You might very well know that an LED can last you over 50,000 hours, with bill savings of hundreds of dollars over the lifetime of the bulb. That’s all fine and dandy IF your LED actually keeps on working as expected.
You might have come across faulty or poorly running LEDs in your space, and you’re frustrated over the lost savings and claimed long term benefits.
Take a breather, because you ought to understand that LED technology is sensitive, evolving, and it is not merely a matter of selecting the cheapest option on the market.
Vigorously tested and certified LED products to serve you long and well when used correctly. After all, you get what you pay for.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that LEDs are closer to carefully calibrated computer technology, than they are to filament light bulb technology, and it serves to treat them as such.
The LED lights have a few culprits but most significant to know, is that heat and poor ventilation are the biggest issues that decrease lifespan of the LED bulb.
13 Common Problems That Make Your LED Fail
I am going to take you through the most common failures that users experience, while helping you get behind the scene working of LEDs to understand why failures happen and how to prevent them.
Problem #1: Using LED at The Higher Than Rated Current
LEDs are current driven devices and are sensitive to current fluctuations. When an LED is turned on, it experiences an in-rush current.
Plugging in an LED into a socket while it is switched on is called Hot Plugging and can damage the semiconductors in the bulb.
Even when the bulb is switched on and off too many times unnecessarily, the current in the circuit spikes beyond the designed parameters due to stored voltage in the driver, and can affect the semiconductor.
Therefore, in good quality bulbs, a “Soft Start” feature is designed to prevent this current spike in the circuit.
Similarly, if the current applied to the circuit is higher than the rated current of the bulb, it will create more pressure on the circuit, eventually leading to a failed LED.
Problem #2: Not Keeping LEDs Cool
When LED bulbs are not kept cool due to any reason, they will prematurely fail. The number one rule to keeping your LEDs running, is keeping them cool.
Basically, using LEDs along with other types of bulbs in a multi-socket enclosed fixture will put your LED in harm’s way as the other bulbs bring up the ambient temperature inside the fixture. So even if your LED is good quality with a well-designed heat sink, it would still fail owing to the unexpectedly excess heat.
Additionally, the positioning of the LED bulb also matters in keeping them cool. Placing them pointing upwards or downwards allows hot air to escape through the length of the bulb by convection. That is why if your non-enclosed rated LED is pointing downwards, the top of the fixture needs to be uncovered to allow heat to escape.
Conversely, placing the bulb sideways leads to more trapped heat. So it’s essential to know your light application beforehand and get an LED with a bigger heat sink design if placing sideways, for example. Otherwise, you will face a burnt-out bulb.
Similarly, using them in a heated environment like warm climate, unventilated garages, near the kitchen stove, or other tight spots like without proper cooling can raise the junction temperature and fry the driver.
Problem #3: Poor Wire Bonds or Solder
High quality LED bulbs and trusted manufacturers have a rigorous set of testing that their products are run through. So all components inside the bulb, especially the wires and solder holding everything in place, are also put through special testing.
It is only then that good quality bulbs last as long as stated. Conversely, cheap, and inexpensive LED bulbs end up failing quickly.
In cheap bulbs, when internal heat gets even a little bit higher than ideal, the soldered joints can become dry, and come apart. A circuit soldered by hand and using lead-free solder is cheaper.
To add to the problem of poor engineering, if the emitters are connected in series in the circuit, then the whole bulb fails even if one emitter fails.
Problem #4: Cheap Bulbs
Going further, you can identify cheaply made LEDs by a few things. One of the first telling signs will always be less than the market or too good to be true price point.
Secondly, if the bulb weighs more, you can assume the quality of the components will be better than cheaply made bulbs due to the materials and number of components used.
Aluminum casing might be replaced with plastic casing, and the number of current and voltage regulating components might be reduced to save on cost.
In the same vein, you should examine the bulb’s painting or powder coating. If it’s poorly done, then you can be sure that the unseen components will most likely be of shoddy quality too.
The chip size will also matter, where a small chip will emit less light and be more unstable against fluctuating current, making it fail. Further, if constant-current chips are absent altogether, then the bulb is unable to regulate power surges, burning out your LED.
The most common point of failure across the board, however, seems to be cheap capacitors, which become fried due to excess or unregulated heat or current.
The rest of the bulb is operational as normal, and changing out the swollen capacitor for a high-quality one usually gets the job done.
Problem #5: Using LED With Incandescent Fixtures
Incandescent fixtures and enclosed fixtures don’t have efficient heat management as they are not designed for heat dissipation. LED bulbs cannot withstand very high temperatures. They can quickly fail because of the high ambient temperature in the fixture.
So if an LED bulb is used in the enclosed or old fashioned fixture, trapped air slowly becomes heated. With nowhere to escape, it starts warming up the LED components.
This is notably worse if the LED also has no or a poorly designed heat sink that cannot carry the heat away from the sensitive circuitry.
Incandescent fixtures are designed for traditional bulbs, and when the heat sink in LED bulb heats up, the only way to dissipate it is towards the socket, where the contacts and housing are.
Traditional bulbs radiated heat out from the body of the bulb itself. They didn’t need sockets that could withstand high temperatures.
As a result, LED bulbs can quickly heat up old fixture sockets, shorting out wires and frying the bulb itself, even increasing the potential for burns, smoking, and fires.
Finally, even if you are using an enclosed rated LED in an enclosed fixture, but the fixture size is too small compared to the lumen output of the bulb, then the thermal pathway of heat dissipation is reduced. Eventually, the bulb can fail.
Problem #6: Bulbs Thermal Management
LED bulbs hate warmth, especially if the heat arises from within the bulb itself. The temperature of the LED is also measured at the LED junction, the place where the emitter is located.
So if your bulb is advised to be operated at room temperature between 20°C and 25°C (68-77° F), then junction temperature will already be between 60°C to 80°C (140-176°F).
The semiconductors also produce heat, which needs to be dissipated. The thermal path pulls the heat from the junction and semiconductors away to the outside of the light fixture.
Everything from the material on which the emitters are placed, to the epoxy, used to hold things together, and finally, the heat sink design and material use, all aid in heat dissipation.
If any of these are not good quality, then the bulb has greater chance of failing due to overheating.
Problem #7: Color Rendering
An incandescent bulb is rated 100% Color Render Index (CRI) because it shines a light that is most similar to the light of the sun, making your space bright, vibrant, and authentic in color.
With LED replacements, however, one runs into the issue of lower CRI. LED bulbs’ CRI ratings range from 65 – 95.
Lower CRI will affect the red and green colors, as well as the appearance of Caucasian and Asian skin tones.
If you want to go for a higher color temperature to mimic natural daylight, understand that you will lose out on CRI. So while the light will be natural in color to look at, the objects it lights up will be rendered poorly.
Additionally, people might have a preference for either whiter/cooler light (around 5000K) for its high contrast focused task benefits, or yellow/warmer light (about 2200K) for its relaxing diffused ambiance.
The problem compounds because as the color temperature gets higher, the CRI gets worse.
So it is a trade-off between high contrast light, which is similar to daylight, while the color rendering will get lower.
Knowing these distinctions are important, otherwise you will end up with an LED that doesn’t perform as expected.
Problem #8: Light Emitting Efficacy
With old ways of measuring light in incandescents going out and new ways of measuring the brightness of LEDs coming in, there can be a little confusion about the best way to comparatively measure light output.
To measure performance amongst LED bulbs, one needs to look at how well a light source converts energy (watts) into light (lumens), by the formula Lumens/Watt.
This gives us the ‘luminous efficacy’ of the bulb, which is lumens per watt.
So if your LED has low efficacy, it indicates an older technology or a cheaply built bulb, which will not be good at converting watts to lumens.
This costs you more in the long term, or will not last as long as LEDs now do.
Typically, LED efficacy ranges from 30-90 lm/w.
If not provided with this figure, the rule is to look for the bulbs with the most lumens, then choose one which uses the least watts to generate them.
Problem #9: Irreplaceable Integrated LEDs
Integrating an LED into a light fixture brings many features along, such as better design, added value to your product, and more control over the light.
A big doubt arises when the LED bulb inside the fixture fails.
Because the LED is fixed inside the fixture and cannot be opened or replaced at home, the replacement becomes tedious.
The fixture as a whole now needs to be considered as having gone bad. Either the entire fixture needs to be taken to the service center for repair, or less often, it needs to be disposed of and replaced entirely with a new one.
Another solution is for the company authorized electricians to visit your space and service the fixture. All of these ways are more complicated than simply replacing the bad bulb.
In the long term as well, when the LED bulb inside the fixture would reach its natural end of life, the fixture’s utility ends.
If you are looking to replace your fixture anyway, and with improved longevity and warranties of integrated LEDs, it might be more cost-effective to install an integrated solution.
Always save your receipts!
Problem #10: Faulty Current Drivers
The most recommended way to run your LED is to use low voltage DC drivers as they are the most efficient and reliable.
These convert AC current or from switching power supply, and output a constant current to keep the LED safe.
Since LEDs are little pieces of computer technology, faults can arise in the circuit, causing the drivers to overheat and fail.
A cheap LED may allow more power to pass through, causing excess heat.
The LED is actually held hostage by the driver installed, and your bulb will only be as good as the weakest links and components inside, like the driver.
More and more manufacturers are making long-lasting drivers comparable to the LEDs’ lifespan, so look at the specs sheet and make a note of the quality.
Problem #11: Incompatible/Outdated Dimmers
With the advent of new LED technology, old dimming circuits already installed in homes and offices are no longer compatible with LEDs.
Traditional bulbs were dimmable by a simple change in voltage, which old, high-power dimming circuits can do easily. In contrast, an LED bulb is a solid-state device with in-built circuitry which runs on low-power.
With all those additional components, there are many combinations of dimmers and LEDs, and not all will run well.
Some common problems that occur are flickering, drop-out (no light at the end of the gradient), not smooth (non- linear low to bright light), among others.
Eventually, with the strain of varying voltage and power, your LEDs will be damaged and fail due to the incompatible dimmer.
You need to check whether each LED type is compatible with each dimmer type, as there are many options on the market and simply buying similar rated products will not cut it.
Problem #12: Complex Circuits
Despite LED evolution, where lights are getting better and better, the circuits can still be complex with drivers, capacitors, semiconductors, and the emitters all increase the chances of failure if heat and usage are not appropriately managed.
No doubt about it, around 60% of the time, the crime scene is the circuit board.
And the more features a bulb has, the more circuits it would have and thus more points of failure.
These advanced features control the current, dimming effect, connectivity to wifi, among other advancing technology.
It’s a race to the best combination of improved efficacy and increased features, with LED technology only getting better in short spans of time.
Problem #13: Reported Lifespan
Because of all the above reasons, and the fact that the market is very new, it is hard to determine the actual lifespan of an LED in real-life scenarios.
That is why most ratings and reports are theoretical, or lab tested.
In a real-life environment, the bulb won’t be exposed to the perfect lab-created conditions, such as stable current, ideal ambient temperature, best fixture, or most compatible dimmer.
Therefore, the reported lifespans of the LEDs should be taken with a grain of salt.
Your practically applied LED may be subjected to unexpected power surges. The higher surrounding temperature, or incompatible dimmers and fixtures, so keep that in mind when looking up bulb specifications.
Perhaps the LED industry needs to increase regulation and testing for a trade-off of more and more features, increasing the potential points of failure.
Better warranties will also put consumers’ minds at ease, and free replacements should be an added value of premium brands.
And most importantly, as stated right in the beginning, you definitely get what you pay for. Investing in high quality, tested products will take your dollar a long way.
The unsavory alternative is buying the cheapest priced LED, which results in failed bulbs, frustrated users, and a systematic loss of trust in the LED technology.
I would like to hear your thoughts on your LED installations in your space.