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The Definitive Guide to LED Light Bulbs and Spotlights
10 October 2017
Looking for more information about LED light bulbs and spotlights? You've come to the right place. Our product experts have compiled this comprehensive guide to help you find the perfect LED bulb or spotlight for your needs. We cover everything from Kelvins to Lumens, Voltage to Wattage, so you can make the savvy switch to LED lighting with complete confidence. So, let's get started.
What is an LED light?
Let's get back to basics. LED stands for 'light emitting diode' and is a semi-conductor device that turns electricity into light. This device is then encased within a lamp or fixture, thus becoming an LED light you can use in your home. LED lighting is relatively new on the market. Rudimental LED lighting was first developed in the 1960s, approximately 100 years after the invention of the original incandescent bulb, but it wasn’t until the 90s that they became widely-known for their lighting capabilities. Their efficiency, lifespan and versatility are significantly higher than traditional lighting methods, such as incandescent and fluorescent, but we have more of that later.
The different types of LED lighting
Fundamentally, there are three different types of LED technology that are used in LED lighting – DIP, SMD and COB.
Dual In-Line Package (DIP) LEDs
DIP LED Lights
DIP LED chips are the original LED chips and what many recall when they think of LED lighting. While they're older than their younger counterparts, DIP LED chips are still in use today and are more often found built-into electronics due to their diminutive size. They're not very powerful though, and can only emit a limited amount of brightness.
Surface Mounted Diode (SMD) LEDs
SMD LED Spotlight Bulb
These are mounted and soldered onto the circuit board, and are probably the most common type of LED chip available. They are brighter than their DIP predecessors and are also smaller, so even more versatile when it comes to encasing them within smaller electronics or across different types of lighting, such as strip lighting. You can put three diodes on a single SMD chip, which means you can create a range of different colours, offering consumers greater variety. This has been a massive development in the LED market. The two most common types of SMD chip sizes are SMD 3528 and SMD 5050 – the former is 3.5mm wide and the latter is 5mm.
Chip on Board (COB) LEDs
COB LED Spotlight Bulb
These chips represent the latest development in LED technology. COB LED chips are the brightest out of the three, typically being able to pack nine or more diodes onto a single chip. What does this mean for LED lighting? Well, firstly, it improves the brightness-to-energy output, thus increasing lighting efficiency. This also means they can be used across a wide range of different types of lighting. However, it's worth noting that due to the circuitry makeup of a COB LED chip, they're unable to emit an eclectic range of different colours.
Benefits of LED lighting against traditional lighting
The LED lighting industry is predicted to explode over the next few years. Their popularity among consumers and businesses alike is set to sky-rocket, not least from the impact of a proposed ban on incandescent and halogen bulbs set to come into play imminently. Why are the EU proposing such a ban? Well that comes down to the many benefits LED lighting has over their traditional counterparts: halogen and incandescent. Firstly, LED lighting uses up to 90% less energy than incandescent and halogen bulbs, and up to 60% less energy than CFL bulbs – which were the first energy-efficient bulbs to be widely sold. This can vary according to the type of fitting chosen, but the LED remains the leader when it comes to efficiency. LED lighting is far greener than traditional lighting, helping domestic and commercial properties lower their carbon footprint and improve their green credentials and energy ratings - a great advantage for businesses who are being pressured to meet government incentives and energy quotas. With increased efficiency, comes lower energy bills – something everyone can benefit from. Lighting is one of the highest consumers of electricity in your household. Switching all of your lighting to LED will help you save hundreds of pounds per-year. Below is a comparison between typical LED and halogen bulbs:
KWh consumed over 10,000hrs
Typical cost of electricity over 10,000hrs
And the savings don’t stop there either. LED spotlights and bulbs last far longer than halogen, incandescent and CFL bulbs. While older lighting often lasts barely a year, if not just a few months, LED lighting has a 15-year average lifespan, giving you far better value for money and saving on replacement bulbs too. LEDs are also becoming a favourite of interior designers, both amateur and professional alike. This is because of how many colour options you get with LED that you simply don't get with traditional spotlights and bulbs. The light that LEDs beam come in a variety of shades of white light – which is measured in Kelvins (sit tight...this is something else we'll get onto later). This means you can pick different shades of light to match different rooms, styles and decors – so you can really personalise living and work areas to your own tastes.
Types of LED bulb fittings
In the past, LED bulbs weren't always available in the same fittings as traditional bulbs. This has completely changed. Now they're available in a variety of fittings to suit your needs, so everyone can benefit from energy-saving LEDs. And you often don't even need the help of an electrician to fit them. Here's a quick guide to see if the bulb fitting you need is available with LED technology.
E27 (Edison Screw)
E27 bulbs are the most popular around. They're also known as 'Edison Screw' bulbs or simply 'ES'. They're used widely across the UK and also over the Atlantic in the US. They measure 27mm, which is the same as a halogen or incandescent E27, so you can simply pop an LED E27 into an existing E27 fitting – it's completely hassle-free.
E14 (Small Edison Screw)
The screw on an E14 bulb is identical to an E27 but for one thing: it's smaller, measuring just 14mm in diameter, which is why they're often used in small fittings for decorative or purely practical purposes – such as chandeliers and appliances.
Another popular bulb across the West is the B22, or Bayonet, light bulb fitting. It measures 22mm in diameter and is often found hidden behind lamps and lamp shades.
B15 (Small Bayonet)
A smaller alternative to the large B22 bulb, the B15 bulb measures just 15mm in diameter to accommodate smaller fittings.
R50 bulbs – also known as reflector bulbs – feature an E14 Edison screw fitting, but are shaped differently at the top to accommodate different lamp fixtures and uses.
The R63 is a reflector bulb designed with a protruding bulb-cap to accommodate different lighting fixtures, but features a standard E27 Edison base fitting.
LED lighting is ever-evolving and getting smarter too. Now you can fit your home with 'Smart Bulbs', which are incredibly convenient and versatile, and allow you to remotely manage your lighting through voice-control or from a mobile device. The Philips Hue Smart Bulb system allows you to control up to 50 bulbs from your mobile device or through a voice-command system such as Amazon Echo. Through the Philips Hue app, you can: • Switch bulbs off and on remotely and from anywhere in the world • Choose from 16 millions shades of white light to really set the mood across multiple rooms in your home • Dim the lights to create the perfect ambience • Control up to 50 bulbs from a single area • Set-up motion sensor technology to save even more money on your energy bills
Types of LED spotlight fittings
Spotlights are incredibly popular in the modern household. They can be used to highlight decorative items in a stylish way, and are also practical thanks to a flat shape and narrow and wide beam options. Like with the modern LED bulb, the LED spotlight is equally versatile and can often be fitted without additional help from an electrician.
The most popular spotlight fitting around. They're often dimmable and can be used anywhere in the home, from the bathroom to workspaces where you want a little extra focus. Like with an older, less efficient halogen GU10, the LED GU10 features two little pins – or legs – at the base, which means in most cases they can be retrofitted into existing halogen fixtures.
Another popular household spotlight, but not always quite as convenient, the MR16 is the same as the GU10, but features two pins at the base that are slenderer in shape. It's important to note that when replacing halogen MR16s with LED equivalents that your existing transformer – which sends a current to the LEDs – may have a minimum load requirement (the minimum amount of wattage that needs to be loaded through the transformer). This is because LEDs consume so much less energy than halogen. In these circumstances, we'd recommend upgrading to a compatible LED transformer so you don't risk any potential damage to the fitting, the lifespan or the quality of the light.
G9s are smaller and are often found in appliances and electronics. They cast a dimmer light, often only beaming a maximum of 300 lumens.
G4s are similar to G9s, and are often used in appliances or smaller light fixtures. Like with MR16 spotlights, G4s may require a specialised LED compatible transformer if you're switching over from halogen.
Ceiling lights – also known as downlights – are larger spotlight fittings that are often found in more industrial or commercial settings because they are available with higher lumen values. More advanced models come with a PMMA diffuser that helps to create an even light output, which is particularly useful for lighting up larger areas.
Fire rated Downlights
Fire rated downlights offer an 'all-in-one' solution, with a fitting and spotlight both included. These downlights also offer extra peace of mind because they've been tested to fire safety standards to prevent fire from penetrating surrounding areas, such as ceilings and loft spaces above.
Do you need an LED transformer for LED bulbs
Most LED spotlights and bulbs are 'retrofit'. This means that when replacing a halogen or incandescent bulb you can simply pop, screw or clip your LED bulbs into your existing light fittings without the need for an electrician. There are however certain bulbs and spotlights – most notably MR16 and MR11s – that need a constant power supply to operate effectively, so they run off what's called a 'transformer'. A transformer is essentially a power-pack that's used to power your lighting. 12 Volt transformers that are used to power halogen MR11s and MR16s have a minimum load requirement – this is the minimum amount of voltage the transformer needs to power the bulbs they're connected to. Because LEDs use such a small amount of power, they often don't meet this minimum load requirement. While they may still work, it can detrimentally affect the lifespan of the bulbs. So it's advised that you invest in an LED compatible transformer for your new LED bulbs to maintain the quality of their light and their lifespan.
Looking to set a bit of mood lighting? Then you're in luck, because LED bulbs can also dim when fitted with a compatible dimmer switch. You need to ensure that the bulb you purchase has a dimming function, but they will state this on the specifications. The main thing to consider is whether your current dimmer switch can operate an LED bulb, or whether you need an LED compatible dimmer. Most leading edge dimmer switches – which are the most popular for dimming halogen bulbs – have a minimum wattage load of 60W – which is far too high for energy efficient LEDs. If this is the case, you'll need an LED dimmer switch.
LED Filament bulbs (and why interior designers love them!)
Bulbs are now trendy. I'll repeat that: bulbs are now trendy. Thanks to the ever-growing variety of styles available, interior designers are not just taking into account the quality of light that they use in their designs, but also the shape and style of the bulb itself. When you're next at an inner-city bar, cast your eyes around and you'll see a range of glistening filament bulbs hanging exposed from industrial-style pendant fittings. It's a look that's become very much in vogue. When people are renovating their homes, or looking to upgrade their lighting, the filament bulb remains incredibly popular. Traditionally, it was only older fluorescent lighting that was available with a filament. The filament being the flame-like column that glistens from the centre of the bulb and is largely responsible for the actual light it casts. Now LEDs have got in on the act. Those who still want that authentic, vintage look can find it in more modern and efficient LED lighting that can mimic the look to great effect. They're available in many shapes, sizes and fittings, and also have all the energy and money saving capabilities of LED technology.
What bulb shapes are available?
Filament-style LED bulbs are available in a variety of shapes. Here's a selection of the most popular and where they could look great in your home...
Globe-shaped bulbs are larger than most and are ideal for use in open areas. They look fantastic when suspended from high ceilings and fitted within a bare pendant lamp, so the globe is fully exposed.
Golf ball bulbs
Golf ball bulbs are best used to illuminate smaller areas, whether for practical or decorative purposes, because they're diminutive in size than their bigger globe alternatives. Ideal if space is at a premium.
Candle shape bulbs
If you're fortunate enough to own a chandelier, then candle shape bulbs are perfect. They're elegant and compact, and are also available in a frosted finish, which is perfect for use around Christmas and you want something impressive for when friends and family are around.
Flame tip bulb
Looking for something a bit more decadent? Then opt for a flame-tipped bulb. Like a candle shaped bulb, they suit chandeliers and Gothic settings, but they offer something a little stylistically different in the extra twist at the top. They – like the candle shaped bulb – are also available in frosted finishes.
Teardrop bulbs are becoming immensely popular at the moment. They perfectly complement industrial settings and are best suited when fully exposed from a hanging pendant lamp.
Looking for something more subtle and practical? Then never forget the standard shaped bulb. It's incredibly versatile and can be used pretty much anywhere.
LED spotlight beam angles
Beam angle is the angle at which a spotlight casts it light and, in turn, the amount of area that's covered with light. The wider the spotlight beam angle = the more area below covered with light. Halogen spotlight beam angles are restricted to approximately 40 degree angles at most. This means they can only ever offer narrow beam angles. However, LED spotlights are far more versatile. You can still get narrow beam angles which are ideal for decorative areas, but you can also get wider beam angles of 60-110 degrees that are perfect for lighting-up those larger areas, such as living spaces and dining rooms.
LED colour temperatures
As mentioned before, LED spotlights and bulbs are able to cast different shades of white light, giving you more options when renovating your home or upgrading your lighting. This is known as LED colour temperature, which is measured in 'Kelvins'. The higher the Kelvin rating, the 'whiter' or 'cooler' the light. There are 4 main colour temperatures to choose from: • Very warm white (under 2700K) • Warm white (2700-3200K) • Daylight (4000K-5000K) • Cool white (5500K-6500K) Traditional bulbs – such as incandescent and halogen – have only ever been able to offer warm white tones, so this evolution in lighting has given people far more flexibility when creating lighting plans. Kelvins, however, aren't to be confused with Lumens, which measure brightness. Which also conveniently brings us onto the next section...
Lumens vs Wattage, and what you should look out for
Traditionally if you wanted to buy a brighter bulb you'd shop for a higher wattage. However, this is very misleading, particularly when it comes to LED lighting. Instead, you need to look for lumens. Lumens are the only accurate measurement of a light bulb’s brightness. For instance, an LED bulb may consume far less energy – or wattage – than a halogen equivalent, but still have the same level of brightness (lumens). For example, a 50 Watt halogen GU10 spotlight will emit approximately 400 lumens, however a 5 Watt LED GU10 spotlight will also emit 400 lumens. The only difference is that the LED GU10 consumes a tenth of the energy to reach that level of brightness. You now have everything you need to make informed purchases of LED light bulbs and spotlights. You can view our LED light bulbs here, and LED spotlights here.