Buying Guides

LED Lighting guide for dummies

Three decades ago, LEDs were only really known for being the power indicators on electronic devices, as they were too weak to be of much use elsewhere. Today, however, LED is leading the way in the fight to produce increasingly efficient lighting by dramatically reducing energy consumption.

The high-brightness blue LED was introduced in 1993. Twenty times brighter than its green or red predecessors, this was the long-awaited enabler of white LED light. Then, as now, white LED light was produced by blending red, green, and blue light or by using a blue LED with a yellow phosphor. From this point on LED bulbs started their journey to take over the world of lighting.

All very well, but what is an LED?

The real science bit…

A Light Emitting Diode (LED) is a device that allows electrical current to flow in only one direction. It includes two conductive materials, placed in contact with each other. Electricity is applied to the diode so that atoms in one material are excited to a higher energy level. That energy is then released in the form of electrons into the second material, and this release of energy creates light.

How does this differ from traditional lighting?

Traditional incandescent lighting produces light directly by heat. A thin tungsten filament is warmed to about 2500°C by an electric current. Filament bulbs use 90% of their energy in maintaining this extreme temperature.

LED benefits

LED lighting boasts numerous benefits over rival technologies:

  • Energy-efficiency: LED lighting offers energy savings of 80-90% over incandescent or halogen technologies and up to 50% over fluorescent lamps.
  • Longer life: with typical lifespans of up to 50,000 hours, LED lasts 2 or 3 times longer than fluorescent lighting, and up to 50 times longer than incandescent. Maintenance costs are vastly reduced as a result.
  • Instant light: unlike many fluorescent lights, LEDs require no warm-up time to reach full brightness.
  • Eco-friendly: LED lighting has potential to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Around 20% of the world’s electricity is used on lighting. Unlike fluorescent lamps, LEDs contain no mercury, making disposal easier and cleaner. Longer lifespan relieves pressure on landfill sites.
  • Reduced heat output: LED lighting has significant heat dissipation needs. However, unlike filament bulbs, an LED lamp does not project infrared heat in its beam. This increases suitability for lighting heat-sensitive items like artworks or food.
  • Added durability: LEDs are a solid state form of lighting, resistant to vibration and shock. They are less delicate than incandescent or fluorescent lamps, and outperform competing technologies in cold temperatures.

Retrofit LED bulbs such as this 5W GLS look almost identical to traditional bulbs

Can I replace existing lights with LEDs?

Retrofit LED bulbs (ones that fit into existing bulb holders) are suitable in most situations. Close attention should be paid to heat dissipation needs, especially when replacing halogen reflectors in enclosed light fittings (e.g. recessed ceiling light). Advanced heat sink design in modern LED lamps overcomes the reliability problems seen in early models. Manufacturer’s guarantees are often supplied to back this.

A few words about dimming

Take a look at our useful LED v Incandescent infographicLED lighting is excellent for dimming, maintaining energy efficiency at all light levels. However, not all LED lamps or fittings are dimmable. Dimmability is a property of the LED driver, so you need to shop specifically for it. Shop for dimmable LED bulbs

Many modern LED lamps are compatible with old dimmer switches, but the minimum load of a switch (often 60W) is a potential problem if you only want to dim a few lights. It is sometimes easier to install a new dimmer switch, with modern ‘trailing-edge’ dimmers being suitable for LED loads.

Dedicated LED fittings

LED light fittings are increasingly designed with non-replaceable LEDs, mainly due to their long LED lifespan. In this instance, the whole luminaire is replaced at the end of its useful life. One of the advantages is that designers can build light fittings that are fine-tuned for efficiency, with very little light being wasted.

Does the light from an LED reduce over time?

Yes, it’s a process called lumen depreciation, which affects LED and fluorescent lighting. Incandescent bulbs produce the same amount of light throughout their lifespan.

LED lifespan is usually measured to a point where it has lost 30% of original lumen output (known as 70% lumen maintenance, or L70). Lumens are used to measure the total amount of light produced, regardless of direction or beam angle.

Reducing carbon emissions

It is argued by scientists worldwide that we are heading towards potentially disastrous climate change due to excessive carbon emissions. The way we create and use our energy is all part of this equation and regardless of your stance, reducing your carbon footprint is definitely a positive way of doing your bit for the environment. You’ll be saving money at the same time!

A switch to LED – savings in a UK household

The average UK household effectively creates 10 tonnes (10,000 kg) of carbon dioxide per year. Electricity usage accounts for roughly a third of it.

If a household burns 6 x 60W filament bulbs for 4 hours a day, that amounts to 319 kg of carbon emissions a year. The annual energy cost will be around £70.

By comparison, 6 x 10W LED retrofits produce 54 kg of carbon dioxide per year and cost £11.50 in electricity. In one year, you’ve recovered most of the bulb costs and still have years of light ahead.

Since lighting accounts for 15% of the average home’s electricity bill, an LED conversion significantly reduces your carbon footprint.

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LED in summary

LED lighting is energy efficient, long-lived, eco-friendly, robust, and all-round cool (except around its heat sink). In addition, it produces little or no UV, is unaffected by frequent switching, is naturally directional for precise control, and it’s compact. LED is the future of lighting.

Why not start saving money (and the planet) today and take a look at our full range of LED lighting.

For more helpful guidance, inspiration and advice, take a look at our Lighting Advice section.

Charles Barnett Managing Director

Charles started Lyco in 1995 with just 4 enthusiastic employees and has grown it considerably over the past 25 years. Charles is also the Managing Director of Lighting Direct and newly acquired Online Lighting. He now has a team of 50 lighting experts working on growing Lyco Group to be the UK leader in lighting for both businesses and homes. Away from the office he is a keen cyclist and is proud to have cycled 1017 miles from Lands End to John O’Groats to raise money for a new residential centre for adults with multiple learning difficulties.