The LED revolution continues to promise many lighting benefits, such as compact size, energy efficiency, long service life with long mean time between failures, no mercury disposal, a resistance to shock and vibration, and no radiated heat or UV output. However, combine high demand for this hot, young technology with rapid product proliferation, continuing emergence of critical standards, and relative lack of industry education and experience, and many installations are failing user expectations.

How can electrical contractors protect themselves and their customers from these risks associated with white LED illumination?

Consider the entire story. The easy path to selecting an LED product is to choose the lowest wattage for the lowest price. That way, the customer can maximize energy savings for the lowest cost. This approach, however, can just as easily lead to poor performance and failed customer expectations.

In lighting design, designers light the space first and then choose equipment that best satisfies the application need. This is a lower risk approach to selecting products because the choice is based on complete project requirements.

Beyond watts, specifiers should account for other basic metrics, such as light output (lumens), resulting efficacy (lumens per watt or LPW), rated life (hours), correlated color temperature (K) and color rendering index rating (CRI). These metrics will answer the questions: How much light does it produce? How much light does it produce per watt? How long will it last? What is the color tone—warm, neutral or cool? And how naturally does it render colors and flesh tones in a space?

Even these basic metrics do not tell the whole story of a lighting product. Other attributes include light distribution, glare control, center beam intensity, compatibility with dimmers, ratings for indoor or outdoor use or both, suitability for installation in enclosed spaces or spaces with contact with insulation, the warranty, and others.

Get educated about lighting and LEDs. Translating application needs into LED product selection requires a basic understanding of lighting and specific knowledge about LEDs. The objective is to acquire equivalent or superior performance to conventional sources while gaining the unique advantages of the LED.

For example, LEDs radiate little heat, but the performance is highly sensitive to heat generated inside the LEDs themselves. Some LEDs may last 100,000 hours as advertised, but by that point, only a fraction of useful light will continue to be emitted. A given retrofit lamp might be touted as equivalent to an incandescent A-lamp but only in certain lighting fixtures where the directional characteristic of the LED improves fixture efficiency.

By understanding all of the lighting metrics applicable to the complete needs of the given application, decision-makers can more easily satisfy those needs by comparing, evaluating and ultimately selecting the right products—while keeping manufacturers honest by seeing through misleading sales claims. Take advantage of manufacturer and independent education. Try a few samples. Get to know the technology.

Can a conventional source do the job just as well? LED lighting is all the rage, offering a high degree of novelty and “cool” to building projects. But, in many cases, it is simply not warranted. There is nothing magic about the LED, which is, ultimately, just another light source. And as such, the LED must prove its value against incumbent technologies.

Fluorescent, for example, is fighting hard to retain its dominance in commercial buildings. Today’s fluorescent lighting systems are proven, reliable, well understood, highly efficient, controllable and offer rated life up to 60,000 hours.

Ceramic metal halide is also an effective competitor in applications requiring strong intensity from a highly compact light source. Systems as small as 15W, with a form factor approaching low-voltage fixtures, deliver strong punch with high efficacy and long life.

Of course, cost is a major issue here. If an LED product is only somewhat better, we must ask if it is worth the premium. The LED product must prove its value by clearly being a better choice.

LED lighting is not cheap. This is a get-what-you-pay-for time in the market for LED technology. Good LED products are highly engineered and, therefore, carry a premium.

Caveat emptor is Latin for “Let the buyer beware.” Industry product testing standards, such as LM79, have been around long enough for reputable manufacturers to be on board; ask for the results of this testing. Ask for details on color quality and life ratings. If the manufacturer cannot back up its claims, it is asking you to accept a higher degree of risk. Ask for demos, try products out and test them for yourself.

If the project has special needs, the manufacturer should be able to demonstrate that it can satisfy them. For example, if the lighting will be dimmed, the lighting product must not only be dimmable, but specifically be listed as compatible with the given control (see “Control Tweak,” page 62). If punch is important, pay attention to center-beam candlepower. If color is important, look at CRI and color temperature, and consider testing the product firsthand. If the product will be used outdoors, ensure that it is specifically built and rated for outdoor use.

Finally, the Department of Energy (DOE) has partnered with the industry on a series of market transformation programs that can help reduce risk among decision-makers. These programs enable electrical contractors to identify, evaluate, compare and select products that have a higher likelihood of satisfying the application needs, reducing risk. For instance, the following programs can be used:

• Lighting Facts: In late 2008, the DOE Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance launched the Quality Advocates Initiative. Manufacturers participating in the program voluntarily pledge to follow certain guidelines and labeling to report claims about performance for their products.

For a product to qualify for Lighting Facts labeling, it is tested to the LM79 standard, and the test data is verified. In a quick, simple, consistent format similar to the Nutrition Facts labeling common on food packaging, the Lighting Facts label summarizes performance data including light output, power, efficacy, color tone and CRI. While it does not tell the whole story of the product—such as rated life, compatibility with dimming, etc.—it provides a useful tool for evaluating and comparing products. In the case of LED omnidirectional replacement lamps intended to replace standard household lamps, such as incandescent A-lamps, the Lighting Facts label may be superseded on Jan. 1, 2012, by new Federal Trade Commission labeling requirements.

As of the time of writing, more than 2,580 products carrying the Lighting Facts label were available from 230 companies. However, be warned that rogue Lighting Facts labels are popping up, even among reputable product manufacturers. Each product is given an ID number for verification; use it. For more information and to see a list of products, visit Energy Star-qualified products, Next Generation Luminaires and Lighting for Tomorrow award winners, and products that participated in DOE demonstration projects are highlighted.

• Energy Star: Energy Star is a voluntary labeling program designed to help consumers identify energy-efficient, cost-effective products on the market. To earn the Energy Star mark, visible on the product label, a manufacturer’s product must meet strict efficiency and performance criteria established by the DOE.

Energy Star criteria for lighting fixtures took effect Sept. 30, 2008, and cover products targeting both the commercial and residential lighting markets: undercabinet kitchen and shelf-mounted task; portable task; recessed downlight and outdoor wall-mounted porch, step and pathway fixtures; surface and pendant downlights; ceiling fixtures with diffusers; cove lighting; surface fixtures with directional heads; outdoor pole/arm decorative fixtures; wall washers; and bollards. Satisfaction of these criteria provide a degree of confidence that a given LED fixture performs—in terms of light output and distribution—as well as, or better than, the product it is intended to replace, while saving energy. As of the time of writing, 1,090 products from nearly 50 manufacturers had received Energy Star qualification.

On Aug. 31, 2010, Energy Star criteria for integral LED directional, omnidirectional, decorative and nonstandard replacement lamps became published. These criteria require the product to provide light output, color and distribution equivalent to incandescent or halogen lamps, while saving energy. As of the time of writing, 129 products from nine companies had received Energy Star qualification.
For more information and to see a list of Energy Star-qualified products, visit

• Next Generation Luminaires (NGL): Sponsored by the DOE, the Illuminating Engineering Society and the International Association of Lighting Designers, the NGL Competition was launched in 2008 to promote excellence in LED luminaire (lighting fixture) design for commercial building general lighting.

Now in its second year, the 2010 awards program recognized 37 products from 138 entries, with four being chosen as “best in class” while 33 were “recognized,” meaning the judges would recommend them to other designers. Five, meanwhile, were deemed “notable,” meaning the judges did not consider them worthy of specification but featuring at least one outstanding characteristic warranting recognition. Products making the grade included accent track lighting, wall washing, industrial lighting, recessed downlighting, decorative pendants, in-grade lighting, street and area lighting, and general lighting.

For more information and to see the winners of the 2010 and 2011 awards programs, visit the NGL website at

• Lighting for Tomorrow: The Lighting for Tomorrow Awards was launched in 2002 by the American Lighting Association, Consortium for Energy Efficiency and the DOE to encourage and recognize excellence in design of energy-efficient residential light fixtures. In recent years, the program expanded to include two categories: fluorescent dimming and white light LED fixtures.

Lighting for Tomorrow helps to increase the market availability of energy-efficient residential lighting products and increase the marketing, promotion and sales of these products. For more information and to see award-winning products, visit

To put things in perspective, industry standards define testing and reporting of product performance. The Lighting Facts label provides a consistent format for reporting this data, enabling easy comparison. Energy Star recognizes products that satisfy or exceed minimum performance criteria. The NGL competition recognizes excellence in product design as judged by lighting designers and other professionals, while Lighting for Tomorrow plays a similar for residential product design.

Pay attention to compatibilities. Ensure that all selected products, components and controls are specifically listed as compatible.

Get to know the manufacturers. What kind of reputation do the various suppliers have? How long have they been in business? Where do they make their products? Do they test and report product performance according to industry standards? Do they offer Lighting Facts and/or Energy Star labeling? Do they test their products for quality assurance before sending them to customers? What kind of products do they offer and for what applications? What kind of sales support do they offer after purchase? Do they back their products with warranties? Do the products carry the necessary certifications? What kind of accessories are available?

Look for quality. By understanding the application’s lighting needs with an educated eye, evaluating the story of a given lighting product, and favoring properly tested and supported products recognized by industry quality initiatives, electrical contractors can feel confidenct that the LED product they choose will do the job they expect it to do—and will satisfy the customer.

DILOUIE, L.C., a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at