long lifespan, with most current options rated with at least 20,000 hours of operation. Some brands are pushing that limit, and many offer 30,000 to 50,000 hours as standard—we are even seeing options at 90,000 hours. This means that you can select a lifespan that will work for your needs. While a fixture used only a few hours a day can last 20+ years, some fixtures left on all day and night will expire faster. A little math can give you a good idea of how long you can expect a fixture to last. As they age, LEDs tend to diminish in brightness rather than snuff out altogether—an LED is typically considered “dead” at 70% of initial light output. 

For more technical questions about retrofitting or sourcing brand-new LED fixtures to install, call or chat our ALA-certified lighting experts.

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