LEDs aren’t just for holiday lighting and children’s toys.
Video: How to Choose Outdoor Light Fixtures
Just a few years ago, LED bulbs were expensive and not as bright as those incandescents we're used to. But that's changing quickly.
Outdoor LEDs Light up the Night
Due to recent improvements in technology and falling costs, LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are quickly becoming the go-to lighting choice for all types of outdoor illumination.
LEDs were originally used for landscape lighting, but improvements in lumen output and color temperature now make them a viable choice for porch lights, floodlights and home security.
The U.S. Department of Energy says LEDs last 25 times longer and use 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. The only real drawback is the high initial cost, but lighting pros say it’s easy to recoup costs through lower utility bills. “Normally you will see a return on investment after three or four years,” says Robert van der Putten, owner of highly rated Outdoor Lighting Perspectives in Clearwater, Florida.
Part of the advantage of exterior LED lighting is its ability to generate any color of light and beam spread, from 360 degrees to a more focused 100 or 30 degrees. “The technology definitely offers the full spectrum of intensities and color of light, so LEDs can compete with any existing incandescent, fluorescent or any other type of bulb,” van der Putten says.
For sun-quality brightness, try an LED with a color temperature around 5,000 Kelvin, which approximates daylight. To create an inviting patio or hot tub space, pick a light around 2,500 K, which is similar to household incandescent bulbs.
LEDs for home security
Lighting pros say LEDs are an efficient choice for outdoor lighting because most security lights run continuously from dusk until dawn, so energy savings quickly add up. Van der Putten says homeowners often install LEDs in hard-to-reach spots to avoid frequent bulb replacement.
Wesley Sedain, owner of Alley Electric in Fremont, California, says he’s seen an increase in homeowners installing LED floodlights and motion-activated security lights above garages and along the sides of a home to illuminate dark pathways. “Incandescent bulbs tend to give more of a yellowish color light, and if you have a real dark area on the side of your home that you’re trying to light up, the LEDs work great because they’re very bright and can turn that area almost into daylight.”
Unlike incandescent bulbs, many LEDs don’t have a glass globe cover, making them harder for a burglar to dismantle.
Limitless landscaping uses
You can add LEDs to your outdoor spaces in unlimited ways. Some popular uses include installing LED spotlights to showcase specific areas of the lawn or landscaping, lining walking paths with LED track lighting, hanging LED rope lights along deck handrails and recessing small LEDs in porch steps. Colored LEDs can add life to backyard pond and waterfall or spruce up a boring pool deck.
LEDs are safer than incandescent bulbs because they produce minimal heat and reduce the chance of fire.
“Those bulbs don’t get as hot as traditional halogen bulbs,” van der Putten says. “I’ve seen fixtures melt because landscapers put stuff on top of them.”
Illuminating the holidays
Strands of LED lights still cost more than their incandescent counterpart, but lighting pros say falling prices will only increase their popularity. “The LEDs use less wattage, so you can actually have more lights and use less energy,” Sedain says.
Van der Putten says LEDs put less stress on the home electrical system. “With Christmas lights, people use existing outlets,” he says. “If you use incandescent [holiday lights] they can easily overload the outlets and then the circuit breaker trips. That’s a lot of annoyance, especially in the season when you want everything to look good. With LEDs that problem will hardly exist. You can use almost an unlimited amount of lights without using a lot of power on the [electrical] system.”