A recent article published by Ed Rodriguez entitled “That 60W-equivalent LED: What you don't know, and what no one will tell you”, seems to have generated a bit of interest in the lighting community recently and caught my eye as well due to some of the assumptions and claims made within the piece. Now, since the point of the piece was apparently to reveal some sort of hidden negative truths that manufacturers allegedly are failing to mention to consumers regarding LED lighting alternatives as well as decry what the author sees as complete ignorance on the part of the media and the public, I have to say I found the piece ironic due to what appears to be ignorance on the part of the author. I’ve written heavily on the subject of LEDs, and since having to research LED development and manufacturer advances on a common basis is part of that writing responsibility, I spotted some glaringly obvious mistakes and outright fallacies within seconds of reading the piece that I’d like to address here.
Ed starts out well and points out quite rightly that consumers do indeed generally assume because a bulb is touted as a 40-60 watt LED replacement, it must be applicable to the same installations as well, such as within closed housings and down lighting. He then goes on to imply that CFLs have met this sort of consumer expectation, albeit without stating it outright and instead relies on implication through comparison. This is certainly understandable, but the mistake made here is twofold, first, that CFL’s have met consumer expectations with only few minor qualifications, and second, that CFLs are applicable to all the same uses as the incandescent bulb they replace, that is, within enclosed fixtures. He then goes on to address the issue of LEDs and consumer expectations regarding them by stating that consumers expect to be able to simply screw in an LED 40-60 watt equivalent just as they would a CFL alternative, and that this is not the case because of the LEDs sensitivity to excessive heat buildup. His claim culminates in a conclusion that says LED 40-60 watt replacements are unsuitable for anywhere except open air installations, and that anything other, even the addition of a lamp shade, will degrade the LED bulbs operating life.
Now, it would be simple if this ended there. Unfortunately, Ed also implies that every single manufacturer of these LED bulbs completely ignores these claimed facts and does nothing to address them. This is patently false, and can be easily demonstrated as we will do here.
Now, the problems here are pretty clear for those familiar with the development and marketing of alternative light sources such as CFLs and LEDs. First and foremost, it is quite clear that CFLs are not directly compatible with any old fixture and performance can indeed suffer if heat management is not considered. CFLs like LEDs are heat sensitive. Too little ventilation and the resulting heat buildup can significantly reduce their operational life, as many a consumer has learned the hard way. Additionally, this issue is commonly addressed on the packaging of CFLs, which usually makes clear whether or not a particular CFL is suitable for use within enclosed fixtures. So, we have to assume the idea put forth in the article by Ed, that CFLs meet the consumer expectation of being a screw in replacement, is false and misleading. Consumer Reports for instance directly addresses the issue of CFLs and enclosed fixtures by stating, “Only if the package says so. Otherwise, air cannot circulate around the bulb and heat will build up. Heat is the enemy of CFLs. It can dim the light and shorten the bulb’s life.” Energy Star also makes clear the issue with enclosed fixtures and CFLs, stating, “Before using a CFL in a totally enclosed fixture, you should consult the product packaging. CFLs that are not designed for totally enclosed fixtures will typically carry a disclaimer that indicates that they are not intended for this type of application. Because totally enclosed fixtures do not allow air to circulate around the lamp, it causes heat to build up, which can lead to performance issues.”
Now, this does nothing to change the fact that consumers generally will assume that because a bulb is touted as a 40-60 watt equivalent, it must be suitable for all the same applications, but that is not the crux of the issue here. The issue here is the erroneous information being provided and Ed’s claim that manufacturers are ignoring the incompatibility of LED equivalents with enclosed fixtures and not informing the public of this fact and are not addressing it. This too is patently false, as the following will demonstrate.
Leading developer and manufacturer of LED lighting technology CREE has recently come out with an LED 60 watt equivalent they are promoting as a breakthrough due to dropping below the $10.00 price barrier and providing exceptional performance. For this bulb, the product literature clearly states its suitability for use with enclosed fixtures, which makes this another first. Before this bulb, CREE’s website FAQ’s clearly point out that their products are not suitable for enclosed fixture use, only open air and semi enclosed fixtures. Philips and Switch Lighting also state in their product literature that unless otherwise noted, their products are not suitable for enclosed fixtures, and now also offer LED bulbs suitable for use in enclosed fixtures. The important point here, is that these companies make clear that their products prior to their newer offerings, were indeed not suitable for enclosed fixture applications. So, not only have manufacturers been making clear their products should not be used in enclosed fixtures, but they obviously have been addressing the problem of heat management in enclosed fixture applications, as the release of their new enclosed fixture suitable bulbs obviously attests. If this was not an important issue for these manufacturers, why tout their new offerings as now being compatible with enclosed fixtures?
To make matters more complicated, Ed appears to fail to mention that air contacting a heat source will not remain in a stagnant state. That is, as heat is radiated by an object, it heats the air around it, which in turn causes this heated air to rise, in effecting creating a small thermal air current around the heat source. As this heated air rises, cooler air is pulled in behind it, until it too is heated and in turn rises away from the heat source as well. This is the primary way heat is radiated away from heat sinks and the like which do not incorporate active cooling in the form of a fan. LED replacement bulbs do indeed utilize heat sinks, which is the reason for the finned designed of LED bulbs, and it is extremely doubtful the addition of a simple lamp shade would have any effect at all on the process of cooling since there is more than sufficient air flow available to maintain the expected heat radiating efficiency of the LED bulbs integral heat sink. A completely enclosed fixture causing overheating? Certainly possible. A fixture with enough ventilation to allow the movement of heated air out of the fixture? Much less likely and very dependant on too many variables to accurately predict premature failure, much less claim failure is inevitable.
The bottom line here is that Ed’s claims simply don’t pass muster, and it is confusing as to why he would make such claims, when it is clear LED lighting manufacturers have put a great deal of effort into not only developing ever more practical LED light sources, but providing educational information to the public as well. Perhaps the greatest disservice done here has been to cast the lighting industry, media, and public itself as ignorant or somehow uncaring of the realities and limitations of new lighting technologies such as LEDs. Thanks to premature release and the CFL introduction debacle before them, the introduction of LED lighting to the public has been an uphill battle. While Ed is decrying the attention given to adding frills and needless accessories to LED luminaires, (something I can’t even find enough examples of to merit concern) and stating we should instead be making sure LEDs are even more practical and reliable, he is ignoring entirely the real issues associated with a new and complex lighting technology such as this. Issues which include educating the public as to the proper way to evaluate LED performance against the incandescent bulbs they are accustomed to, and getting the lighting industry to formulate and follow a cohesive set of testing and certification standards that will allow a more realistic and homogenous performance level expectation across all brands.
LED manufacturers have as their main concern getting LED technology matured at the fastest rate possible, and the rapid advancements in LED technology as well as the rapidly growing understanding of LED technology among the general public demonstrates this. The real problem facing the lighting industry and the public when it comes to LEDs is one of technological change and finding ways to encourage acceptance of that change, not simple ignorance and slight of hand on the part of manufacturers.