Our expert, Randall Whitehead, IALD, responds to a recent inquiry about LED downlights.
If you were building a new house today, what kind of recessed lighting would you use? In other words, are LED lights there yet, or are they still just way too expensive?
This is kind of a loaded question. I am not a big fan of recessed downlights, whether they are incandescent, fluorescent or LED, as a way of illuminating a room. They can be part of an overall design, but by themselves, they create unflattering light for people’s faces (unless you are lying on the floor looking up) and they can make a room feel darker and smaller because there is no light reflected off the ceiling. I am using LEDs more for task light over counters, accent light in bookcases and indirect light in coves.
I am very pro-LED and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will live up to the hype. While LED sources are continuing to evolve, it is still a Wild West show out there with little consistency between manufacturers. Color temperature and light output can vary greatly. I try to stick to one manufacturer for an environment, if possible. If it isn’t possible, I test the products before recommending them to make sure that the color temperatures are close enough not to be noticeable.
There is also the issue of dimmability. Some LED products dim with a standard incandescent dimmer, while others dim better with a fluorescent dimmer or an electronic low voltage dimmer. Many manufacturers are now listing on their spec sheets what dimmers they have tested with their products. Companies like Lutron have a chart on their Web sites showing all of the LED products they
have tested in-house, indicating which dimmers in their product line are compatible.
Cost-wise, LED products can be expensive up front, just like dimmable recessed fluorescent fixtures, but they have longevity and efficiency, which helps offset the higher initial cost over time. Whether the newer incandescent-quality LEDs have a 30,000 to 50,000 hour lamp life will be a question that can’t be answered for many years. The colored LEDs have proven themselves to be long-lived because they have been around since the 1960s. Your children’s children will probably still be using those LED holiday lights you bought at Target.