Best choice for LED lighting?
LEDs are solid state lighting and much like microchips advanced in efficiency/performance quite rapidly.
I am building a new home and would like any input from lighting experts – do you think traditional light sockets that work with screw-in LED lightbulbs are best because one can just get a new bulb as efficiency gains are made (plus on LED failure) or should I buy dedicated LED fixtures that must be completely replaced and cost more than the screw-in bulbs? I am assuming the dedicated fixtures may have better performance due to engineered reflectors or TIR lens but I am not sure if that’s a good enough reason to go that route with the drawbacks.
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I'm not a lighting expert, but I hired one to do the lighting plan for my current house. He specified dedicated lighting fixtures. (If you plan to dim any of the LEDs, make sure you buy a compatible switch.)
Part of my choice on this was driven by aesthetics. For the most part, it was easier to achieve that goal with the dedicated fixtures. In one closet, the best aesthetic choice was a fixture with a miniature halogen bulb. In some other more utilitarian spaces, we went with compact florescents.
I am aware of the diversity of concerns with non-incad light sources and have experience with dimmers, proper bulb selection, color temperature, etc. I'm also pretty familiar with LED lighting just not so much in residential applications with dedicated LED fixtures.
I'm not a lighting expert either, but I would like to put forth a few reasons for my own choice of mixing traditional fixtures and dedicated LED lighting. Aesthetics and cost are often hard to balance and the quality of the light produced by LEDs makes the balance even harder sometimes. The dedicated LED fixtures we went with were primarily used in utility locations where the pretty common 4000K light output is fine. However, neither my wife or I liked the look for hall lighting or living/study uses. Also, the LED fixture choices at our price range were not terribly attractive.
The color temperature of the LED is a critical consideration that can be overlooked in much the same way the specularity of a light source might not be perceived until it isn't present. The smear-y kind of light that comes from a fluorescent bulb will never look like halogen spot light even if identical lumen output. The LED substitute fixtures/bulbs for shoplight like lighting have been a mixed bag of quite good to quite awful, some of the poorer ones directing the output sharply down with very bad coverage.
To be sure my wife and I were on the same page regarding the "look" of the light, I purchased assorted bulbs to screw into fixtures we already were living with (sometimes without telling her) and seeing how we felt about them. In most cases the 2700K rated LED bulb replacements were perceived as being a bit dimmer than the incandescent version. I feel the cheaper the bulb substitute the poorer the light distribution. A burning hot filament radiates differently than LED bits which emit from one side only. A Philips brand bulb we tried worked very well despite the odd three lobe bug-light colored appearance. The "value" bulbs meant to replace 60w incandescent and retailing often for $2 each seem the sketchiest.
As to fixtures, for our tastes and budget, it was only affordable to buy tradtional screw in fixtures and fit them with LED bulbs. Indeed, a year ago there seemed to be a lot of orphan fixtures to be had from internet sources that are moving to stock LED based lighting. One of our hallway choices required candelabra based bulbs which are still not well mimicked in LED, but that was okay as common nightlight bulbs proved to have the low output we desired. Many chandelier fixtures just plain look better with incandescent bulbs and how often is it really on.
For interior can lights we placed in the kitchen and bedroom, we went with traditional screw based fixtures so we could control the depth of the bulbs face. We are very glad to have done so, as we both wear glasses and had experienced annoying glare from the LED types which emit light from a flat white disk set very close to the ceiling plane. Being able to adjust the bulbs up into the fixture even a little helps greatly although part of the effect may be the bulb reflector and luminance distribution. Outside we used the sealed LED units on advice of the electricians that advised us not to give hornets and wasps a new home. I agree.
I will post more thoughts later as I need to go make dinner.
I was hoping to find an expert with experience with retrofit screw in-bulbs versus engineered LED specific options (which will still share many similar concerns with the bulbs). There are tons of forums for flashlight hobbyists with detailed testing but I've never seen one for residential lighting.
LEDs like CFLs certainly do have more complexity than incad which makes testing (or finding a test) of the bulb much more critical. The driver impacts dimmer compatibility, the bulb shape and lens for light distribution/aesthetics, CRI ratings aren't always easy to find, replacement concerns if the manufacturer discontinues the bulb you've selected for matching others in the room, etc, etc.
In the past year or so more companies (primarily off brands from Asia) are doing antique style LED bulbs with glass globes that replace use where that style is desired - we have lamp that's made by a local artist with a small night light style bulb we installed an LED bulb of this style and it works just as well with similar color temp to the tradition incad bulb.
I think most of the dislike of high efficient bulbs like CFLs and LEDs comes from their complexity - there are solutions that are just as good and maybe better but it's easy to get the wrong fit if you're going in with no knowledge.
Back again to finish my thoughts. I think maybe you will find that simply going with screw in replacements will best suit you long term in most locations. You would not be tied to current technology so firmly and as I noted the fixture range is much broader and more affordable. My background includes many years as an industrial photographer dealing with critical lighting requirements for precise rendition of the subjects. I could go on at great length about CRI, spectrums, correction filters,phosphor profiles and the like, but ultimately for home lighting it simply boils down to what looks good to you and your wallet.
LED technology is still in development with potentially major improvements in the pipeline both for lumens per watt and for spectral quality. The driver issues beyond dimmable or not are not subjects a manufacturer is very likely to discuss. RAB lighting makes very durable fixtures and drivers that still have occasional fails. Future compatibility of bulb types is a pain to be sure, but over fifty years I have seen numerous bulb styles die and that is just sort of life.
Buying an embedded LED fixture at this point could be a best choice for certain needs, like an easily waterproofed shower light, an under cabinet light that won't melt your chocolate, an outdoor light that keeps out bees or a yard light not easily reached by a ladder. A screw in LED gives you future fun options like the multicolor bulbs you can control from your phone. Also peace of mind knowing that if it fails, you are out a bulb not a fixture and the attendant labor. LEDs claim 10-15 years of life but have only been on the market in a big way for less than 10. The emitters in a fixture don't have any more history to stand by.
CFLs are a dead technology that was never executed well largely through price point demands and indifference to quality by manufacturers. They always looked bad due to discontinuous spectral output and performed worse due to crappy electronics in the base. Most are not really that efficient though Feit brand did a good job for lumens output and longevity, but I would never bother with them anywhere in my house. I am converting the accursed bi-pin CFLs in my bath fans to LED this week.
If you really want to get into the nitty gritty of lux mapping and the like you need to google commercial store lighting or perhaps art lighting. I have been out of touch with those resources since leaving photography, however there are myriad resources that quantify the many characteristics of lighting for retail stores, office and warehouses. Commercial fixtures can deliver precisely on those characteristics but at substantial cost. It is not unusual to see price points of hundreds of dollars per unit in commercial products. Hope this helps.
Roger, thanks for your comments and the practical considerations you have pointed out
I'm searching for much the same thing as Jon. I need approx. 14K lumens of ambient light for a large room, spread over 4-6 fixtures.
The widely available and inexpensive dedicated LED fixtures would be the easy initial choice, but as soon as a single electronic component fails on one, I'll need to replace the whole thing. And then the replacement fixture won't match all the others, which isn't great, so I might be junking and replacing 5 fixtures every few years whenever a single electronic component fails. I won't be going down that road.
For the large room above, I'm considering a few conventional surface-mount 48" long florescent fixtures with T8 florescent bulbs. These are inexpensive and widely available, and the form-factor is close to what I need. Either initially or later, I'll replace the T8s with LED tube bulbs of the same format, the kind that bypass the ballast circuit (so, one less failure point in the future, and one less source of energy inefficiency). These LED replacements for T8 and T12 48" bulbs will probably be available (and improving) for decades, as the installed base of these fixtures is so huge.
My present home, built in 1957, has the original lighting fixtures that were installed 60 years ago and which still work great. It seems ludicrous to deliberately buy a fixture, much less a set of them, that will need to be discarded in about 5 years when a single capacitor/etc fails.
To get a "permanent" fixture that uses LED technology, today's buyers must purchase a fixture that takes one of the old standard bulbs (Edison screw-in bulbs or a florescent like a T8/T12 model, etc). There needs to be a "new standard" family of replaceable lighting components using LEDs. Ideally, the heat-producing LEDs themselves would be thermally isolated from the heat-sensitive driver electronics (which would also be standardized and replaceable as a unit, like ballasts were/are for florescent lights. With today's tech it should be easy to include diagnostics so users know whether the LEDs or the driver has failed)). The need to package the LEDs themselves near the other electronics when making screw-in LED bulbs for Edison-socket applications is one factor that reduces the reliability of these bulbs, The same thing happened with CFLs--the driver circuitry often was kept quite hot (especially in enclosed fixtures) and failed long before the tube itself burned out.
In our New house, for the most part we use regular fixtures, with screw in el-cheapo led bulbs. For example, we installed "Kable" lights from Tech Lighting strung from wall to wall across our great room and bedroom. They came with halogen bulbs, but we just swapped them for leds. They work just fine. All still burning after two years.
Bathroom fixtures above the sinks happened to be dedicated led fixtures. Several can lights in kitchen got the same cheap leds as the Kable lights.
Leds are so cheap to operate that they are a compelling choice.