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Beware the Cheap LED Light Fixture!

This is a big, consumer's head's up - beware the cheap LED light fixture!

We have a 20 year old house, which we built in Bristow, Virginia.  It was time to upgrade the fluorescent kitchen light fixture.  I wanted LED.

Looking around I wanted one that provided good light, and lots of lumens.

Watts measure the amount of energy a light bulb uses.  But lumens are the indicator of the amount of light.

LED lights are made up of many small points of light sources.

What I didn't know then was that when one buys an LED light fixture, the weight of the fixture and points of light sizes (called "chips") are essential.

The fixture I bought and installed was very light.  Why is weight important?

Because, according to my research, of poor quality materials used to construct the "driver" and to dissipate heat weigh more!

However, you may say, aren't LED lights cool?

Yes, to feel the heat from them.  But the points of light, the chips, are extremely hot.  What drives the energy to them, and the ability for them to dissipate heat, is essential.

Good materials allow for such heat dissipation and the fixtures last for years and years.

But cheap stuff, materials without a good driver, smaller chips, and no ability to dissipate heat, will not last long.

Our kitchen light lasted 7 months.  Beware the cheap stuff!

One day it was fine.  The next it provided half the light.  And the next no light at all.

When I took off the cover the photo above is what I saw.  WHICH PROMPTED MY RESEARCH!  Do you see how tightly the plastic cover sits over the fixture?  There was nowhere for the heat to go.  And the chips are 1/8" square, considered very small.  Yes, they get very, very hot!

So, you ask, can cheap fixtures cause fires?  YES!  We were lucky, apparently.  Ours just flaked out and died.

Following my research I bought a good quality light, and it is heavy!  It provided large chips, a good driver, and the ability to dissipate heat.

But, I had another problem. 

When I took down the builder-installed fluorescent light this is what I found!

No box, and wires merely stick out of a hole in the ceiling! 

Unbelievable!  That's the same problem I found when I replaced the bathroom light!  But the round fixture I first installed weighed less than a pound, so no junction box, while not to code, was needed for its support.

So for the new fixture I had to install a hefty box.  It is attached to an arm that cranks and tightens against the floor joists inside the ceiling above.  It holds 70 - 120 pounds!

With the help of a neighbor (this was NOT a one-man job!) here is the new light!  With lots and lots of lumens!



Perhaps hard to see in the photo to the left, but there is a 1" space above the fixture for heat to dissipate.

Here are the recommendations from experts when you buy LED light fixtures.  What to look for.

1.  LED with good heat dissipation may cost, and weigh, more.
2.  Try to find out the chip size (the points of light).  The larger chips provide more light and better stability.
3.  Make sure any paint is well applied.  Better paints make a difference.
4.  Verify the Underwriter's Laboratory (UL) mark, which proves the fixture for testing, validation and safety.

5.  Confirm a Design Lights Consortium (DLC) qualification.  DLC qualified fixtures have been tested for certain performance and safety standards.  These better fixtures often come with a 5 year warranty.  (The one I installed has a 10 year warranty).

Depending on your decor and taste, a couple of good kitchen ceiling LED lights can be found here and here.  The difference between the two is that the second link is a dimmable fixture.  Not all LED lighting can, or should, be dimmed.

My recommendation:  If you buy with all that in mind you will likely have a fixture that is safe, provides great light, and is long lasting.  I learned a lot from my experience and research.  I hope you do too.  "Let there be light ... and it was good."

Jay performs inspections Monday through Saturday, throughout Northern Virginia, from his office in Bristow to Leesburg and Centreville, to Great Falls and Vienna and everywhere in between!

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