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Playing LED - Randy’s Electrical Corner

Posted in How To: Electrical on February 21, 2014
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Contributors: Pete TrasborgRandy 
Photographers: Pete Trasborg

You guys know I like LEDs. Even though I don’t know all the big words, I still really dig them. They pull less power and last longer than halogen lights, and they run cooler and are simpler than HIDs. So when I heard that Trasborg was doing an LED story in this issue (page TK), I had to give him hell about it. I’m not really good at busting cojones though, so when he replied to my email, I saw that I didn’t get my point across. Heh, email…so funny. Whoever thought that we’d stop sending letters in the mail?

Anyway, Trasborg replied to my email about his big LED story as if I was being serious when I asked how ever would he handle the pressure of a big LED shootout. And I guess when I said “good luck getting it done” he thought I really meant it. So a few emails later, he admitted he was a bit over his head with how many lights he had to install and test and asked me if I could help.

So, of course, I thought he wanted me to help test lights. I said sure, thinking I would get to play with some new LEDs after all. That will teach me to think. No, I wasn’t going to get to play with lights at all. He just wanted me to point out certain things about them and maybe explain some of the technical things in words you guys could easily get. Greaaaaat…. Teach me to just jump in and say “sure.”

So even though I had to get intimate with a dusty old dictionary that kicked up my allergies and made me sneeze a lot, I fought my way through for you guys. I hope what I’ve put together here helps you understand LEDs a bit more so that Trasborg’s highfalutin story makes some kind of sense to you.

This is basically what’s inside those fancy LED lights. The white LED that is inside all those lights is really a blue LED with a fancy coating. For this reason, white LEDs are more expensive than blue LEDs, even if you are just buying one. One important thing to notice is that the leads coming off the LED are solid. Solid leads are like solid wire or any solid piece of metal. Bend it enough times and it breaks. So a key part of building a good LED light is to make sure the LED doesn’t move. Companies do that with a combination of good circuit boards, soldering, and sometimes coating it in some kind of plastic or polymer to really “glue” it to the board.

Effective Lumens: The amount of light an LED light actually puts out. Kind of like Watts for a normal light.

Efficacy: The comparison of how many Watts a light uses with the light it actually puts out. A much better indicator than “efficiency”

Efficiency: Many companies use this to brag on their lights. But all they are telling you is the comparison of Watts in to Watts out… or how much power is wasted as heat.

Gore-Tex: It’s a man-made fabric with microscopic holes that can let air out but doesn’t let water in. Often used as a vent in LED lights. Sometimes just called Gore vent. It has nothing to do with the Algoreweb.

Kelvin: When talking lights it measures how white the light is. Ranges from 1 to over 10,000. A candle is about 1,000, and the clear blue sky is about 10,000. Most LED lights clock in around 6,000 to 7,000, which is supposed to be the easiest on the human eye.

Lumen: Measure of power output. But comparing Lumens to Effective Lumens is like comparing horsepower at the flywheel to power at the ground. Most companies will only talk about Lumens which, like the power numbers of the ’70s, isn’t a really good measuring stick. A Lumen is a mathematically calculated number. An effective Lumen is the actual measured light output from the light, kind of like strapping your Jeep to a dyno.

Polycarbonate: A fancy plastic used for bulletproof glass. And LED light lenses.

Watt: A measure of electrical power

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