The Pros & Cons of LED-Integrated Lighting Fixtures

The Pros & Cons of LED-Integrated Lighting Fixtures

As LEDs have grown to dominate the general purpose lighting market, many fixture manufacturers have taken to integrating them directly into their products in addition to producing traditional fixtures to be used with replaceable light bulbs and linear tubes.

In 2017, 70% of the general purpose lighting fixture market was tied to either LED-integrated fixtures (often called luminaires) or LED-ready fixtures (used with separate LED bulbs or tubes). In that year, the latter made up the majority of LED fixture sales, but LED-integrated fixtures will outpace LED-ready types and will be in the majority by 2022.

There are a number of benefits to integrating LEDs into fixtures, but this also raises new concerns that the lighting industry may have to address for LED-integrated fixtures to become more widely accepted by consumers.

How LEDs Have Revolutionized the Lighting Fixture Market

In most general purpose lighting applications, light fixtures and light sources have been manufactured as two separate products for about a century. This made perfect sense in Edison’s time, and even a little bit into the twenty-first century, because for so long the most common light sources – incandescent bulbs, fluorescent tubes, and the like – had short service lives. Short compared to LEDs, that is.

LED lighting is revolutionary not only because of its energy efficiency but also its impressively long service life. While incandescent bulbs typically last only around 1,000 hours - barely a year with several hours of use each day - LED lighting is commonly rated to last 50,000 hours or more, which can conceivably translate into decades at the same rate of use. (Comparing service life for two entirely different technologies is complex, because LEDs don’t suddenly burn out like filament bulbs do. This blog post offers a good explanation of LED service life.)

The idea of a light that could last decades is still hard for many of us to conceptualize, but that’s precisely why LEDs are transforming the lighting industry. Instead of consuming light bulbs as regularly as many other household supplies, LEDs are making it possible to install a light and to let it be for years and years – more like a furnace or roofing. If a light source can last that long, hardwiring it into the fixture as a permanent component makes sense.

Manufacturers Have Plenty of Reason to Integrate LEDs into Fixtures

Beyond “because they can”, there are a few significant reasons that light fixture manufacturers should be eager to integrate LEDs into their products, including:

  • added value for the fixture
  • new design opportunities
  • light source optimization

Fixture producers have a major incentive to integrate LEDs in that this can add to the value of their products. As long as they can efficiently incorporate LEDs into production, without adding too much to production costs, combining the value of the light source and the fixture can offer a significant net gain.

LED integration also brings substantial new opportunity for fixture design. For the last century, fixtures have, by necessity, been sized to accommodate bulky bulbs and tubes.  However, LEDs are compact and can be used in modular units, allowing for countless new styles. There’s no telling what new designs are ahead for decorative fixtures (case in point: Studio Job’s Huey, Dewey, and Louie), but among the more practical possibilities, many producers have begun to emphasize the slim profiles of some of their fixtures, including:

Additionally, integrating LEDs into fixtures gives manufacturers the chance to optimize the compatibility and operation of all components of the product, including the light source. LED lighting utilizes a complex set of technologies and often includes smart control capabilities, so many fixture producers will optimize the connection and interplay of LEDs with the rest of the fixture.

Some Possible Pitfalls for LED-Integrated Fixtures Remain

There are a few potential problems raised by the growing prevalence of LED-integrated fixtures, especially where consumers are concerned:

  • LEDs impose expiration dates on fixtures.
  • Replacing failed LEDs may prove difficult.
  • Current warranty coverage may disappoint consumers.

While LEDs may prove to last as long as a furnace or roofing, integrating the light source into the fixture can nevertheless be seen as placing an expiration date on the fixture itself. Consumers tend to see their light fixtures as more or less permanent installations, with indefinite service lives as long as they’re willing to keep replacing the bulb. Purchasing an LED-integrated fixture therefore carries some risk. While it could theoretically last decades without requiring maintenance, product flaws and failures do happen. And once the LEDs finally expire (whether after decades or only a few years), it can neutralize not only the light source but the entire fixture into which it’s embedded.

So what happens if, as a fluke, an LED fixture dims after five years because one of its LEDs fails? Electricians commonly offer light source replacement and fixture repair services, but as diverse as the LED lighting industry is so far – with nothing like the standardization of the traditional light bulb market – a replacement LED module may not be available at an affordable price. In fact, it will likely be more expensive to replace the light source alone than to replace the entire fixture.

Even if you can find reasonably priced repair services and a replacement module, many fixture warranties don’t last as long as five years (and those that do can add substantially to the up-front cost of the fixture), potentially leaving consumers on the hook for the cost to repair an LED-integrated fixture. This isn’t actually any different from the warranties typical of furnaces, roofing, and other major purchases. But it is different from the type of maintenance that general purpose lighting has required for the better part of the last century, so it may be difficult for consumers to accept that they’ll be on the hook for an LED-integrated fixture that doesn’t last for its full service life.

LED lighting is helping us to make great strides in energy efficiency, and it has a lot of potential to be more convenient and aesthetically pleasing than the lighting of the Edison era. But it remains unclear exactly how widely LED-integrated fixtures will be accepted by consumers, given how rapidly the market has been revolutionized.

To Learn More

For more insight into the state of the lighting industry, see General Purpose Lighting Fixtures in the US and General Purpose LEDs & Other High-Efficiency Lighting in the US, by The Freedonia Group. These comprehensive reports provide the following:

  • historical demand data and forecasts
  • market environment factors
  • industry structure
  • company market share

About the Author

Matt Breuer is an industry analyst at The Freedonia Group, where he writes industry studies focused on the US consumer goods markets.

  Consumer Goods      Industry Studies