Most of us who grew up before LED lights were popular have probably lost a few fingerprints while changing an incandescent light bulb at one point or another.
After that one painful lesson, most of us assume that all things bright are also hot, which is often a reasonable rule to live by.
When LED lights hit the shelves, manufacturers told us their biggest advantage was that they don’t get hot, making them far more energy efficient.
Although LED or light-emitting diodes don’t work the same way as incandescent light bulbs, they still produce heat as a by-product.
Before spending money on a full LED setup, it’s essential to “illuminate” yourself with some of the facts and drawbacks. Terrible pun, I know, but I couldn’t “resist.” Jokes aside, LEDs inherently produce less heat, but it doesn’t mean they are without flaws.
How Hot Do LEDs Get?
I tested a 6W LED bulb vs. an equivalent 60W incandescent bulb to see the heat difference between LED lights and incandescent bulbs.
Although the wattages were different, each produced a similar amount of light. After letting the bulbs run for 30 minutes, I tested the temperature of each.
The temperature of the incandescent bulb reached 127 degrees, while the LED bulb’s temperature was only 95 degrees.
This is because incandescent bulbs waste between 95% and 98% of their electrical energy generating heat. Only 2% to 5% goes into lighting your house!
By contrast, LED bulbs use about 15% of their energy to create light, which still means around 85% of their energy usage creates heat.
However, remember it takes a much higher-wattage incandescent bulb to achieve the same brightness as a lower-wattage LED light.
In other words, LED lights waste less energy by producing heat and use less energy to get the same amount of light.
The actual temperatures an LED bulb can reach will differ between various designs. Still, they should be at most 100 degrees Celsius.
This doesn’t mean you should grab a glowing LED bulb because you may get a sizzling surprise. The LED light’s base or neck should be especially avoided because that is where all the heat is drawn.
What Happens If An LED Light Overheats?
Unlike their older incandescent cousins, excessive heat can be very damaging to LED bulbs, shortening their lifespan or even destroying them.
In extreme cases of overheating, it can actually melt the electronics. However, thanks to some clever engineering, it’s improbable.
Typically, damage occurs when the diodes fail or the heat weakens the bulb housing. So, manufacturers had to devise a solution to pull the heat away from the diode.
Most LED bulbs have a built-in heat sync just below the diode, which draws heat away and then disperses it into the ambient air.
This makes LED bulbs safe to touch after they have been on. However, you should still be wary of handling the “neck” of the bulb, which houses the heat sink.
Ideally, lights should be in a well-ventilated area to allow for heat dispersion. In enclosed spaces, the ambient air could heat the bulb further, “cooking it” and shortening its lifespan.
Can LED Lights Start A Fire?
While it’s true that LED lights produce some heat, they are unlikely to get warm enough to start a fire. Even immediately surrounding the heat sync, they’re not typically hot enough.
Obviously, there are some exceptions.
The US Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled LED flashlights due to fire risks. However, this is usually due to defects in the manufacturing or design process.
You may also have stumbled on videos of the FlashTorch frying an egg. While impressive, that flashlight uses a halogen bulb, not an LED, so it doesn’t count.
Typically, however, extremely powerful handheld LED flashlights can produce ridiculous amounts of heat. These flashlights can absolutely start a fire.
In short, it’s good practice to deal with an LED bulb like any other light fixture. While the risk of fire is definitely lower than with incandescent bulbs, you still shouldn’t be reckless when handling them.
How Lightbulbs Work: LED vs. Incandescent
Believe it or not, incandescent bulbs create light as a by-product, which is surprising considering that this is technically their primary function.
These bulbs work through a process of resistance. Current is forced through a thin piece of wire, significantly increasing the amount of resistance and friction, which creates heat.
Eventually, the wire gets so hot that it starts releasing infrared radiation, causing it to glow brightly. This white-hot light is amplified by the gas inside the light bulb.
This means most of the energy goes into adding heat to the wire until it is hot enough to glow. As you can imagine, this isn’t the most efficient use of electrical energy.
In an LED bulb, electrical diodes act like one-way valves that allow current to flow in one direction but oppose the opposite flow. As the electrical current jumps between the diodes, the materials light up.
Unlike incandescent lights, LEDs produce light as a primary product, not a by-product of heat.
However, this doesn’t mean that LEDs are perfectly efficient because there is still friction in forcing current to jump through semiconductors. And from this friction comes heat.
Wrapping It Up
Although LED lights still create heat, the amount of heat they produce is far less than a similar incandescent light bulb.
Incandescent bulbs produce light as a by-product by creating extreme heat that makes the bulb release enough infrared radiation to start to glow in the visible spectrum. So, most of the energy is wasted.
LEDs create light using a diode made from elements emitting light as electricity passes through them.