When an LED says that it has a rated lifespan of 50,000 hours, what does that actually mean? Is that information even accurate?
In 2017, the U.S. Department of Energy published a report that looked at the specifics of LED failure. Their research found that several problems with manufacturer claims existed, including the fact that over 50% of the products in the marketplace were either miscalculated or completely inaccurate.
When there is so much poor information out there, how can you trust the data you find when searching for how long LEDs last?
The first step to understanding the lifespan of an LED light you want is to perform your due diligence. Even though some issues are related to the newness of this technology and an evolving industry, it’s up to each of us to look at the technicalities behind inaccurate claims. That’s the only way to ensure that you’re not paying more for your lighting needs while receiving less.
LEDs Require a Different Lifetime Measurement Formula
When comparing LED lighting technology to legacy options, you’ll find that it’s like comparing apples to pork chops. What we see today is very different than what homes have used for decades before.
When the Department of Energy released its 2017 report, the biggest takeaway was to look at the L70 and lumen maintenance figures, not just the rated lifespan, when purchasing new LED lights and fixtures.
Here’s a deeper look at the information you’ll want to research to maximize your investment power with this technology.
What Is the Average Rated Lifespan?
The average rated lifespan of LEDs indicates when half of a large group of the same product had failed. This information is based on the lights operating at nominal lamp current and voltage. Each product has a unique mortality curve, including HID and fluorescent designs.
Older LED lights used the same process to create an average lifespan rating that seemed phenomenal. After the Department of Energy took a closer look at this process, it was determined that lumen maintenance was a better measurement of what to expect with this technology.
What Is Lumen Maintenance?
When you see the L50 or L70 listed on new LED bulbs, you’re looking at lumen maintenance information. This approach measures the light output of a new source while comparing it with the output after a certain time.
The 50 and 70 designations are benchmarks for when that amount of total light remains from the LED lamp or fixture.
Here’s an easy way to think about the lumen maintenance rating. Let’s say that you have two LEDs that both have an average lifetime rating of 30,000 hours. One receives that rating at L70, while the other is at L50.
In that circumstance, the LED with an L50 30,000-hour rating has a faster output decay than the L70 alternative.
We’re all used to replacing a light bulb after it burns out. LEDs operate a little differently. They keep functioning on life support for a long time after they’ve gone beyond the point of optimal usefulness. That means we need to look at a different way to evaluate when an update is necessary.
There could be a massive difference in light output from a new LED lamp compared to one with 40,000 hours of use. The latter product would still be considered usable for the lifespan rating, even if it has significantly dimmed.
You also have the risk of an LED experiencing a catastrophic failure because of its complex design.
How Long Can LEDs Effectively Function?
Instead of asking how long an LED light can last, it’s better to see what its expected functionality will be over its lifetime.
Most people don’t operate LED lights for 18 hours per day, but it’s conceivable that you could have it on for nine hours daily in a home office. If you purchased a lamp with a 36-month warranty and an L70 rating of 25,000 hours, how long would it actually last?
The first step is to calculate the burn time of the LED light. At nine hours per day, you know that the product functions for 3,285 hours per year. That means it will take you about 7.5 years to reach the L70 rating designation. You’ll know that your warranty will expire about halfway through the usage period before hitting that mark.
Once your LED reaches the L70 level, the application matters. For most homes, it’s likely not a problem for the light levels to be slightly dimmer or to experience a color shift. When you operate a retail store or rely on task lighting for specific duties, any noticeable output loss or temperature shift changes the environment in untold ways.
If you cannot afford to lose lighting brightness or capacity, you’d want to budget for a new LED when it is scheduled to reach the L70 mark.
When you can handle the potential changes to the color temperature and brightness, the average lifespan rating where half of a large group of the same product failed is still a great measurement to use.
What to Expect with an LED Warranty?
The standard LED warranty provides between three to five years of production. Most manufacturers allow for the replacement cost of the product only. That means if you hire a contractor to install a fixture, you won’t have the labor expense covered by the guarantee.
There are a few manufacturers out there that will cover the cost of labor to replace a malfunctioning unit. You’ll need to read the terms and conditions supplied by the product to know what is available in your specific circumstance.
Warranty claims are often considered invalid if the product was installed incorrectly. When looking at the reasons why LED lights fail, poor wiring and improper connections are often to blame. Since those items work correctly when sent in for a repair, the result indicates an issue with the electrical system or the customer’s socket.
If that issue occurs, the cost of review and shipping could be considered the responsibility of the homeowner.
That’s why it’s crucial to vet every electrician or labor partner that works on your home. If the installation is correct, you’ll maximize the lifespan of the LED lights. When it isn’t, you’ll find yourself scrambling to fix or replace the item. It’s usually better to pay more for a great product now than experience a financial loss later.
Before you finalize your LED purchase, ask yourself the following questions to ensure the product can meet or exceed your expectations.
- What components of the LED light or fixture are covered under the warranty?
- If it is a limited warranty, what are the stipulations that cause benefits to apply?
- Does an improper installation void the warranty, and who is responsible for checking that information?
- Is installation and removal labor covered by the warranty protection?
How to Vet LED Manufacturers and Products
When you want to upgrade to LED lighting, it helps to follow the 80/20 rule. If you can find something that delivers 20% more value in a specific area, such as energy efficiency, brightness, lifespan, or another preferred metric, it’s worth considering.
About 80% of the LEDs that you’ll find in the marketplace today don’t provide that outcome. Although you’ll discover plenty of products that promise minor improvements or changes, these developments typically offer diminishing values as time passes.
Imagine that you have the money to purchase a new smartphone. You could get the iPhone from the previous year at full retail, or you could wait a month to buy the latest version for slightly more. Which option is the better investment?
You’ll also find that new lighting manufacturers come into the industry each year because of the value of LED replacements. It’s often better to stick with established brands, but that isn’t always the case.
It’s better to compare contractor- and pro-grade LEDs, then think about the brand before you look at the warranty.
Contractor-grade products cost 20% less than pro-grade items, but investing in the more expensive product gives you 2.5 times the lifespan and a better color rendering index. What works better for your needs?
A final consideration involves the local rules and regulations where you live. In California, you’re not allowed to purchase specific products if they don’t meet certain specs.
Is an Extended Warranty Available for LED Lights?
Most manufacturers will not provide an extended warranty for LED lights. Although some products are reaching ten years or more, anything beyond that time must be covered by a third-party guarantee.
You can use an extended warranty option to cover the labor of replacing a malfunctioning unit or go beyond the initial deadline.
If you have a standard manufacturer’s warranty of three years, you might want to have insurance for an extra 36 months because of your situation. Third-party providers make this option available, and it’s sometimes something you can add to your order.
Some warranties distinguish between home and commercial use. If you operate a business, even at home, you’ll want to invest in an LED light that’s rated for your expected general usage. You can use third-party products to supplement any gaps you have with these guarantees.
When you combine the warranty information with what you discovered about how long LED lights last, it’ll be much easier to find the products that meet your needs today, tomorrow, and well into the future.