Story at a glance:

  • LED lights have been rising in popularity consistently in recent years.
  • LED lighting consumes significantly less energy than incandescent and CFL bulbs.
  • LED lights are adaptable, directional, dimmable, and ever-improving compared to other options.

The technology behind LED lighting has been around for decades, but only recently has it become affordable and reliable enough to rise in popularity so dramatically. From energy efficiency to having a long lifespan, LED lights are both environmentally responsible and budget-friendly.

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are a solid-state lighting solution that use a semiconductor to convert electricity into light, according to the US Department of Energy. This means LED lights do not require a breakable glass bulb like traditional lights.

Plus, LED lights can be used anywhere—from sports arenas to industrial settings to residential projects. They perform reliably and safely in various design applications.

What is LED Lighting?

LED stands for light emitting diode. LED lighting products produce light up to 90% more efficiently than incandescent light bulbs, according to

LED lights work by passing an electrical current through a microchip that illuminates the tiny light sources we call LEDs, which rarely burn out.

The first LEDs were created in the 1920s and have evolved dramatically to the lights we know today. do not “burn out” or fail. White LEDs for residential use came on the market in the early 2000s and quickly became popular in schools, offices, and health care environments, too. By 2019 LED lighting had become the most popular source of lighting, as designers continue to discontinue their use of halogen and fluorescent lighting.

Common Areas to Use LED Lights

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This Gluck+ California house features all LED lighting. Photo by Paul Vu Photography

LED lighting can be used in any area of a residential project. Many designers and homeowners are turning to LEDs to set a tone in a space while also providing extra light. Here are just some of the areas where people are using LED lights:

Under cabinets. LED strip lighting is popular under cabinets and in other potentially dark areas, both to provide better lighting over counter space and also to provide a feeling of luxury, like in a showroom.

Within shelves. Lighting in shelves brings light and warmth to dark offices or helps you find that hidden book.

In the bathroom. LED lights are popular along vanities and mirrors.

Dark hallways. Bring light to dark hallways or staircases with LEDs.

Behind the TV. Add color and light and set the tone in the bedroom or living area.

LED Lights Types

Many types of LED lighting exist today, whether you want to choose an LED lighting strip, lighting in a fun shape, or a specific bright color. LED bulbs themselves come in four primary categories: A-shape, reflectors, decorative, and specialty, according to GE.


A-shape LEDs are the most common and often seen throughout homes. These are conical in shape and cast a more defined beam. A-shape LEDs easily fit in most lamps and are commonly used there or anywhere you might find a traditional light bulb. They instantly offer full light upon switching on, according to Philips, and they’re great for decorative and ambient lighting in retail outlets, hotels, restaurants, multi-unit residences and government buildings.


Reflectors are often used for outdoor lighting and commonly called flood lights or spotlights.

Reflectors are quite literally defined by the LED reflectors that sit over the LED to alter the beam of light. They are an affordable and easy-to-use solution for many areas, though they don’t offer as much control as LED lenses, according to RS Online.


Decorative LEDs can bring life and personality to wall sconces, chandeliers, or virtually any exposed-bulb fixtures. Often decorative LEDS are smaller in order to fit within a fixture, but designers can find them in a wide variety of styles, whether you want a classic globe or vintage vibe.


Specialty LED lighting is a catchall for the remaining, more special type of lights. This includes everything from antique style bulbs to lighting for very specific fixtures.

LED vs Incandescent

LEDs last longer, are more durable, and offer better lighting control than incandescent lights. LEDs also use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, according to

Design flexibility is another major benefit of LEDs. LED lighting can allow an architect’s design to take center stage, blending in or bringing particular elements to life.

Incandescent lights cost less than LED lights, but they will need to be replaced more frequently.

Halogen vs LED

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A mix of cove lighting and ambient linear products from H.E. Williams are used for low-glare lighting in the hallway of fourth floor patient rooms at the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. Photo courtesy of H.E. Williams

Halogen lights may provide beautiful color but at a short lifespan, according to Dan Kohnen, director of commercialization at H.E. Williams, a more than century-old lighting company.

“The best lighting tools are the ones an architect can apply to show off the architecture, versus the product as itself,” Kohnen said. He’ s been working with Williams since 1999 and has watched the design world evolve to incorporate more LED lighting and human-centric design.

Halogen bulbs also consume more power and get warm fast compared to LEDs. LEDs emit much more light using much less energy.

How Do LED Lights Work?

LEDs are basically tiny light bulbs that fit into an electrical circuit. They don’t have delicate filaments that burn out like incandescent bulbs do, and they don’t get super hot. They also use less energy, reducing the cost of that electricity bill.

LED lights are illuminated by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material. According to How Stuff Works, a semiconductor is made of a positively charged and a negatively charged component. The positive layer has openings for electrons, and the negative layer has free electrons floating around in it. When an electric charge strikes the semiconductor, it activates the flow of electrons from the negative to the positive layer. Those excited electrons emit light as they flow into the positively charged holes.

Benefits of LED Lights

The benefits of LED lights are many, from saving homeowners money in the long run to being able to provide stronger light in a variety of colors. These are just some of the top benefits of LED lights.

1. Energy-Efficient

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LED lights like these ones by Flex Lighting Solutions have transformed countless spaces, including Delaco Steel. Photo courtesy of Future Energy Group

LED lights use up to 85% less energy than traditional bulbs, according to The New York Times. This means LEDs produce savings in electricity costs and simply do well by the environment.

In 2007 Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act, which helps the US stay on track with the global shift toward LED and other energy-efficient lighting solutions for everyday light bulbs.

2. Return on Investment

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In the Big Sandy Independent School District, LED Lights by Energy Focus brought significant energy savings to the schools. Photo courtesy of Energy Focus

As LEDs become more common, individuals and the US as a whole will notice significant energy savings. According to the US Department of Energy, “Switching entirely to LED lights over the next two decades could save the US $250 billion in energy costs, reduce electricity consumption for lighting by nearly 50%, and avoid 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emissions.”

E3 used Energy Focus LED lights to retrofit the Big Sandy Independent School District in Eastern Texas in 2016. “Cost was a major component for Big Sandy. The LED’s use 15 to 18 watts per lamp as opposed to the 32 to 36 watts per lamp used by the fluorescents. So it saves the schools money and they get a good return on investment,” Tim Evans, vice president of E3, told gb&d.

3. Long Lifetime

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Globe pendant lights and embedded LED lights in the library design remind patrons of a nighttime sky. Photo by Nic Lehoux

LEDs use dramatically fewer watts than traditional bulbs to produce bright light, which means they also last much, much longer.

Most LEDs last a minimum 25,000 hours, according to NOPEC—a nonprofit energy supplier in Northeast Ohio. NOPEC says if you were to keep your LED bulb on all day every day it would be about 15 years before you’d have to replace the bulb.

4. Low Radiant Heat

Among the benefits of LED lighting is the fact that they radiate very little heat—particularly compared to CFL and incandescent lights.

According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80% of their energy as heat in comparison to LEDs. This makes LED lights less hazardous, particularly in terms of fire safety.

Another exciting new development in LED physics is the concept of running LEDs in reverse to create a cooling effect, says Robert Pullman, a lighting industry veteran with over 30 years of experience in every aspect of the lighting industry. Pullman previously shared some of his expertise with gb&d. “Recently it was demonstrated that if you run LEDs backward—rather than doing nothing, as one would expect from a diode—you achieve a very short-range cooling effect to the tune of 6W/m2,” he says.

“Projections forecast cooling capacity in the realm of 1000W/m2. This could be achieved in the future by actually using the LEDs themselves to draw heat away from the processor which opens the door to improved heat performance in wearables, mobile devices, and more,” Pullman says.

5. Bright, Intense Light

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The Swedish Medical Center-Ballard’s Medical Behavioral Health Unit lacked daylight, so ZGF utilized tunable LED lighting. Photo by Benjamin Benschneider Photography

LEDs do not compromise brightness or intensity for energy efficiency. They compete with incandescent and CFL bulbs in terms of brightness, making them a good addition to workspaces where bright light contributes to productivity.

6. Instantaneous Light

LED lights have less warmup time compared to other bulbs, brightening rooms and outdoor spaces from the moment the switch is flipped.

7. Design Flexibility

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Inside Yotel’s Club Lounge, the creative use of LED lighting supports the hotel’s chosen brand. Photo by Nikolas Koenig

The structure of LED lights allow them to be used both functionally and artistically. In spaces of all kinds LED lights offer design flexibility. In the Yotel NYC, Focus Lighting utilized LED lights in all kinds of applications, from pin spotlights to floor lamps to lit ceiling panels, to adhere to the hotel’s strong brand identity.

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Light tree. Photo courtesy of Tivoli

In the Broadway Lounge in the New York Marriott Marquis, Tivoli delivered two 15-foot light “trees” with branches reaching out from 21 feet to more than 46 feet using an exquisite inlay of linear light.

8. High Color Rendering Index

Many LED lighting options offer a very high Color Rendering Index (CRI), which means they reveal the true color of whatever they illuminate.

Philips, one of the leading LED lighting companies, makes LED lights with a CRI of at least 80 compared to natural light’s 100. This allows consumers at home to predict how their outfit will look when they step outdoors, for example.

The high CRI of LEDs is also useful in broadcasts, where bright and color-accurate light allows nighttime sports games to look vibrant and real, even on television.

9. Ability to Dim

LED lights can be made to dim just the same as incandescent and CFLs. This increases energy savings and allows the light to adjust to suit the needs of a space throughout the day.

10. Range of Colors

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Tivoli’s Litesphere True RGB+W can be used to illuminate public spaces with over 16 million color choices. Photo courtesy of Tivoli

LEDs come in many colors, with surprising and increasingly impressive accuracy in terms of color matching. In one of the rising wellness design trends of today, LEDs perform a crucial role. In accordance with people’s circadian rhythms, LEDs can be programmed to adjust in color and warmth throughout the day.

Tivoli‘s Litesphere True RGB+W can be used to illuminate public spaces with over 16 million color choices. LEDs have come a long way since 1976, when electrical engineer Thomas P. Pearsall invented a bright, high-efficiency LED optimizing transmission wavelength for optical fiber, Tivoli’s Pullman says.

He says the invention changed the design world.

“Pearsall’s LED is not only useful in communications, but Fiber Optic Drops or Star Curtains have also been used by the entertainment and event industries for decades. These industries use CYM (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow), color mixing wheels, and DMX-controlled illuminators to create breathtakingly realistic, simple star fields as well as custom patterns, graphics, and logos. Finally, in 2014, Japanese Nobel laureate and co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics Isamu Akasaki invented the world’s first efficient blue light-emitting diodes using gallium nitride.”

11. Sturdy

LEDs utilize semiconductor material rather than a filament or neon gas.

The light-emitting diode is a tiny chip enclosed in a plant epoxy, which makes LEDs far sturdier than traditional incandescent bulbs or neon tubes, according to the Department of Energy.

12. Great in Emergencies

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One of the benefits of LED lighting is that its brightness and long life makes it a great option for emergency lighting in schools and other contexts. Photo courtesy of Fulham

Because LED lighting provides bright light at such low wattage and can therefore last a very long time, they are a great solution for emergency lighting.

13. Environmentally Friendly

LEDs do not contain mercury, and if their aluminum heat sinks were recycled, their life cycle impact would be noticeably reduced.

Overall their energy savings and basic construction allow LEDs to win the ticket for most environmentally friendly light, according to a three-part Energy Department-funded study.

14. Operable in Many Climates

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Flex Lighting Solutions’ Essentials Series 4.0 LED High Bays increased light levels by 80% at Dana Incorporated industrial facility. Photo courtesy of Future Energy Group

Particularly in cold environments, LED lights perform exceptionally well.

Recently they have progressed to perform in hot, humid environments as well. Industrial spaces are often not climate-controlled, but Flex Lighting Solutions is one company whose LEDs are a leading option for industrial lighting because of their impressive thermal management technologies.

15. Directional Light

By their very nature, LEDs emit light in one direction instead of all around them.

This 180-degree illumination allows the light to be more precise and useful—perfect for recessed and task lighting—and contributes to energy savings because no light energy is wasted or trapped.

16. Reliable Performance

Again, the basic technology behind LEDs has been around for years and years.

Although the bulbs dim toward the end of their very, very long lifetime, their performance overall is reliable and trusty across spaces, even in conditions with inclement weather or frequent impact.

“Advancements in every disciple and technology—including robotics and AI—are geometric, and the LED is at the core of it all—supporting communications, human-centric environments, responsible power consumption, and conservation all the while proving the tools for creativity, and of course, style,” Pullman says. “Onward and upward for those involved in the green building and design landscape, who can now turn their vision into reality.”