7 ways to spot a quality LED lamp (and avoid the duds)

One of the best-kept secrets in the LED world is knowing where to buy (and specify) decent quality LED lamps. The marketplace, both professional and domestic, is swamped with product – some of it good, but some of it appallingly bad. You hold a lamp in each hand; they look exactly the same. One is perfectly safe, one is deadly dangerous. How do you know?

And more to the point – how do you go about finding out?

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Chris Stimson of well-lit

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A couple of weeks ago Chris Stimson of well-lit published the story of how he went from an industry newcomer to becoming a winner of the ‘most ethical product of the decade’ award in the Observer Ethical Awards.
You can read ‘my lighting industry journey’ here.

We asked Chris to provide a handy guide to sourcing good quality LED lamps. This is what he told us.

Since publishing my lighting industry journey, I’ve had a lot of messages and emails from people keen to know how to sort the LED wheat from the LED chaff.

So what exactly can you do to make sure you’re buying a good quality LED bulb from an ethical and reputable company, and how can you steer clear of the ‘bad guys’?

To answer those questions, I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of a lighting designer or an interior designer. And I’ve come up with my top seven tips to help you source quality products that won’t end up costing you time and money – or damaging your client relationships

  • There’s no substitute for experience

It took me a good five years of immersing myself in the LED bulb manufacturing industry in Asia to get a real understanding of how it works: the traps, the pitfalls, and what really makes a sustainable and quality product. Sixteen years on, I’m still learning.

If you don’t have the experience yourself, get advice from someone who does.

  • Talk to the right people

A company and its products reflect the passion, attitudes, and experience of everyone from the shop floor to the directors’ offices.

I’ve built a trusted network of individuals and manufacturers who share my values. I know I can rely on them for the answers I need.  Without that, I don’t believe I’d have a business.

  •  Look for testimonials

Consumer review platforms can be easy to manipulate. Fake reviews are rife, and there are plenty of fly-by-night LED sellers that promise the earth, only to sink without trace.

That’s bad enough if you just want a few bulbs for your living room. But if you’re buying for a business, your reputation is on the line. So seek out professional testimonials from people whose judgement you trust. If someone you respect is willing to endorse a shop or a website, you can be pretty sure they had a good experience.

  • Ask the right questions
An LED lamp manufacturing facility

Exactly how does the company make their bulbs – do they use machines or is each lamp made by hand?

What quality control processes are in place?

If the information isn’t published, ask for it. And judge the company on its response.

All manufacturers have their own processes and methods. They may have chosen them to gain a competitive advantage or create a USP – and reputable companies will be happy to explain. But if the answers are vague, or you get no answers at all, it’s fair to assume the company isn’t a manufacturer at all. They’re simply re-selling cheap and nasty products that you could buy from the factory yourself. (But you wouldn’t want to.)

  • Dig deep for environmental credentials
Production credentials?

What are the company’s environmental and sustainability credentials?

Are employees treated fairly, or forced to work in poor conditions, far away from their families?

Are ethical standards the lifeblood of the company, or an afterthought suggested by a marketing consultant?

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  • Check the certificates

By law, any electrical product imported into Europe must carry the CE mark, to show that it complies with EU health, safety and environmental protection standards.

Unfortunately, it’s all too easy for factories in Asia to stamp ‘CE’ on potentially lethal products, knowing that many importers fail to do basic checks. I’ve personally seen lamps with exposed electrical wires housed inside metal heat sinks. It goes without saying that this kind of thing can be incredibly dangerous and a serious risk to life.

The problem is not confined to unscrupulous individuals on internet auction sites. In the past few years, Trading Standards officers up and down the UK have seized many shipments of branded LED products without genuine CE certificates.

  • Read the T&Cs

It’s in the nature of consumer electronics that minor errors can be made during manufacturing, and products can get damaged during transit.

Nobody’s perfect. But the way a company responds to warranty claims speaks volumes.

With a failure rate of just 0.05% over the last 100,000 bulbs sold, well-lit is more than happy to offer a comprehensive 3-year warranty.

So what about all those companies with 5-year warranties? Isn’t that much better?

The truth is, it’s not the length of the warranty that matters, but the small print, and the company’s attitude. Some warranties are little more than marketing tools, with little expertise or service to back them up.

The last thing you want is a restaurant, bar or hotel with a light missing. So if a well-lit lamp suffers a failure, the first thing we do is get a replacement out.

We then ask the customer to send the item to our dedicated testing centre, and to give us any information that might help us analyse the problem.

Some companies will ask you to return the failed product before they will issue a replacement. Others don’t have test facilities, and simply send the product back to the manufacturer in China. Imagine how long this leaves your customer without proper lighting?

Worse still, a lot of warranties only cover the LED Chip. As long as that’s still working, you have no claim – and since the vast majority of LED failures are related to the power supply, those warranties are almost worthless. 

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So that’s it. Seven pieces of advice from an LED specialist who learned the hard way. We hope you find them useful.

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well-lit founders, Bujar Shkodra and Chris Stimson

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This article is one on the series of Good Lighting pieces for The Light Review.

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