Secrets of the LED
As LEDs are becoming exponentially more commonplace in homes and businesses, anyone late to this new wave of lighting may find themselves lost in the nuances of the contemporary lightbulb. LEDs can be as unassuming and simple as the bulb for your table lamp or as confounding as the installation of an LED T8 tube. Whatever your lighting situation may be, there are a few misconceptions that newcomers often assume apply to these low energy, wonder lights.
LED may have external OR internal drivers. Similar to fluorescent lights, LEDs require a device to regulate the power supplied to the bulb. This device is called an LED driver. LED drivers can be installed separately from the bulb, not unlike how ballasts are installed independently of their fluorescent companions. However, LED drivers can also be incorporated into the LED as an integrated driver. This is comparable to the CFL bulb, which is a fluorescent but generally comes self-ballasted or has a ballast included inside the bulb.
Rope light needs a driver (and some tape light runs on USBs). Since we are talking about drivers, it should be noted that your outdoor rope light can be incandescent or LED. LED rope light does require a driver not only to regulate the power but, as explained in a recent article about voltage, to reduce or convert it to 12 or 24 volts for outdoor lighting. LED tape light, also known as strip lighting, is adhesive and for indoor use only. Some tape light can be powered by USB, so you can easily run it with your computer or any other USB outlet.
Many LED T8 tubes are non-shunted, and therefore, need tombstones. Before you scratch your head, non-shunted means the contacts inside the lampholder are not bridged and you can send two different signals independently, meaning you have “hot” and neutral wires coming from the socket. Most LED T8 tubes only need power on one end to function, so they get both signals through one socket. Non-shunted lampholders can handle both wire signals, whereas shunted lampholders handle one of the signals on each end. Occasionally you may find an LED T8 that operates with both ends, so check the installation instructions or product specifications from the manufacturer.
Yes, LEDs can overheat, that’s why they have heat sinks. Although LEDs consume less power, thereby producing less thermal output, they do generate heat and can overheat. Some may call it ugly, but those space-age fins at the base of the bulb help to draw in air and draw out heat, keeping the diodes in working order and ensuring a long lifespan. When you cover up that heat sink with—something like a globe-shaped cover for a ceiling fan—you are essentially creating an oven with temperatures that will shorten the life of your LED and render it inefficient. Just keep in mind that, unless the LED—visible heat sink or not—is rated as suitable for enclosed fixtures, stick to open-shaded fixtures and lamps.
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Elements of title image used with the permission of Jin Zan.