Have you got a burning question about LED lighting? Or maybe you just want to learn more about the invention that will light up our entire country by 2025?
Either way, you’ve come to the right place.
On this page, we’ve gathered everything you’d need to know about LED lighting and broken it down in a way that’s easy to understand, quick to navigate and simple to follow.
Whether you start at the top and work your way down, or jump in somewhere in the middle, this guide is designed to help you become an LED expert, in as little time as possible.
What is an LED and what does LED stand for?
LEDs are fairly radical, as far as lighting technology goes.
In the past, most light sources worked the same way — this was true of candles all the way through to incandescent light bulbs. Essentially, a filament was heated until it got so hot it began to emit light.
Because of this, traditional light sources used a great deal of energy; resulting in low efficiencies and a need for more effective technology.
Enter the LED or Light-Emitting Diode. LEDs use the principle of electroluminescence to emit light, making them as much as 80% more efficient than traditional lighting. Now, LEDs are the favorite for many applications, both commercial and residential.
But LEDs weren’t so widely used when they first became available.
LEDs first launched in the late 1970s, and their use was limited to expensive watches, voicemail machine blinkers, and appliances around the home. Essentially, LED use was limited to indicators, back-lights or Christmas decorations. The technology simply wasn’t widely available enough to replace the traditional light bulb at that time.
Fast forward to 1994 and the LED we know today was born. Shuji Nakamura invented the ultra-bright blue Gallium Nitride LED, which laid the foundation for highly efficient white LEDs shortly afterward.
By combining placing several of these tiny light-emitting diodes onto a circuit board, adding a casing and connection compatible with traditional bulbs, the LED bulb was ready to go mainstream.
Today, LEDs are a great option to replace inefficient lighting around your home, office or premises.. Even fluorescent tubes can be converted to LEDs, using up to 60% less energy.
How do LED lights work?
To understand the modern LED, it’s useful to understand how such a complicated thing came to be discovered in the first place.
In 1907, Henry Round was passing an electrical current through a variety of substances. When current was applied between two points of a Silicon Carbide crystal, the crystal glowed with a dim yellow light from one side. This was named ‘electroluminescence’.
Properly understanding electroluminescence took decades of research and exploration. Then, when combined with advances in semiconductor technology, it could lastly be controlled.
Within an LED, there is a positive side and a negative side. When current is applied, the negative side has free electrons within it. These jump into ‘holes’ on the positive side.
It’s this jump that produces light.
How long do LED lights last?
One of the headline features of LEDs is their longer lifespans, with a potential lifespan of up to 10 years per bulb. Yet, 30% of bulbs in independent testing failed to achieve this.
The reasons for this are wide-ranging and complicated, which is why we’ve created an essential guide to LED lifespans, complete with advice on making them last as long as possible.
In brief, LEDs should last between 10,000-50,000 hours, which is much longer-lasting than their traditional counterparts. This can be shortened by installation problems, such as incorrect power supplies, inadequate ventilation or not choosing LED bulbs with a high enough IP rating for your situation.
It can also be caused by problems with the LED itself, such as cheap components — that’s why you should always buy LEDs from a trusted source. LED bulbs are complex pieces of technology, so be sure to invest in high-quality products from a manufacturer with a proven record.
Do this, and you’ll be sure to install a lighting solution that will stand the test of time.
Are LED lights safe?
All leading researchers agree that LED lightbulbs are safe within your environment, so long as proper care is taken when selecting the LED, installing them and disposing of them.
Nevertheless, there are some myths that still pervade. One common misconception is that LEDs cause headaches.
Whilst this can’t be truly debunked, it’s much more likely that flickering is to blame.
Like all light sources, it is possible for LEDs to flicker at speeds visible and invisible to the human eye. If you notice this, try substituting the bulb for one from a reputable manufacturer, as low-quality components can cause LEDs to flicker. Other potential causes include inappropriate power supplies or that a non dimmable LEDs has been installed on a dimmer switch.
Another cause is that the LED bulb might not be suitable for your environment. LEDs can be much brighter than other bulbs and produce glare, which can cause eye strain, leading to headaches.
When choosing an LED, be sure to read our guides on color temperature, color rendering index and luminous efficacy to ensure you choose the right bulb for your environment.
Finally, remember that LEDs do contain toxic materials, just like all electronics, so be sure to dispose of them safely.
Types of LEDs
Truth is, there’s an innumerable amount of different LEDs available on the market.
To simplify matters, we’re just going to cover the most important types of LED lights — the ones that you are more likely to encounter:
Types of LED lighting - Commercial
If you are upgrading or installing LED lighting in commercial applications, it is essential to pick the right type of LED lighting for your environment:
- Panels and Troffer Lighting: This is a LED light installed in an opening in the ceiling for general illumination, most commonly in offices. These are often used to replace CFL tubes.
- LED Shoeboxes: This is a high-performance outdoor light, ideal for replacing metal halide and high-pressure sodium (HPS) lamps. These are perfect for parking lots, walkways and parks.
- LED High Bays: These are for overhead lighting in large high-ceiling buildings. The exact right high bay for you will depend on your installation and application needs.
- LED Tubes: Wherever you are using fluorescent tubes, switch to LED tubes. We share three ways to do this on our blog. LEDs provide better quality lighting, last longer and are more energy-efficient. Be sure to consider whether frosted or clear LED tubes are best for your needs.
- Task Lighting: This is LED lighting used to enable detailed or task work to be completed. Be sure to choose task lighting with a high Color Rendering Index for best performance.
- Track Lighting: By mounting tracks on ceilings and walls, you can flexibly add lighting to match your needs. The wiring for the lighting is within the track, so you don’t need to wire each fixture individually.
- Outdoor Lighting: Outside your premises, you can install LED lighting for security and visibility purposes. Examples include corn bulbs, wall packs, stadium lighting, barn lights, and floodlights.
Types of LED lighting - Residential
With considerable energy savings, increased performance and a wide range of substitutions available for traditional bulbs, now is the time to switch to LEDs for residential lighting:
- LED Bulbs: Swap out your existing halogen and incandescent bulbs instantly with compatible LED bulbs.
- LED Ceiling Fans: Your whole ceiling fan can be replaced with a more modern option with integrated or replaceable LEDs.
- LED Flush Mounts: Flush Mount LEDs are attached directly to a ceiling or wall. They are made as a single unit, integrating the fixture and bulb into one convenient package.
- LED Garden and Security Lighting: A wide range of outdoor lighting is available for residential applications, including pathway lighting units and security units with motion sensing.
- LED Track Lighting: This is one of the most convenient lighting options for installers. Simply install the track on the surface, then add compatible track lights to suit your needs.
- Task Lighting: This is LED lighting used for reading or other detailed work. Be sure to choose task lighting with a high Color Rendering Index for best performance.
LED concepts - the things you need to know when buying LEDs
A ‘Lumen’ is the amount of visible light given off by a light source over a period of time. The higher the lumens, the brighter a light source will appear.
In the past, shoppers bought bulbs by wattage — the more watts, the brighter the bulb. But because LEDs are much more power-efficient than incandescent bulbs, this no longer works.
Instead, look at the Lumens. If you are replacing a standard 60W incandescent, an LED bulb with 800 lumens will be about the same.
Imagine you are heating a piece of metal. As it gets warmer, the glow coming from the metal will change, from orange, then yellow, then white then eventually blue.
The temperature of this metal is degrees ‘Kelvin’ and we use this to describe the color temperature of light. A lower Kelvin means the light will appear more yellow, whereas a higher Kelvin will appear bluer.
- Choosing a bulb with a Kelvin of between 2700K to 3000K will produce a light that is soft and warm, ideal for bedrooms.
- Choosing a bulb with a Kelvin of between 3500K and 4100K will produce a natural white light, ideal for office spaces.
- Choosing a bulb with a Kelvin of between 5000K and 6500K will produce cool white light, like daylight. This is good for reading.
Whereas most people look at Kelvins, Lumens, and Watts when buying a bulb, lighting designers look for Color Rendering Index.
This is the secret of choosing the perfect light for any space.
Color Rendering Index (CRI) measures how accurately a light source can reveal the colors of an object when compared with a natural light source, typically daylight.
Low CRI lighting will make a room look dull, as it drains all the color from the furniture, walls and even the faces of people in the room. Choosing the right CRI will bring colors to make a space bright and welcoming and give skin tones a glowing and healthy look.
Read our complete guide to CRI on our blog and learn how to match lighting with mood and application.
This term is made of two parts:
1. Lumens is the amount of visible light given off by a light source over a period of time.
2. Efficacy is the ability of a thing to produce the desired result.
Put it together and you get Luminous Efficacy. This is a measure of how a light source converts power into visible lights. This is expressed as Lumens per Watt or lm/W.
The best way to understand this is to compare LEDs and traditional incandescent bulbs.
Whereas a traditional incandescent light bulb has a score of just 15 lumens per watt, an LED has a luminous efficacy of between 100 and 170 lumens per watt.
This is because the traditional bulb wastes energy in the form of heat, whereas an LED just produces light.
LEDs are great for a wide range of applications. But as sophisticated electronic devices, can they withstand the exposure to the elements?
IP Rating, in the context of an LED bulb, is a rating of how much protection the casing of an LED offers against objects, dust, and water.
Ready to learn more?
You’ve learned the basics, but to make qualitative decisions regarding your lighting there is much more to consider.
Visit our blog to read more about everything from beam-angles to parking lot lights, or have a read of the FAQs below.
LED Lighting FAQs
Are LED Lights suitable for outdoor use?
Yes, many LED bulbs are durable enough for outdoor applications.
However, you’ll need to assess the IP rating of the bulbs you buy, to make sure you’re selecting an LED with the right level of protection. You’ll find much more detail on that — including a handy breakdown of the key IP rating letters and what they mean — right here.
How many Lumens do I need?
LEDs have a minimum lm/W of 60 and a maximum lm/W of 100+. Typically, they land at around 90 lm/W.
Which lm/W is right for you will depend on aesthetics — the mood you want to create with your lighting — as well as the power supply available and more complicated matters like thermal management. If you’re a little lost comparing Lumens to Lumens, have a read of our luminous efficacy guide to straighten things out.
What temperature do I need?
It’s true, some light bulbs make you feel warmer, and others leave you a little chilly. It all comes to the color temperature rating, or CRI.
Measured in Kelvins, you can buy light bulbs with higher or lower CRI, depending on the mood you want to create.
For example, restaurants and hotels may want to imbue a cosy, relaxed environment, and so they’ll opt for a lower Kelvin rating (around 2300K).
At the other end of the spectrum, large commercial areas like warehouses may want super bright, white lighting. Here, a Kelvin rating of 6000K is not uncommon.
To find out which color temperature you need, follow this guide.