LED light fixtures: Green and not-so-Green
Updated: Nov 11
Yes, absolutely, everyone and every building should be converting to LED light sources. The cost savings for energy use are tremendous and in many jurisdictions required in order to reduce overall energy use. So what's the down side?
Before investing in lighting for your building or home, it's important to have a bit of knowledge about sourcing appropriate LED light fixtures. Importantly, be aware that any fixture identified as an “integrated” LED may not be what you expect. In today’s market, fixtures with integrated LED modules are often times the least expensive. You'll find them at Home Depot, Lowes and other retailers. They’re inexpensive because you throw away the entire fixture after the LEDs wear out. But what prompted this blog was encountering fixtures from Rejuvenation—which has a reputation for quality—selling lighting with “integrated” LEDs at a cost of $500-$600 apiece!
So what does “integrated” mean? It means that the LED module is completely enmeshed into the structure of the light fixture. It means that there is no opportunity to “change the light bulb.” It means the after it gets thrown out an entirely new replacement fixture must be purchased and installed. The added costs here are self-evident: new light fixture versus new light bulb; the cost of removing and installing a new fixtures versus changing a light bulb.
Which approach is more cost-friendly? Which is more energy efficient? Which is more environmentally friendly?
Clearly consuming less wattage to light your spaces by using LED is a no-brainer from both a cost and an environmental standpoint. But “integrated” LED light fixtures pose a series of issues from both those perspectives and more:
Fiscal & Utility Costs:
There is no opportunity to simply “change the bulb”—which is usually the less expensive option.
Consider the increased costs of new replacement fixtures and installation instead of a new “light bulb.”
Even if the decision is to go with an integrated LED fixture, finding the exact same replacement fixture when the time comes may well be a problem. After the typical longer lifespan of the LEDs, manufacturers will have moved on and will be producing different light fixtures.
And, there is the related issue of fixtures “dying” at different times, which wreaks havoc with trying to maintain an even light distribution (and color temperature) throughout the space being lit, especially if five years down the road you can't find an exact replacement for the fixtures.
Tossing out an entire light fixture is a tremendous waste of resources. It's a sheer waste of all the energy, labor and raw materials — basically everything that goes into making the fixture in the first place.
Throwing out a fixture rather than a bulb adds significantly to our landfill heaps.
And, for many this is an environmental-ethical dilemma. Increasing the volume of waste we produce is the utter opposite of what we ought to be doing to our planet.
Recycling of your fixtures may be possible, but the strategy of recycling your now defunct light fixtures is not the optimal strategy on the green/sustainability pyramid.
Re-use of a product is the next most sustainable waste reduction strategy, which suggests that finding a light fixture that can be re-lamped with a new LED light bulb when needed might be a better option. That’s is the what we recommend typically.
To sum it up, here are three tips on selecting the appropriate LED light fixtures for your project needs:
—Look for your standard light fixtures that allow for LED retrofit bulbs that are replaceable, just as we have been used to since the electric light bulb was invented.
—Look for LED fixtures that have replaceable LED modules. These tend to be the higher-end fixtures.
—Avoid integrated LED fixtures unless ………Hmm, is there any good upside here?
P.S. There is so much more to know about selecting appropriate LED lighting for specific interior design functions, but that is a great subject for another blog—