LEDs for pot lights, sconces and vanities: beyond the basic LED bulb

The variety and options for LEDs continues to expand. Reflector lights for pot lights are proving popular.
The variety and options for LEDs continues to expand. Reflector lights for pot lights are proving popular.

Advances in LEDs are making them the best choice for almost every lighting type

Light-emitting diode (LED) technology continues to progress rapidly, and as LED lighting becomes more widely adopted, Cristian Suvagau says that adopting LEDs in your home will be easier and cheaper.

The Power Smart engineer explains that many of the technical problems around using light-emitting diode technology for general purpose lighting have been solved. As a result, he says that LED lights are poised to replace all other lighting types [PDF, 31 KB].

Where LED bulbs can be used

The revolution starts with the most ubiquitous object to be found in the house: the light bulb. There are three basic types:

  • omni-directional: the most common bulb used in residences in most fixtures and lamps
  • directional, reflector: such as those used in track lighting or recessed fixtures, like pot lights
  • decorative, specialty: such as globe and chandelier bulbs

Omni-directional LEDs have become commonplace at retailers, with replacements for 40-watt, 60-watt, and even 100-watt incandescent bulbs.

Becoming more common in stores are the reflector lights such as pot lights used in bathrooms and kitchens. And retailers are also carrying LEDs in the tapered chandelier form and smaller bulbs for wall sconces.

Wondering if LED alternatives are available for the bulb that you need? See the LED options available with this chart [PDF, 31 KB].

Other reasons to love LEDs and places to use them include:

  • They are instant-on; there is no warming-up period like with some types of compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).
  • Most LEDs are compatible with dimmers.
  • LEDs work especially well in ceiling fan fixtures, because they're not affected by vibration the way some incandescent filaments and CFLs can be.
  • Anyplace where it's difficult to change light bulbs will benefit from the long life (15 years or longer) of an LED.
  • LEDs aren't damaged by frequent on-off cycles, which makes them ideal for security lights and motion detectors.

See all the types of LEDs available [PDF, 31 KB].

Consider brightness and colour

If you're going to make the switch to LED, you'll have to change how you think about brightness. LED bulbs are more efficient than incandescents, so the wattage won't correspond to how bright the light is. Instead, brightness is measured in "lumens":

  • 400 lumens is the brightness of a typical 40-watt incandescent bulb
  • 800 lumens is the brightness of a typical 60-watt incandescent bulb
  • 1,600 lumens is the brightness of a typical 100-watt incandescent bulb

LEDs can also provide a range of light colours, and the colour of light is measured using the Kelvin scale:

  • 2,700 Kelvin is warm, yellow light
  • 3,000 Kelvin is cool, blue-white light

See our infographic on how to read a LED bulb package and choose the right bulb for your fixture.

Energy-efficient alternatives to LED lighting

Where LED bulbs are less useful is in fixtures that are enclosed, because heat is contained, which can speed up degeneration of the bulb. That includes enclosed ceiling fixtures and some older styles of globe vanity fixtures.

Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which are nearly as efficient as LEDs, are often the best alternative. When they aren't, like in bathrooms where the time required for CFLs to reach full brightness can be interminable, Suvagau recommends halogen incandescents, which are more energy efficient than their standard counterparts.

How heat matters to LED lights

One of the appealing things about LED lights is that they don't heat up a room when they're on like incandescents do. Less than five per cent of the electricity used to power an incandescent bulb actually generates light, with the remaining energy going to heat. By comparison, LEDs convert 30 per cent of electricity to light.

LEDs still generate heat as a by-product of that process, but it doesn't emanate from the surface of the bulb. Instead, it is localized to where the energy transfer occurs: at the base of the bulb.

"Incandescents can take the heat," says Cristian. But LED circuit boards are more sensitive, and they are slowly "cooked" over time. When the circuit board stops functioning, so does the light.

To counteract this, LEDs are designed with "heat sinks", small pieces of metal that can help dissipate the heat the way a spoon helps cool a cup of hot tea.

Making the move to LED fixtures

The efficiency of LEDs — ENERGY STAR versions are rated to last 15 years or more  — means we don't need to replace bulbs anymore.

LED lights are already being manufactured with the fixture and the bulbs as one unit. That allows the fixture to be designed to better distribute light and to better manage the heat, to prolong the life of the device.

LED fixtures will be modular and flexible and easy to mount. You won't have to tear out walls and make holes in ceilings to accommodate them, says Suvagau, so you can move them around and adapt them to any need.

And soon, some of the light fixtures available will contain three LEDs, one red, one green, and one blue. You'll be able to adjust the brightness and intensity of the light, and by mixing the RGB colours you can change its colour: bright white during the day and warm, yellow at night.

ENERGY STAR® fixtures have even greater benefits

LED fixtures that are ENERGY STAR certified bring additional benefits, including:

  • two-year warranty, double the industry standard
  • distribute light more efficiently and evenly