LED Landscape Lighting

LED Landscape Lights for THE VILLAGES

Lightscapes Serving The Villages with the Best In LED Landscape Lighting

The goal of this topic is to be truly informative and unbiased so that you can make the proper decision about LED. There are many positives and there are many negatives.

LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting is exciting technology and the now/future of lighting.

LED Lighting uses less power and each bulb potentially lasts up to 10 times longer (40,000 hours vs 4,000 hours). Their efficiency and long life make LED lighting a great green solution.

The positives of LED lighting:
1. You do not have to change the bulbs/lamps every 1-2 years like you do with halogen (big benefit).
2. You are making a statement in support of green technology (a great thing!).
3. You are on the cutting edge and like to be an “early adopter” (a cool thing!).
4. Due to the lower wattage, you can use a smaller transformer (save money).
5. Due to the lower wattage you will have less voltage drop, so you can use thinner cable and have easier layouts (wire in series/daisy chain, instead of understanding voltage drop).
6. It is improving faster than you can believe. Prices are dropping fast, lumens increasing, color temperatures getting warmer, new technologies enabling high output with less heat (i.e. longer life/more reliable). The technology is almost there for everyday applications.

LED technology is improving, but before you make the jump you need to educated yourself. The market is flooded with misconceptions, false claims, and inferior product – all of which can make you very disappointed in LED lighting. You must be careful and use LED for the right application/reasons.

Some quick realities about LED:

1. With most LED outdoor lights you will get low lumens (actual illumination) compared to halogen. For example, a 35w halogen outputs 2100 lumens and quality 3w LED outputs ~300 lumens. This makes them on the low end of lumen output needed for quality landscape lighting and equivalent to about a 15w halogen in regards to their actual light output.
2. Many/most LEDs do not mention the specifications that matter—lumens (actual light output), and color temperature (color of the light). They tend to mention their wattage (the watts that they consume) which has nothing to do with the amount of light they output.
3. There is a tradeoff between the 4 main specifications/factors that are important with an LED lamp and you will pay accordingly. The 4 factors are:
a. Lumens (brightness).
b. Color temperature (expressed in Kelvin (K). 3000K is warmer like a halogen we are used to, 5000K and above will be a blue-white that looks somewhat artificial and undesirable for landscape lighting).
c. Price.
d. Life span (e.g. not “claimed” life span but real life span and quality).

As the table below illustrates, the lumens for LEDs are lower than halogen, and when you get into the higher lumen LEDs they tend to be very high color temperatures.

Color Temp
20 w MR16 Halogen GE ($5)
35W MR16 Halogen GE ($5)
3 W MR LED Quality ($35)
3 W MR16 Inexpensive ($19)
8500K (artificial blue-white)

The brightest LEDs tend to be the coolest color temperature (undesirable blue-white color). The inexpensive LEDs tend to be low lumens, undesirable color and tend to fail quickly (often with-in a few months). The challenge is finding an LED that is bright, has an acceptable color, is well made so it doesn’t fail prematurely, and that is reasonably priced. You good news is you can find these now. Right now (as of 10/1/09) a quality LED with good color temperature can output about a 15 watt halogen equivalent and costs from $35-$50 wholesale. The customer will usually pay ~ $50-$100 premium for an LED lamp.

Price and LED technology is changing quickly, but as of 10/1/09 LED bulbs under $10 are worthless, under $20 barely acceptable, and are in the $40-$50 range wholesale for a decent LED lamp that is worth using for landscape lighting.

There are some other issues to be aware of:Landscape Lighting with LED's in t he Villages
1. Degradation of color temperature. Most of the desirable color temperature LED lamps (below 3000K) use a phosphate coating to produce a warmer color light. Unfortunately this phosphate coating breaks down with heat and the color temperature will begin to shift over time.
2. The lumen output decreases over time. Most LEDs see a 25% reduction after a couple years.
3. Silicon chips and drivers fail when exposed to too much heat (that is why there is a fan in your computer). LED have been fighting this heat issue with higher output LEDs.
4. Heat dissipation methods. Retrofit LED bulbs use fins on the lamp to help dissipate heat. This certainly helps, however in landscape lighting applications the heat is still contained inside a sealed fixture. Some manufactures like DG Lights and Kichler integrate the LED into the fixture using the entire fixture as a heat sink. This helps tremendously however there is no changing the lamp. If you have a problem you must replace the entire $100-$300 fixture.
5. ROI and energy savings. Financially it’s very hard to justify LED lighting, even though it’s roughly 80% more efficient. Why? Because low voltage landscape lighting uses very little energy so an 80% savings is still only pennies a day, and it takes a lot of pennies to payoff the Led premium. For example, the average cost of electricity nationwide is $.10/KWh (It costs $.10 to run 1000 watts for 1 hour). For the typical 20 fixture landscape project, uses ~ 600w or $.06/hr to operate. An 80% savings is $.048/hr.. You need over 20,000 hours to breakeven, or 11 years of operating your lights 5 hours/night 365/yr to save $1000 in electricity. You don’t even know if the LED lamp will last that long.

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