Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have invaded the lighting market, but many consumers are still trying to make sense of the product onslaught. To minimize the confusion, lighting manufacturer Bulbrite Industries is conducting a series of free monthly webinars on "LED Basics." Each one-hour event will outline the fundamentals of LED technology and instruct consumers on what to look for when buying a fixture or bulb. The first webinar was held June 11.

Given the ban on incandescent bulbs mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, "LEDs are a [particularly] hot topic right now," says Eric Choi, the Bulbrite products specialist who led the June 11 event. Consumers in particular "are looking for energy-efficient products." (At least, those who are aware of the restrictions are. As reported by our sister magazine, ARCHITECTURAL LIGHTING, most consumers are unaware that incandescents will be phased out in the United States beginning in 2012. (Click here for the story.)

Unlike incandescents, which generate light by heating a filament, LEDs produce light from a chip, or diode (hence their name). This diode is filled with positive and negative particles and "holes," Choi told webinar attendees. When the power is activated, the two types of particles move toward the holes to form a bond. This releases energy in the form of light.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), LED lighting offers many benefits. Energy Star-qualified residential LED lighting uses at least 75 percent less energy than incandescents and lasts 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, the organization says on its website. What's more, LEDs are mercury-free (unlike CFLs) and are durable, because they have no moving parts.

Although they once were limited to secondary applications (landscape lighting, for example), LEDs now can be used throughout the home. They're available as fixtures or as replacement bulbs for CFLs or incandescents.

Unfortunately, LED technology still comes with a higher price tag. Efficiency and light quality also can vary widely by product.

Before purchasing an LED product, Choi recommends consumers do the following:

  • Check out its total lumens. This measurement shows how much light is coming out of the product. Compare it to the lumen output of the incandescent you're replacing to see if the LED will perform the way you want.
  • Look at the life hours. This will tell you how long the product will last.
  • Review its efficiency. Will it consume less watts than your incandescent?