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Is it Time to Replace Your Outdoor Lighting System with LEDs?


For many decades, halogen was the name of the game for residential outdoor lighting. Halogen lights lasted longer and shined brighter than comparable incandescent bulbs, and they used less energy. Commercial applications mostly used high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, but their orange hue and poor color rendering made them undesirable for residential use. Today, many homes still have outdoor lighting systems that use halogen lights, but that is changing. New systems almost all use LED lights. So is it time to replace your outdoor lighting system with LEDs?

Replace Your Outdoor Lighting System with LEDs [infographic]

The Benefits of Halogen

As recently as five years ago, halogen light bulbs were being praised as the very best on the market. Here are some of their advantages over traditional incandescent bulbs—and CFLs, too:

  • Energy Efficient - Halogens use less energy than incandescent bulbs. And they continue to be energy efficient right up to the bitter end. A halogen bulb will still be putting out 94% of its original output up until the moment it burns out.
  • White Light - Old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, the kind that has lit homes for over a century, gave off a soft light. In modern terms, we would refer to that as low color temperature, or a slightly yellow light. In the last 20 years or so, new incandescents have been developed that shine a whiter light, more closely resembling sunlight. But halogen bulbs produce bright white light with excellent color rendering using much less energy. That makes them ideal for spotlighting, such as highlighting commercial signs. They are also fantastic for lighting up flower gardens or other areas where you want to show off natural colors.
  • Long Life - While they don’t last as long as LEDs (not even close), they last several times longer than incandescents.
  • Dimmable - Since halogen bulbs are technically a type of incandescent—a tungsten filament is heated until it glows—they can be used right out of the box with a dimmer. Less energy equals less light. CFLs and most LEDs can’t do that.
  • Quick Start - CFLs can take time to start up, and sodium vapor lamps can take minutes. A halogen light turns on instantly.
  • Compact Size - Halogen lamps can be made really small, which is perfect for hiding in a small fixture in your garden. CFLs just don’t get that small.

With so many benefits, it’s not surprising that halogen lamps were the kings of outdoor lighting until very recently. However, as LED lamps have become cheaper and the technology has improved, they have been quickly taking over.

The Rise of LEDs

Not long ago, LEDs were confined to tiny indicator lights on computers and other electronics. They weren’t even considered for general lighting. The existing LEDs were too dim and produced colored light (typically green or red), which was unusable for lighting anything more than a small indicator. But breakthroughs in LED lighting in the 1990s saw the development of ultra-bright blue LEDs. When combined with the right phosphors, scientists found that they could produce bright white light with LEDs. That paved the way for the takeover that we are seeing today.

Just a few short years ago, LED lights were an expensive novelty. Today, the once ubiquitous 40W and 60W traditional incandescents aren’t even available for sale in the United States. They have been banned for their extremely low energy efficiency. At first, CFLs came to take their place. But today LED lights are practically standard for home lighting. While they are still not as cheap as traditional incandescents were, they last much, much longer and take much, much less energy, making them less expensive over time. They are also convenient, making burned out bulbs a rare occasion.

Advantages of LEDs

LEDs have slowly been taking over in all areas of lighting. From residential to commercial, to industrial settings, it seems like there is no use case where LEDs aren’t better than the other options. Here’s why:

  • Energy Efficiency - LEDs are lightyears ahead of the competition when it comes to energy efficiency. Incandescents lose most of their energy to heat. Even CFLs, which don’t use heat, are not as efficient. In fact, the higher the lumens (i.e., the brighter the bulb), the more significant the gap between the wattage needed for a CFL versus an LED.
  • Lifespan - LEDs practically make burned out bulbs a thing of the past. A traditional incandescent can burn for 1,2000 hours. Halogen lamps can last up to 3,600 hours before they burn out. CFL lights beat that at a cool (literally!) 8,000 hours. But LEDs are designed to last 25,000 hours. To burn as long as a single LED you would need 21 incandescent bulbs, 7 halogen bulbs, or 3 CFLs.
  • Price - While it may seem at first that LEDs are more expensive, they are actually much cheaper in the long run. Since you would need multiple halogen bulbs to last as long as a single LED, the cost of burning 25,000 hours is actually lower for LED bulbs. And that doesn’t even take into account the energy savings.
  • Color Temperature - Halogen bulbs have a limited range of color temperature. However, LEDs are now available in a wide range of color temperatures, form low-temperature yellows to high-temperature cool blues. This allows for more design options and special effects. Low light temperature can simulate candlelight, while high-temperature lights can simulate moonlight or even daylight.

Does it Make Sense to Switch to LED?

It seems clear that if you are installing a new outdoor lighting system, there is no reason not to install LEDs. While the startup costs may be a bit higher, you can quickly make up the difference with lower maintenance, fewer replacements, and lower energy use. But what about the cost involved in retrofitting an old halogen system to use LED lamps?

The cost of retrofitting an old halogen system depends mainly on what type of halogen bulbs you currently use. If you are lucky, you can simply put in new bulbs and enjoy the energy savings and extended lifespan right off the bat. However, in some cases, you may need to do more. If your light fixtures have built-in lamps, you may need to replace them. 

So whether you make the switch has a lot to do with how easy that switch is. Keep in mind that not all LEDs are dimmable, so if you use dimmers in your system, you will need to find dimmable LEDs.

Another factor is the size of your system. The more lights you have, the greater the savings. Also, the longer you run your system, the quicker the savings will add up. So if you have a large system that runs all night long every night, it may be worth updating even if it takes some rewiring or new fixtures.

Where to Go for Outdoor Lighting Help

Whether you want to install a new system or update an old one, it makes sense to include a professional outdoor lighting specialist. Professionals know how to adjust your lighting system to get the most out of your switch to LED. Find a TrustDALE certified outdoor lighting specialist here.