LED Lighting Terms Everyone Should Know

As LEDs continue to reign supreme over incandescent and fluorescent options, it’s important to familiarize yourself with certain LED terms so that you can understand the advantages and select the best LED products for your project. While early LED lighting was primarily used in commercial settings, advancements in technology has caused it to shift substantially to residential applications as well. More and more consumers are making the switch over to LEDs – realizing that while it may require a larger initial investment, the long-term benefits outweigh the cost. 

LED, which stands for “Light Emitting Diode,” is a two-lead semiconductor light source that emits light when an electrical current is passed through it. During this engineering process, energy is released in the form of photons. But let’s not get too technical – what you really need to know is that LEDs are more efficient at turning energy into light compared to incandescent and fluorescent lamps. By using less energy, LEDs are able to last a lot longer and don’t give off as much heat as traditional lighting.

Today, more lighting fixtures are utilizing integrated LEDs. These are LEDs designed into the fixture permanently unlike those with removable LED bulbs. An advantage of integrated LEDs is that they allow lighting manufacturers to create a sleeker, slimmer fixture. At ½” thin, these innovative LED downlights can install in places where no other recessed lighting fixture can. PRO tip: if you choose this type of light, make sure it comes with a good warranty attached.

So, how long do LEDs last? A long time! Most LED lamps are routinely quoted to last somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 hours. In comparison, a typical incandescent bulb will last 1,000 to 2,000 hours. LED lighting doesn’t burn out like traditional light sources either; instead it slowly dims over time. Often when shopping for an LED fixture, you’ll see something like “50,000 hours to L70” or “50,000 hours to 70 percent.” That means you can expect the LED lighting to last at least 50,000 hours, and at that point will be running with at least 70 percent of its original output (or a 30 percent reduction). Long lamp life combined with the reduced power used to create the light, is what makes this technology so promising.

Let’s continue…

One of the best things about LED technology is that it allows you to create your own custom lighting design using color temperature, brightness, warmth, and efficiency. 

Correlated Color Temperature or “CCT.” Most LED lighting products offer a choice of color temperature in various hues of white. That temperature, or CCT, is measured in degrees of Kelvin (K), on a scale of 1,000 to 10,000. The higher the degrees of Kelvin, the closer the light’s color output will be to actual sunlight. A warmer white is usually 3000K or less, while a neutral white commonly has a temperature of 4000K. At 5000K and higher on the Kelvin scale, the result is a “cool” white light. Typically, Kelvin temperatures for commercial and residential lighting applications fall somewhere between 2500K and 5000K. It’s important to consider the color temperature when choosing your fixture, so that the look and feel of the light matches the mood and atmosphere you’re trying to set. 

Color Rendering Index or “CRI.” The CRI scale gained popularity when LEDs started becoming more prevalent in homes. CRI goes hand in hand with color temperature when selecting the right lighting for your application. Essentially, CRI is an assessment of how well the light source shows object colors in their natural form. Think of it this way: in today’s world of social media we’re used to seeing things shown through various filters and apps, which alters how the object or subject looks in “real life.” With CRI, the aim is to remove the filters and accurately display colors the way they are – from artwork hanging on the wall, to food being prepared in the kitchen. On the CRI scale of 1 to 100, LED light sources with a CRI of 90+ are considered to be the best at color rendering. The higher the CRI, the more accurate your colors will look under LED lighting. 

Lumens and Watts. When shopping for LED lighting, you’ll often see lumens and watts used together. For example Lm/W = Lumens per watt. Many people confuse watts as the measure of light output. It’s actually the amount of lumens that is used to measure the “perceived power” of light. The higher the lumens, the brighter the light appears to be. A watt is a unit of electrical power that measures how much energy is being used – basically what you pay for on your utility bill.

Lumens per watt is an important factor when shopping for LED lighting. Meanwhile, an equivalent incandescent bulb uses 60 watts to produce the same number of lumens.

What about dimming?

Lighting control is becoming increasingly popular as is consumers’ demand for a smart, connected home. Being able to adjust light levels in a room is essential, and we recommend the use of dimmers wherever possible. Good LED lighting manufacturers will use LEDs that are dimmable, but it’s important to always check when shopping, and don’t just assume that every fixture can dim. Dimming is also another way to save energy and lower your operating costs. (All of the LED lighting products shown in this post are fully dimmable!)

Other useful terms:

  • Line Voltage vs. Low Voltage. Line voltage is the standard voltage (120 volts) found in outlets and junction boxes in the United States and Canada. For this, line voltage fixtures are essentially plug-and-play. Low voltage lighting on the other hand, typically uses 12 or 24 volts and requires a transformer to lower the line voltage from 120 volts to avoid burning out the low voltage bulb. The transformer for low voltage lighting is either built into the fixture or located remotely. 
  • L70 / LM80 Rating. As we explained above, L70 is simply a measure of the time it takes for a light source to degrade to 70 percent of its original output. LM80 is the Department of Energy (DOE) approved testing method used for measuring lumen depreciation of LED light sources.
  • DLC Listed. In many places, energy companies offer rebates when a commercial building changes their lighting over to LED. DLC is a list of approved LED fixtures used by energy companies to provide those rebates. In order to receive a rebate for switching to LED, your fixture must be on the list.
  • IC Rated. IC stands for ‘insulation contact.’ An IC Rated recessed light can be used in a ceiling that is insulated without running the risk of overheating.


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