What Are the Benefits of LED Lights?

Jason Michael White
Updated February 3, 2016
electrician installs LED lighting in home
Electrician Michal Malinowski of Rein Electric Inc. in Libertyville, Ill. installs a recessed LED light. (Photo by Gilbert Boucher)

LEDs are becoming the new standard in home lighting.

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LED lighting guide

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.

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Angie’s List member Sarah Smith didn’t have the balance to climb a ladder, so she relied on her son every time she needed to change a light bulb. The Houston resident installed light-emitting diodes, called LEDs, which last about 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs, meaning Smith can now stop bothering her son to change a dead bulb so often. “He has kids of his own now, so I don’t ask him for help as much,” says the 71-year-old. “Now I’m hoping I won’t have to. At least not with the light bulbs.”

Environmentally friendly LED bulbs continue to grow in popularity because of their longevity and energy savings. Once reserved for landscape lighting, consumers began installing LEDs indoors as manufacturers made improvements. Early versions of LEDs often cast a blue hue, but now the bulbs can mimic the white or yellow glow of incandescent or fluorescent lights.

With these advances, home improvement stores are making LEDs more available to consumers, and selling a wider variety of bulbs, says Elizabeth Ware, a program coordinator with the American Lighting Association. “Stores like Home Depot now carry a bunch of LEDs, and several years ago, that wasn’t the case,” she says. “The technology was not as advanced.”

The improvements came as the government passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, requiring manufacturers to phase out high wattage incandescent bulbs. In 2012, manufacturers stopped producing 100-watt incandescent bulbs, followed by 75-watt bulbs in 2013 and 40- and 60-watt bulbs this year. Kathryn Gallagher Emery, a spokeswoman for The Home Depot, says they expect to run out of these bulbs by late spring. She says they’ll direct customers towards energy-efficient lighting, with LEDs being the best option, followed by CFLs, and then high-efficiency incandescent bulbs that must use 27 percent less energy. 

Dropping costs are helping to drive LED sales. For instance, an LED floodlight that cost $85 three years ago is about $19 today, and you can find LEDs as low as $10, says manager Jean Leeper of Indiana Lighting Center in Indianapolis.

Comparing LED, CFL and incandescent light bulbs

To see a cost comparison spreadsheet, visit eartheasy.com.

Cut energy costs

An LED bulb generally lasts around 50,000 hours, meaning a single bulb can last 10 to 15 years, says Leeper. In comparison, an old-school incandescent bulb generally lasts about 2,000 hours, she says.

In addition to their longevity, LED bulbs use about 20 to 25 percent of the energy a typical incandescent consumes, says Scott Gowdy, owner of Gowdy Electric in Matthews, North Carolina. “You spend more money upfront, but in the long term, the bulbs pay for themselves and then end up saving you money,” Gowdy says.

Although LED bulbs cost more than incandescent bulbs, the price of LED bulbs continues to decrease to reasonable levels, Gowdy says. “Think of it like what happened with flat-screen TVs,” he says. “At first they always cost $1,400 or more. Now you can buy one for under $1,000. That’s not something we saw overnight; it happened over time.”

Fast Fact:

In 2007, the federal government passed legislation to phase out incandescent light bulbs.

Blue no more

Angie’s List member Jenny Young of Fishers, Indiana, wanted the energy savings and long life of LEDs, but she found herself concerned about their color. “I didn’t want to spend all this money and then have it look blue,” she says.

So she set up a free preview with a lighting company. Previews let you test different positions, bulb types and beam spreads to achieve the exact look you want for your home or yard. Lighting companies typically offer previews before asking customers to sign contracts. “I can’t imagine doing it another way,” Young says.

LEDs now do a better job of mimicking the color of incandescent light, Leeper says. They come in a mix of colors, determined by the color temperature, measured in Kelvin. A higher temperature will emit a bluer light. A 2,700 Kelvin LED bulb comes closest to mimicking the color of incandescent bulbs, Leeper says. Most bulb packaging lists the Kelvin for consumers to see, she says.

Specialty LED lighting can add a stylish, contemporary look. (Photo by Brandon Smith)

Using LEDs indoors

LEDs work well for accent lighting and under-cabinet lighting, and in recent months, consumers started using LEDs more frequently in their hallways, kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms, says Anthony Rein, owner of Rein Electric in Libertyville, Illinois. “We’re seeing people use them more and more for main lighting; that’s been really recent,” Rein says. “People are becoming more savvy about LEDs and requesting them. A year ago, we didn’t have much of that.”

You can light up your living room or kitchen with 100 to 120 watts of power when using an LED bulb, says James Merkey, owner of Arise Enterprises/Arise & Shine in Houston. He says it would take 600 watts of power to light the same room with an incandescent bulb.

LEDs are directional by nature, meaning their light emits a focused beam. Light packaging should include information on “beam spread,” which lists the amount of beam diffusion. Wide lenses can produce up to 360 degrees of light, whereas more focused options include 60 degrees or even 10 degrees.

You can use LEDs throughout your kitchen. Recessed lights are an option, but the flexible nature of LEDs makes them a great choice for under-cabinet lighting strips or to illuminate floating shelves. You can place them under the surface of a frosted glass countertop to show off its texture, or you can run along “toekicks” at the bottom of cabinets and kitchen islands to provide a pop of color.

You can also employ LEDs in creative ways not possible with incandescents, such as motion-sensitive lights inside drawers, cupboards or other dark spaces, or as lighting in recessed ceiling spaces to play up architectural features such as molding or millwork.

LED chandeliers, pendant lights and track lighting are all great ways to highlight kitchen features.

LED ceiling light fixture
Mirrors and coatings can diffuse LED light throughout a room. (Photo courtesy of Angie’s List member John C. of San Antonio)

Hiring tips for LED installation

Experts recommend hiring a licensed electrician or lighting contractor if your LED installation requires electrical work.

Handymen are OK for small jobs, but by no stretch should they be wiring LED lights or major lighting fixtures,” says Mark Zimmerman, owner of Zimmerman Electric in Surprise, Arizona.

Make sure you hire a contractor who has experience with LEDs, Rein says. LEDs include pieces of technology new to light bulbs, such as drivers that control current and regulate power to the LED.

“It’s not anything a newer electrician couldn’t figure out, but there is a bit of a learning curve,” Rein says. “If you go with an electrician who has that LED experience, your chances of getting a better install and better product are going to be greatly increased.”

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