LED lighting: Not all solutions are created equal

Ratings and certifications help validate high-quality LED lighting products.


Learning Objectives:

  1. Know the risks of cheap/poorly designed LED lights.
  2. Identify the factors to consider when investing in LED lighting solutions.
  3. Understand the differences in LED light quality.

The market is flooded with LED lighting solutions, and design engineers face an array of choices ranging from low-cost, bargain basement products to high-end, investment solutions. While it may be natural to gravitate to low-cost products, these LED lighting products often sacrifice energy efficiency, lifespan, and light quality.

Figure 1: Electrical designs that incorporate high-quality LED diodes offer more protection against current limitations and provide better light output—enhancing lifespan. Courtesy: Banner Engineering

Inexpensive LED lights with poor design and inferior manufacturing considerably reduce the benefits of LED solutions. Manufacturers choosing the cheapest option are at risk for experiencing:

  • High failure rates
  • Short lifespan
  • Dim, inconsistent light and odd light colors
  • Little to no energy savings over fluorescent lights
  • Overheated fixtures
  • Electromagnetic interference with surrounding equipment.

So, what should you consider when investing in LED lighting solutions? Ratings and certifications help validate high-quality products.

A couple of easy considerations to check off the list include ingress protection (IP) ratings and safety certifications. An LED light that has a published IP rating has been tested against dust and water ingress, passing specific test protocols. If you are specifying the light into in a particularly dusty environment or know your light is going to come in contact with water or chemicals, an appropriate IP rating is a must-have for achieving optimum life expectancy.

Products with safety certifications, like the UL or CE Marking, were designed to comply with rigorous standards-and the manufacturer met those standards during production. Safety certifications are a good indicator of a high-quality product that has been tested and validated prior to making it into the hands of manufacturers.

Figure 2: Sacrificing light quality, energy efficiency, and lifespan for cost reduces the building owner’s return on investment and impacts production and performance in the work area. Courtesy: Banner EngineeringElectrical design plays a critical role in lifespan-or failure rate. Diodes, power supply, and electrical components are a major factor in LED performance and lifespan. Electrical designs that incorporate high-quality LED diodes offer more protection against current limitations and provide better light output-enhancing lifespan. In addition, undersized electrical components can lead to a variety of problems including flicker, low efficacy, overheating, and current instability. Investing in an LED solution that has a more expensive electrical design may cost the building owner upfront, but is critical to ensuring the lengthy lifespan promised by LED manufacturers.

Mechanical design is integral to preventing degradation and safety issues. The housing of the LED light is used to manage the heat produced by the LED diode. Materials that effectively remove heat from the LED source are more expensive than materials that don't. Cheap LED lights often don't take this into consideration and, as a result, experience failures, lifetime degradation, and safety issues.

Light quality is represented by brightness, color output, and coverage. Inexpensive lighting options may use the cheapest LED diodes available, resulting in dim products with poor energy efficiency. Lower-quality products also vary in light color and are at risk for poor color rendering. Prior to purchasing, compare the LED to local lighting—can you see a noticeable difference? Direct the LED light toward objects of different colors (i.e., dark blue versus black). Can slight color differences be differentiated under the light? Does it accurately reflect the true color of the target? These are simple tests to ensure the quality of an LED.

Sacrificing light quality, energy efficiency, and lifespan for cost reduces your return on investment and impacts production and performance in the work area—costing users much more than their initial lighting investment. Arm yourself with the above information to recognize differences in product quality and make the best purchasing decision.

For more information, check out the Illumination Engineering Society's handbook, which highlights several important articles on lighting technology. 

Kathy Erickson is a technical marketing manager at Banner Engineering. Erickson holds a bachelor's in material science and engineering, and has nearly 15 years of experience as an applications engineer and product development manager. For the past 8 years, her focus has been on researching and developing LED lighting solutions.

EDUARDO , PR, United States, 07/16/14 09:11 AM:

Les , United States, 07/19/14 09:17 PM:

Wherever I see comments on LED lighting, I see references to safety [UL], IP ratings, light distribution [IES files]. When it comes to quality of light, there is mention of color temperature and CRI, but seldom reference to the many other parameters which determine quality such as spectrum, location in chromaticity diagrams relative to the Planckian locus and other more relevant color rendering information. New standards are created every day without reference to these parameters or the tools necessary to evaluate light quality. The focus is on efficiency [lumens per watt] and energy savings, but mainly ignore light quality and the benefits that this can offer such as enhanced performance, mood, general health, alertness and productivity. Inspections check on utility savings and ignore light quality. Until we include this in engineering specs and lighting professionals have in their toolboxes the devices necessary to measure quality and the ability to evaluate these measurements, we are just scratching the surface of the benefits that solid state lighting can provide.
And expensive does often not mean better.
Anonymous , 08/14/14 07:57 AM:

LED Lightin Facts is a source to check for testing.
However; K12 classrooms should have dimming installed when using LED systems, and probiological testing of any fixture being considered. LM 70, 79, 80 factored in the consideration.
DAVID , NJ, United States, 09/02/14 02:49 PM:

I totally agree with Les that saving someone money on energy and then giving them poor quality lighting - the wrong color, the wrong beam angles/distribution - the results are terrible and it casts LEDs in a horrible light - no pun intended. I see it all the time. People think their electricians know - when very few are lighting designers. They just get the least expensive one their supply house is pushing that week - and the customer suffers.
We make sure every job we do meets or exceeds their existing lighting while always saving significant energy.
Nick , Ontario, Canada, 09/10/14 10:12 AM:

I also strongly agree with Les.
Quality of light should be foremost and specifications of lighting products should include the relevant parameters he mentioned.
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
integrated building networks, NFPA 99, recover waste heat, chilled water systems, Internet of Things, BAS controls
40 Under 40; Performance-based design; Clean agent fire suppression; NFPA 92; Future of commissioning; Successful project management principles
BIM coordination; MEP projects; NFPA 13; Data center Q&A; Networked lighting controls; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
Transformers; Electrical system design; Selecting and sizing transformers; Grounded and ungrounded system design, Paralleling generator systems
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; VFDs in high-performance buildings
Tying a microgrid to the smart grid; Paralleling generator systems; Previewing NEC 2017 changes
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.
Automation Engineer; Wood Group
System Integrator; Cross Integrated Systems Group
Fire & Life Safety Engineer; Technip USA Inc.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me