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How Do LED Light Bulbs Work?

At we are huge fans of LED lighting. Since the 1800s we have used the familiar glow of the incandescent light bulb to light up our lives but the advent of LED technology is changing that.


So how complicated can a light bulb actually be? To understand how LED light bulbs actually work its probably better to start looking at their out-dated incandescent counterparts.


So the bulb part of the light is a glass ball containing an air vacuum – this means all the air has been sucked out. That thin piece of wire inside the bulb is called a filament; the filament is a tightly coiled wire that channels electricity through it when the light bulb is switched on. Without the air vacuum this wire would quickly burn up but because of the air vacuum the filament lasts a lot longer before burning out.

As electricity passes through the filament heat is generated. How much heat? Well more than you would probably think! Around 90% of the electricity passing through that filament is converted to heat! That leaves just 10% that's actually used for light. It’s probably better to think of those old incandescent light bulbs as heaters generating a little bit of light rather than a light source! Because incandescent light bulbs essentially produce heat and give off light as a by-product they are a very inefficient way of lighting up an area. It also goes without saying that their heating potential is minimal; we can’t see many people using light bulbs to heat up their home.

Add into this mix that filaments eventually burn out despite being held in a vacuum, meaning a typical incandescent light bulb lasts around 1,000 hours or just 250 days if you use them for four hours per day.

Fast forward to now and LED lighting technology is here. LEDs have traditionally been associated with desktop clocks and Christmas lights but as performance improves and production costs decline they are starting to become the go to technology to light up homes. Further, LED lighting works in a completely different way to traditional incandescent lights. An LED light actually has more in common with a smartphone than a traditional light bulb. LED light is also known as ‘solid state lighting’ because instead of creating light in a vacuum like incandescent light bulb, an SSL emits light from a piece of solid state material.

For an LED light that piece of solid material is a semi conductor, just like your smartphone. A semi conductor has positively charged and negatively charged areas. The positive layer has ‘holes’ or openings for the electrons and the negative layer has free electrons floating around inside it. When electricity hits the semi conductor this activates the flow of electrons from the negative to the positive layer. As the excited electrons flow into the positively charged holes they emit light.

To make things simple the best way to think about this is the LED produces light as electrons move around within the semi conductor!

So now we can see they work in a completely different way, how do LED lights help you save money on your lighting bill? Well first there is reduced electricity use! As LED lights product light directly with a minimal wasted heat (in the opposite way to incandescent light bulbs) they use around 10% of the energy as traditional incandescent light bulbs.


A second part of the efficiency story is maintenance. Who maintains a light bulb I hear you ask? Well you do. Every time it blows - around once every 250 days – you change that bulb. That's maintenance. When we factor in that the light bulbs don't all blow at once this makes for a very inconvenient time interval to maintain your lighting at home. LED lights on the other hand have a massive lifetime. They last anywhere from 15,000 hours up to 50,000 hours. That's anywhere from 10 to 25 years plus depending on the LED light you choose. This means you can forget blown light bulbs during those late night trips to the bathroom. In fact with the average marriage in the UK lasting around 11 years that means you're choice of LED light is arguably more important than your life partner, so better be careful when picking that LED!

Finally if you're a bit on the fence about the way LED lights look there are many options available. For instance vintage LED lights are very popular right now!

Renovator Store Vintage LED Light Globe

Also the future of lighting looks bright. As these lights contain a semi conductor this means they are a future potential backbone of smart technology like apps. We are already seeing the obvious smartphone controlled light bulbs emerging now but just like the internet this technology is certain to be in every home within the next few years. This means the potential applications that could be developed through LED technology are almost limitless.

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