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Special surge protection needed with LED-bulb lighting?

Joel Russ | Posted in General Questions on

I have a couple remaining questions in my aim to do good research before investing in LED replacement bulbs for my incandescent bulbs.

I can buy a very good quality 60w edison-base incandescents for under $4 each. A comparable 800-lumen LED of good quality, with a 5-year warranty, will cost me roughly five times as much. I do not want the supplier to skip-out on making good on the warranty due to a factor (excuse?) such as “do you get voltage spikes in your neighborhood?” Obviously, replacement of each LED, if it’s out of my wallet, is a bigger deal than with conventional lighting. Yes, I understand: get bulbs rated for 120-240v, not just 120v. But spikes can go higher.

First question: are reputable companies being tight-a**ed about replacement, over issues like power surges?

Now, with bench lamp fixtures I can run my power cords into a good-quality surge protector. Second question: should I be looking for some sort of electrical-wiring (in-line) surge protection for my ceiling mounted fixtures? For instance, is there a sort of available wall light switch that has surge protection built in?

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Replies

  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    Joel,
    Good questions. I have bought several LED lamps (mostly at Home Depot) that have burned out after only a few months. Even though they are expensive, I haven't tried to contact the manufacturer to get a refund, although I probably should have.

    My situation is unusual, since my house is off grid and my AC power is provided by an inverter connected to a battery bank. Most off-grid homeowners report that inverters provide more dependable AC power (with fewer voltage spikes) than electric utilities, but I have not tried to verify that by monitoring my own voltage.

    I've been disappointed by a few CFLs as well. But so far, I'm finding that CFLs are more dependable than LEDs.

  2. Joel Russ | | #2

    Martin - Hi, and Thanks.

    My intention has been to try out LEDs as replacements for 60w incandescents in my garage-type shop - since I do not like fluorescent light. We get voltage fluctuations whenever the shop compressor kicks-in, for example... I'm uncertain about whether/when we get spikes.

    My wife and I have a filing system for warranties for kitchen & home appliances, shop tools, yard equipment, auto stuff, etc. We'd be good about keeping our warranty documents - and with LED burn-outs, we'd want to get replacement. At $20 and up for GOOD LEDs, it's not something we'd want to slip up on. I'd like to know the company would stand behind the product and unstintingly make replacement.

    I do wonder if LEDs, by their nature, will be more delicate than incandescents. We know they're WAY more expensive.

  3. Kevin O'meara | | #3

    Joel,
    I have a house that is almost all LED lighting that is almost 3 years old. I am grid tied to a particularly undependable grid,recently lost some electrical equipment due to what must have been a terrible surge. Despite that I have had just 2 LED bulbs die on me, which out of possibly a 100 or so, is reassuring that fluctuations don't seem to be a big deal. Further time will tell, however.

  4. Joel Russ | | #4

    Since I want to try the LEDs out in my shop: with my bench lamp fixtures I can run power cords into a good-quality surge protection at the bench. But for the ceiling edison-type fixtures, should I be looking for some sort of in-line surge protection? For instance, is there any sort of available wall light switch that has surge protection built in?

  5. Keith Gustafson | | #5

    regular utility supplied house, occasional power outages, spikes unknown, 12 LED bulbs age 2 1/2 years down to 6 months. Lost one as basically a start up failure, within 30 days, HD took it back. No other failures Am also torture testing two small floods outside, put them up Christmas, still working, but low hours

  6. Jin Kazama | | #6

    Keith: which brand /type of leds ???

    Why are you looking at LED for a bench working lamp??
    how long is it lit up per day ?

    working bench = high quality lighting

    u only get a very very limited quantity of high rendering Leds right now,
    mostly from CREE ...
    i would never purchase anything from a second hand brand with shorter warranty than 10 yeasr.
    If they can't warranty their products to last the time it takes for payback with regular usage,
    dont buy from them.

    In leds bulbts, electronics usually die before the leds themselves, because most brand use half-assed chinese controllers with cheap parts.
    The rating of the electronic section is as important as the leds.

    Then, most brand try to get a "warm" white color for their newer bulbs for household use,
    and it is not the correct color for a working space.
    You need to find something in the 3500-4000k maximum
    ( the first CREE LR6 model i bought were 4000k i believe..for offices ..with 90+ CRI and 50 000hours + design )

  7. Joel Russ | | #7

    Jin, here's the situation, and why I'm wanting to try LEDs in my shop: My wife is skeptical that "all the bugs" have been worked out of this new and fairly expensive tech. With LEDs currently costing 5x or more as much as comparable incandescents, she's not interested in maybe having the bulbs burn out in the house.

    So I thought I'd get my feet wet with LED, in my shop. If it proved out in the shop, then I'd advocate the idea for the house - with some knowledge to support the investment.

    Hey, guys: anybody know about this light-switch surge protection question (as I mentioned a couple times above)?

  8. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #8

    I thought the 800 lumen 9.5 watt Cree A-19s were now available at about $13 at the big orange box stores as well as other stores, and even cheaper in markets with subsidy. That's quite a bit less than 5x the cost of the better incandescent.

    The warranty on Cree A-bulbs is IIRC only 3 years, but that's probably enough. I'll bet the warranty on the $4 incandescent doesn't last as long as it takes to go from the cash register to the parking lot too, eh? ;-)

    "Infant mortality" is common amongst electronic assemblies of all types, but particularly those that have undergone extensive penny-accounting manufacturing cost reductions. I'd bet real money that most units that fail in the first few weeks have NOTHING to do with power line quality, and every thing to do with manufacturing faults, and that the same design that arrived without faults will go on indefinitely, and even a 1 year warranty is sufficient "socket time" to weed out the ones with manufacturing flaws, at least from the first-tier industry players.

    The LED dice themselves are low-voltage DC devices, and the electronics in the base control their current/light output. There is substantial filtering on the high voltage side, and the nominal AC voltage shouldn't affect the longevity or sensitivity of the assembly very much. Nothing is too robust against lightning strikes, but designing against noisy electrical environments with kilovolt switching spikes is pretty standard boring stuff, and the component costs for that protection is also not that high.

    The bigger issue with A-bulbs is the limitations on the physical SIZE of the electronics, in order to stuff it all into something that fits into any edison-base fixture. This also limits the amount of cooling available to the electronics (edison bases are by-design heat isolating, rather than heat-wicking), and higher operating temps also affect longevity. The lower the total power and higher the efficiency, the less of an issue that is, but in any ~10W device it's still an issue. Putting a high-output ediston base LED or CFL into an enclosed fixture in a high ceiling is definitely a higher stress operating environment than a table lamp. But putting a well designed but enclosed LED fixture (no socket) into the same high ceiling, not so much, since it's design to shed heat from the elecronics rather than isolate the heat at the socket, the way Edison base designs were intended (to keep the incandescents from torching off your house.)

  9. Keith Gustafson | | #9

    I have a number of brands, some sylvania, some Despot house brand

    I also have 2 MR16 base, tiny tiny, interested to see how long they last, as they are very bright

  10. Dennis Dipswitch | | #10

    All of the LED lights I have experienced so far give the sensation of brightness,however I "see" a whole lot less,if that makes any sense.

  11. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #11

    The issue with many MR16 LED lights (and halogens) is glare and shadow- it's a hot-white spot at high contrast with the background. The spectral output of better quality LEDs is quite smooth (compare to the multiple color-spike output of fluorescent technology of all types), and with the right diffusers visual efficacy is quite good. But the hot-bright spot-type downlighting (either MR or PAR) is high glare, with high contrast sharp-edged shadows. It's the shape & brightness of the light emitter, not it's underlying technology that's the problem, but since it's SO easy to make LED spot lights compared to more isotropic-output designs, those have been a common offering.

    There are reasonable LED floods with decent photometric patterns out there, but it's common to run into the bright-light-but-poor-visual-efficacy problem if you've been using LEDs with PAR type photometrics (particularly in recessed lighting) in places where floods are more appropriate (like ambient lighting.)

  12. Jin Kazama | | #12

    Nice input Dana,

    as always, each technology comes with its benefits and are better suited for use in specific situations.

    Led bulbs have to be seen as an investment both $$$ wise and green wise,
    investment = carefull planning.

    Thanks for pointing out the new CREE bulbs..hadn't seen that one coming

    from HD website :
    "Cree LED bulbs are the energy-saving replacement for traditional 60 and 40 Watt bulbs that will pay for themselves quickly and pay you every year""

    WOW a bulb that pays u money !! finally!!

    ""
    Manufacturer Warranty Limited 10-Year Warranty ""

    not bad on a 13$ product

    And i also beleive that the DC filter etc should be pretty effective agaisn't surge, so you should not require any additional protection

    maybe a hole house cap/filter ??

  13. Keith Gustafson | | #13

    Of the 100 or so non lighting LED's in your house, when was the last time you saw one burn out. I have equipment at work that was built in the early 80's that is on 24/7 and the LED's are fine. You can bet the 29 dollar dvd player at walmart will die, but the led will still shine on.

    Most of my LED lighting is PAR, CFL is still more economical for everything else.

  14. D C | | #14

    Joel,

    Electrical outlets are available with built in surge protection but I am not aware of any similar light switches.

    Best surge protection is a two point system - a whole house surge protector installed at the main electrical panel along with point-of-use protection at each sensitive load. You could install a smaller whole house protector in your shop breaker panel for just the lighting circuit.

    Incandescent bulbs are voltage sensitive. LEDs are current sensitive and not usually impacted by typical voltage surges. As Keith points out, LEDs themselves rarely fail. However, self contained LED bulbs for lighting contain a driver circuit designed to limit current to the LEDs. I suspect it is these driver circuits that are the culprit when a LED bulb fails prematurely.

    It's best to not replace a LED bulb with the circuit energized. When you screw a bulb into a socket that has not been switched off, a small arc completes the circuit before the bulb makes actual contact with the terminal. This arc is not good for LED bulbs.

    An important factor when discussing surge protection is the quality of the electrical system ground. A poor ground will not allow surge protection to function as designed. A few years ago I had some electronic equipment fail after a lightning storm even though I had used good quality surge protection. I discovered that when my house was built, the electrician used an aluminum ground clamp on a copper ground wire and copper ground rod. Over time electrolysis had eaten away the ground clamp and the ground wire was no longer bonded to the ground rod. So, my house had no ground which prevented the surge protector from doing its job. Check your grounds!

    Anyone who is having frequent problems with electronic equipment failures should have an electrician inspect the wiring system and especially the grounds. You could also contact your local power company and see if they have a power quality specialist who could assist.

    DC

  15. Expert Member
    Dana Dorsett | | #15

    DC: The arc that occurs when screwing it in live is no different from the arc a the mechanical contacts of a light switch. Other than the fact that it may make/break a dozen times while screwing it in, it's no different from the LED assembly's protection point of view than the silly 4 year old flicking the switch a gazillion times to make the lights flash.

    Surge protection is not lighting protection, and it's simply not possible to lighting-harden devices this small (or even much larger) against the kind of induced voltages & currents from nearby lighting strikes. But it is possible (and essential) for most solid-state electronics to be protected against high & low AC voltage conditions (within reasonable limits), and the high voltage spikes of other loads switching on/off on the same local grid.

  16. D C | | #16

    Dana,

    Good insight. It's really nit picking on my part but the arc can be different when screwing in a bulb vs a light switch. I've had light switches which arced so violently you could hear it. I've also had switches that I couldn't tell were drawing an arc. An electronics guru buddy of mine actually tested this awhile back and measured these arcs. His finding was that a well built switch can limit the duration of the arc quite a bit compared to someone slowly screwing in the bulb and it was his recommendation not to screw in bulbs while the socket was energized. He also found that there are some very poorly built switches available on the market. The cumulative effects may very well be insignificant but I suppose it doesn't hurt to be prudent when trying to extend the life of LEDs.

    You are correct that surge protection is not lightning protection. I hope I didn't give that impression in describing my equipment failures. To clarify, my house never got struck by lightning during that particular storm but I did see fluctuations in the power due to nearby lightning strikes. We get more than our fair share of lightning in west Texas. Lightning striking power lines or even the ground nearby can produce surges in homes that good surge protectors can arrest if the magnitude of the surge is not too severe.

    DC

  17. Penny Wicken | | #17

    I know this is an old question, however, I have an answer that may help others......LED bulbs are current driven devices unlike voltage driven incandescents and therefore are not susceptible to voltage spikes. LED bulb companies are usually very good at replacing defective and/or warrantied lamps, however, I would buy them locally from a lighting company rather than a "big box store" so that you can return there and get replacements and let the distributor deal with sending them back to the makers. Make sure you choose big brand name bulbs as there are many LED companies that have jumped on the bandwagon to make millions, then jump out and you are stuck.

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