Why We Chose NOT to Use LED Bulbs
LED has become the hottest buzz phrase in the lighting industry today. LED bulbs are cheaper, easy to replace, and easily interchangeable. However, for all the benefits, there are still many limitations. That’s why Sterling Lighting’s fixtures feature integrated LEDs instead.
Many people ask us how we came to this decision. It ultimately came down to one question: “What is best for our customers?” After considering our collective experiences with LEDs, our engineers’ advice, and the mistakes of others currently manufacturing LEDs, we knew that integrated LEDs were the best choice.
The Problem with LEDs
The biggest issue with LED bulbs is heat. 95% of LED bulbs installed in landscape lights today are not designed for an enclosed fixture. Most LED mr16 bulbs are designed to have air circulate around them, such as for track lighting and recessed lights (this usage is very popular in Europe and Asia). These types of fixtures do not encapsulate the bulbs and therefore allow heat to dissipate.
Drawing heat away from the LED is a challenge that every engineer faces when designing bulbs. That’s why you often see heat sinks such as fins, air gaps, etc. built into LEDs. When LED bulbs are tested alone in an ideal setting, such as a laboratory, they perform very successfully. The problem is that an open air, indoor test is much different than the real conditions of a sunny, 100-degree day when the bulb is inside an enclosed brass or aluminum fixture. The result is a dramatically reduced performance when installed on a property.
In fact, many bulbs will see lumen depreciation in the first few months and burnout in the first year. This is not a new problem. One of the largest LED bulb companies told us that they experience a 3% failure of their bulbs in the first year. This number only continues to climb as time goes on, and it could reach a 25-30% failure rate by the third year. For a landscape lighting professional who installs 100 systems a year with an average 20 lights per system, the number of problem bulbs quickly becomes overwhelming.
Our Experience with LEDs
We personally have encountered problems with LEDs as well. We began using LED bulbs in 2010. After testing bulbs from seven different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), we settled on the one we believed to be the highest quality. We were able to save 80% in energy efficiency and use less wire and smaller transformers, but ultimately, we experienced too high of a failure rate to make the bulbs worthwhile. Even though our OEM guaranteed that the LED was designed for an enclosed fixture, the heat buildup was too great and caused the bulbs to burn out.
Why Is There a Discrepancy?
This is a puzzling situation: If LEDs have major problems with heat dissipation, why are there so many LEDs on the market that are supposedly designed for closed fixtures? One reason is that some OEMs are willing to bend the truth in order to make a sale. There are also design companies that will roll the dice and use an LED bulb even though the OEM specifically states that the bulb is not designed for an enclosed fixture. Ignoring the realities of the technology and marketing LEDs for closed fixtures is simply not sustainable.
In order to provide the best option for our customers given these limitations, we had a few choices:
- Design an LED mr16 bulb that could be used in an enclosed fixture. This would have required a very low lumen output in order to reduce the risk of failure. (Which is why you see many low-lumen bulbs on the market.) However, 200-350 lumens just isn’t bright enough for many professional lighting designs.
- Design our own fully integrated LED. While this option posed many challenges (perfectly matching the LED and driver with the fixture, ease of changing parts, lumen output, etc.), we knew this was the only way to ensure the quality we were looking for.
So, we took on the challenge and designed Sterling Lighting’s signature integrated LED with the best of both worlds: high lumen output, ease of changing parts, premium components and proper heat sinking. We know that this product is one of the best on the market, and we hope you’ll be as pleased with the overall performance as we are.
In an upcoming post, we will break down every decision in designing our fixture and compare our product to the others on the market. Stay tuned!