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Understanding LED: a layman's perspective!

Updated: Sep 4, 2018

When I used to hear the word 'electricity' memories of a 14 year old girl sitting perplexed in a Physics class used to spring to mind. Electricity as a sub-topic was by far my weakest area of studies, I just never understood it and that led to an incredible fear of the topic. This led to some pretty creative means of cheating; for example, I once peeled off the label covering my water bottle, printed rows upon rows of formulas on the inner side of the label and then reattached it to my transparent bottle. If only the 14 year old me could channel that kind of dark genius into something more productivity (and less improper!).

Fast forward some 15 years and I'm proud to say that I have a much greater understanding of the ins and outs of electricity and specifically of LED lighting (and I can't quite get enough of it!). So if someone like me can do it, there's no reason you can't too. I shall now try to cover the basics of LED lighting.

1. What are LEDs?

LED stands for Light Emitting Diodes and they convert electricity into light.

2. How do LEDs work?

The light comes about when electricity moves along a semiconductor material. Once the light has been created you can then alter it's direction by changing the shape of the lens of the LED. For example, the Lumanor COB GU10 Retrofit LED has a beam angle of 38 degrees, great for using in living rooms or commercial stores . Whilst the Lumanor A60 GLS has a beam angle close to 360 degrees, useful in some working environments where a large work space requires lighting up.

The images above are not to scale. Click to learn more.

3. What is the difference between an incandescent bulb and an LED bulb? What are LED's advantages?

From a non-specialist perspective the main difference between LEDs and your traditional light bulbs (referred to as incandescent bulbs) is that they don't get very hot nor do they have a filament that can burn out. Incandescent bulbs often burn out after a few hundred hours of use (sometimes even less that this) however LEDs have been seen to last in the realms of 50,000 hours!

You'll also hear a lot of people in the industry talk about LED's greater efficiency. In a nutshell, incandescent lamps produced their light because electricity is trying to flow through a very resistive filament, and the difficulty of doing this means the filament heats up so much and starts to glow! The glowing is what causes the light. This is an incredibly inefficient way to get light. You are losing a lot of energy in the form of heat with this type of product. LEDs operate in such a way that a significantly high percentage of the electricity that goes in is converted to light, not heat, unlike traditional bulbs.

Additionally, LEDs tend to be much more durable. For example, drop a traditional incandescent light bulb and you'll have shattered glass and a torn filament. Drop a GU10 lamp and you've got a far greater chance that the product will still be in one piece. That being said I have taken the liberty of throwing LED bulbs around (all in the name of science of course) and did have some LED lamps break beyond repair after dropping them. To conclude? They are not guaranteed nor designed to be dropped around however just as more of a side point to note, they are sturdier relatively speaking.

4. What does Colour Temperature mean? What is a Kelvin?

In the gloriously bright world of LED the colour of light that your LED gives out is referred to as the LED's colour temperature. It will feel backwards as you first get to grips with the scale however the higher the temperature the colder the light. So 2700 Kelvin is considered a warm and cosy temperature and 6000 Kelvin is much colder and crisp light.

The three most popular colour temperatures available from LED. (Left to right: Warm White, Natural White, Cool White)

I reached out to a couple of the main manufacturers of LED asking them to explain to me where the colour temperature becomes a significant factor. Surely the LED just needs to replicate its predecessor and everyone will be satisfied? Well not exactly. Those that replied (I thank for your courtesy) told me all roughly the same thing. For example a customer service representative from Lumanor summarised it in a rather short and simple email by giving some examples of where their bulbs have been used.

"...You'd be surprised how the ability to have such a wide range of coloured light with greater efficiency has changed things for commercial outlets. Our COB GU10 6 Watt bulb in the colour 6000 Kelvin (Cool Light) is currently being used in three of the most famous jewelers of London. They couldn't believe the difference it had made to showing off their merchandise..." Customer Service Representative of Lumanor lighting.

He then went on to tell me more about a specific product in their range that can do three different colours in one (the Lumanor Tri-colour downlight). For the creative types like me I absolutely love the idea that if I had that in my home, whether its my kitchen, living room, bedroom, I can change the colour of the light as I please!

5. Red, White or Beer?

Congratulations! You've made it to the end of the article! I suspect that you have now had more than enough of your fair share of learning and you thoroughly deserve a nice drink to reward yourself. Whether your tea total or enjoy hitting the hard stuff,

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