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Why Are Some LEDs so Cheap?

Updated: Jun 18, 2019

Why are some LED fixtures so cheap?

Let's take a blown glass shade for example, we instinctively understand the difference in quality between a beautiful hand blown fixture from a lighting showroom and a much cheaper (yet beautiful) fixture from a big box store. We know the cheaper one is imported and has lower quality components, while the pricier piece is hand blown using higher quality glass, coloring and manufacturing expertise. We then make our purchase based on a budget and what’s important to us.

LEDs aren’t so straight forward. Any LED can look great when initially turned on, but can quickly degrade in light output and color due to any number of manufacturing choices.

Heat is the biggest enemy of LEDs, fixtures may not project any but will absolutely generate a surprising amount. High color rendering (CRI)- the accuracy of a light’s color spectrum, is necessary for what is being illuminated to look true.

Manufacturers have to take these aspects, along with color temperature accuracy, glare, dimming range and more to make a fixture within a certain price range.

To make something cheaper, there will have to be sacrifices in some or all of these aspects. For example, the color temperature on the spec can deviate quite a bit from the true light output. The more accurate a fixture is to its spec, the pricier the manufacturing. Also, the heat sink might be downsized and electronics might not be of the level to give a very large dimming range all to help lower the cost of the fixture. And even if the CRI measurement on two fixtures is the same, in reality one can be much better than the other, thereby increasing its cost. We have a little setup demonstrating this last issue.

So unlike the glass example, it’s not so easy to identify the deficiencies some fixtures might have over others. Therefore when we have the expectation of an off the shelf LED fixture lasting 15 years in our kitchen, we can be very disappointed when we start seeing failures or changes within the first few years. This is very important for recessed lights, in which many times are installed without the homeowner getting to have any solid input. We always recommend for our customers to see the light on and off to get a good idea of the color, glare and how it looks when not in use before they are actually installed in their job.

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