LEDs in the landscape lighting business are here today and continue to improve and evolve. While we initially bucked the trend several years ago to begin using LEDs in landscape lighting projects, we did so not because of reliability issues, but because of the color of the light output. Being a true professional Outdoor Lighting Designer, we were used to creating a very natural lighting effect using low voltage halogen bulbs. Many of the early LEDs consisted of chips and electronics that generated a cold, bluish-white or cooler white light, giving a very bright and sometime haunting lighting effect.
Today, advances in chip technology have enabled many manufacturers to produce landscape lighting fixtures that have a warmer white light, creating a similar effect and light output closely resembling halogen. As a result, 100% of new landscape lighting designs and installations that we complete now use high quality LEDs. But beware. All LEDs are not created equal.
So what do I look for in an LED outdoor lighting fixture? Many things, which include the following:
- Color of the light output: For a natural lighting appearance, LEDs should produce light in the range of 2,700˚K to 3,000˚K. This will give you a more natural lighting effect similar to the older halogen bulbs. Avoid anything that is rated above 3,500˚K which starts to create a cooler or colder bluish-white light. The home below was illuminated using 5.5 watt 3,000 ˚K, LEDs.
- Average Life: In the past, most outdoor lighting companies used halogen or incandescent bulbs with an average life of between 700 hours – 2,000 – 4,000 hours. Compare that to today’s LEDs. Most of the LEDs that we use are rated for 50,000 hours – more than 10 times that of halogen. This enables you to use the lights longer each day and to reduce maintenance.
- Energy Efficiency: In past practice, we were accustomed to using 20w, 35w or 50w halogen bulbs. Today, our 20w bulbs have been replaced with 3w – 4w LEDs. Our 35w bulbs have been replaced with 5w-7w LEDs and our 50w bulbs with 8w-10w LEDs. All result in reduced electrical consumption and energy savings of between 80%-85%, making it possible to use your outdoor lighting system longer each evening if desired and at substantially less cost. If you look at the photo below, this home has 14 lights illuminating the architectural features of the home. If you assume 5 hours per night of usage, the approximate annual cost in electricity for this home owner is approximately $25-$30 per year.
- Warranty: Beware of the “Lifetime” warranty on LEDs. 50,000 hours is a lot of hours and years of service. With an average life of 50,000 hours, your landscape lighting LEDs should last a long time – generally 10 or more years. Most reputable LED manufacturers, Landscape Lighting manufacturers and Landscape Lighting Companies warrant LEDs for at least 3-5 years under normal use and are not willing to absorb a Lifetime Liability.
- Integration: Many manufacturers produce LEDS that are completely self-contained. If improperly designed, heat build-up will shorten the life of the LED. If something malfunctions in the LED, the entire LED must be replaced and in some cases the entire fixture. While we use LEDs of this type, our preference is to use LEDs that have replaceable components including the optic, LED and electronics, which are all separate. This reduces the impact of heat on the LED and increases the useful life of the LED.
- Beam Spread, Beam Distance and Lumen Output: Understanding the characteristics of these three LED ratings can either make or break a project. You want to make sure the object you are lighting will be bright enough but not too bright. Lumen output is critical to know so you know how bright an object will be when illuminated. Beam spread and beam distance is also critical to make sure the object is going to be properly illuminated. Will the beam be too wide or too narrow? Will the beam reach the top of the object being illuminated?
LEDs, if properly understood and selected appropriately, can create great lighting effects when lighting the architectural features of the home, landscape and outdoor living areas. With many things to consider, please feel free to call Outdoor Lighting Expressions if we can be of assistance, or should you have any questions as you design or consider a landscape lighting project.