Common LED Lighting Myths | Direct Energy Blog

Common LED Lighting Myths & Facts

Welcome to the Energy Efficiency Myths series from Direct Energy! As many myths arise from incomplete knowledge, they can create seemingly possible answers that many people accept as fact. Each month, we will examine common misunderstandings about energy efficiency — whether it’s in your home or about the energy industry — and deliver real facts behind the myth (and how they they might be costing you money).

Common LED Lighting Myths

There’s never a shortage of myths about new technologies. Even nearly a decade after the introduction of the LED light bulb, there are still misunderstandings about them which, for the most part, are based on faulty knowledge and the resistance to adapt to something new.

Common LED Lighting Myths & Facts | Direct Energy Blog

LED Lighting Technology Facts

Why are LED lights better than incandescent light bulbs?

As many people already know, incandescent light bulbs make light by heating up a coiled tungsten wire filament in a vacuum inside a sealed glass bulb. The amount of power required to make the filament glow at its optimal level (for lifespan and brightness) was rated in watts. Because about 90% of the wattage used goes to heating up the filament, incandescent bulbs are pretty inefficient at making light —but you can use one to bake a cake. Ultimately, the bulb’s filament breaks due to heat —after about 1,000 to 2,000 hours on average.

Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are semiconductors in a transparent epoxy casing. LEDs emit light through electroluminescence — that is, electrical current energizes electrons in the semiconductor material until the electrons emit a photon. Most of the electricity entering an LED is used to make light. It takes just 1.6 volts of DC current to light a single LED.

LEDS can also be built to emit specific colored light by using specific kinds of semiconductor materials to control the wavelength of the light it emits. For example, aluminum indium gallium phosphide (AlInGaP) is used as the semiconductor material for LEDs designed to emit light in wavelengths of 565 to 645 nanometers —or lime-green to red. White LED bulbs, however, rely on mix of colors and phosphor coatings to emit white light. This initially resulted in different manufacturers’ white light bulbs not looking exactly white. It wasn’t until 2008 that an international manufacturer standard codified light output (in lumens) and color temperature (in degrees Kelvin or K°).

Those standards are also being applied to incandescent light bulbs. For example, a standard indoor 60 watt lightbulb has a color temperature of 3,000°K and kicks out 800 lumens.

LED Myths

LEDs last forever.

Because LED bulbs don’t heat up filaments, there’s very little thermal stress —which gives them an extended lifespan. That said, it’s not true that they last forever. LED bulbs work by using what’s called a “driver” circuit. Basically, this is a small circuit board mounted below the LEDs on the bulb. It’s composed of a couple of diodes and a few other semiconductors that change the household 120 AC current into DC voltage. While the LED’s themselves don’t get hot, the semiconductors on this circuit board can get a little warm. On cheaply made or defective LED bulbs, this board can actually get quite hot. When that happens, it’s a sure sign the board will burn out soon. However, for most bulbs with properly working boards, the actual LEDs will last thousands of hours and eventually dim.

Common LED Lighting Myths & Facts | Direct Energy Blog

LED bulbs are so expensive.

LEDs used to be expensive ten years ago. LED prices have fallen by about 1/5, especially as more companies are competing against each other. A six pack of soft white “60 watt equivalent” non-dimmable LED bulbs that only use 9 watts sells for under $15 and each is rated for a 15,000 hour lifespan.

Sure, incandescents bulbs are still dirt cheap — less than 40¢ for a 60 watt bulb with a 2,500 lifespan. But the real expense comes from using the incandescents. A 60 watt bulb will use 150,000 watts during its lifespan – that’s 150 kWh! At 10¢/kWH that adds up to $15 —practically the cost of six pack of LED bulbs! For the same 2,500 hours, a 9 watt LED bulb will use just 22500 watts or 22.5 kWh —$2.25! For my money, that 40¢ incandescent sounds too expensive! In the long term LED bulbs last longer and will save you more money than incandescent bulbs.

LEDs contain hazardous substances.

LED bulbs do not contain mercury, like CFLs or other fluorescents, that leak all over the place when the glass tube is broken. However, the phosphors used in LED bulbs are bound up in the semiconductor material. If any of them are hazardous, they can’t leak.

LEDs have magnetic ballasts that require servicing and/or replacement.

Nope. As already mentioned, LED bulbs use a driver circuit. This is usually mounted below the LEDs themselves. Check out this LED bulb teardown!

All LED light bulbs shine with a very white light.

Remember that LED bulbs can be tuned to have different color temperatures. The trick is knowing what the best temperatures are for what you want the light for and/or where you have the light. Basically, there are three magic number ranges to remember:

  • 2,700 to 3,000 degrees Kelvin (K) —warm white or soft white. This is the same color temperature of tungsten incandescent bulbs.
  • 3,500 to 41,000 degrees Kelvin — Cool white.
  • 50,000 to 65,000 degrees Kelvin — Daylight. Tends to be bluish in comparison to the others. Think sunny, blue-sky day.

LED light is too blue.

Piffle. See above.

Common LED Lighting Myths & Facts | Direct Energy Blog

Blue LEDs are especially dangerous to the eyes.

This deceptive myth is based partly on fact. This past summer, a University of Houston College of Optometry study found that over exposure to short wavelength of blue light disrupted the brain’s release of melatonin. For participants snuggled in bed staring at their phones, laptops or watching TV instead of getting drowsy and gradually drifting off to sleep, the blue light told their brains that it was time to get up. This continued exposure to blue light disrupted their circadian rhythms and caused sleep problems. When the researchers gave them blue-light blocking glasses to wear during their bedtime routine, their sleep disruption vanished.

The biggest source of blue light is the sun. But over exposure to blue light from computer and device screens has also been shown to increase eye strain and may contribute to macular degeneration. So, while daylight-calibrated LED lightbulbs might be bluish — the amount of blue light they contribute is probably insignificant compared to the amount of blue light coming off your laptop or device LED screen as you read this…quite possibly in bed, too, I imagine. Naughty.

With that in mind, consider getting yourself and your family members blue-blocking computer glasses. You’ll sleep better, focus better, and be much less likely for fall for other energy myths.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.