Which LED Should I Buy? – Five Rules of Thumb

a guest post by Lisa J. Reed, Lighting Designer

Which LED Should I Buy

You want to save money on your electric bill. You know that using LEDs can help you save money, but which LED should you buy? If you aren’t a lighting expert, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the vast quantity of LED options in the marketplace. Scratch that – even if you are a lighting expert it is easy to get overwhelmed with the choices.

The good news is that there are some rules of thumb to help narrow down the selection pool. Here are five questions to ask before you buy.


Not how long will the LED last, but how long has the manufacturer been in business? LED warranties are often five years or longer, but anyone can offer a long warranty. If the company no longer exists three years down the road when your product fails, it doesn’t matter that they offered you a five-year warranty when you bought it. It is a good idea to select a manufacturer that has been in business long enough to give you some assurance that they will still be around to back their warranty if necessary.

Industry Standards?

The lighting industry is still in the process of developing metrics to accurately measure LED performance. Many of the old industry standards don’t translate well when it comes to LED applications. There are a few new metrics that are already in place, though. To ensure an apples-to-apples comparison when looking at life and lumen claims for different LED products, check their LM-79 and LM-80 test reports. If they don’t have LM-79 or LM-80 test reports…run the other way!

Color, CRI?

LEDs are also available in warm or cool colors – and they lean toward the cool, bluish end of the spectrum. To get the color that you want, check the color temperature. Lower numbers like 2700K are warmer, and close to an incandescent color. A color temperature of 4000K will be quite a stark white for architectural interior applications, and any number higher than that should be used with discretion. Even though existing metrics aren’t a great measure of LED performance in the CRI category, it’s still worth a look. A CRI in the 80s is similar to a high quality fluorescent. A CRI in the 90s more closely approximates incandescent.

Dimmer Compatibility?

Although LEDs are typically dimmable, not every LED will work with every dimmer. Look for compatibility with your specific dimmer before making final LED selection. Many manufacturers publish compatibility tables. If not, try a sample first.

Get a Working Sample First

In fact, "try a sample first” is a good mantra for everything LED. We are still in a "wild west” stage of LED lighting, and there is only one sure way to know what you are getting. Lay eyes on the product. It is best to see a working sample of the LED you plan to use BEFORE it is on site for installation.

While these rules of thumb are no guarantee of a quality product, they will narrow the field a bit and help you filter out some of the chaff. Do you have other LED rules of thumb to recommend? Let us know in the comments, below.

Lisa J Reed photo - Lighting Blog

Lisa J. Reed has been attracted to lighting (like a moth to a flame) for 20+ years. She is the Founding Principal at Envision Lighting Design, LLC in St. Louis, where she designs, teaches, and writes about architectural lighting.


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