LED Grow Lights – The Future of Lighting Is Here

LED Grow Lights – The Future of Lighting Is Here

Over the last decade, there has been an explosion in LED Grow lighting technology.  New and innovative ideas have started to replace the tried and true methods used by indoor growers in the past. 

Through these numerous market changes, LED lighting has managed to prove itself to be the most cost effective and energy efficient form of lighting available today. 


This wasn't always the case for LED lighting systems and it was less than a decade ago that LED lights were considered too weak to power an effective indoor grow set-up.  

Today we are going to look at some of the key factors that played a role in the rise of LED lighting and how LEDs work to produce the maximum amount of usable light per bulb.

If you are familiar with hydroponics or indoor gardening techniques you have undoubtedly seen some of the other popular lighting options used in indoor growing setups. 

These are the most popular lighting systems in use today.  Each of these developments was revolutionary to the lighting industry and it is very common to see indoor growers using a combination of these lights to get the results they desire.


Types of Grow Lights


Light BulbIncandescent

Contrary to what you may have been taught in school.  The first light bulb was not invented by Thomas Edison but rather by Sir Humphry David in 1809.  Edison greatly refined this invention 60 years later to make it into the incandescent light bulbs you see in homes around the world today.  To understand how an incandescent light bulb works you need to understand a little bit about how light travels.


At its most basic form, light can be broken down into particles called photons.  These are created as energy packets when atoms suddenly gain or lose energy.  When an atom is energized, its energy moves further away from its core.  When the energy is stopped, the atom will return to its original state releasing the excess energy in the form of photons or light energy.


In a traditional incandescent bulb, the power needed to energize the atoms is derived from electricity.  The key component to any incandescent lighting is its filament.  This is a thin piece of tungsten wire that is housed in a vacuum to prevent combustion.  Tungsten has an extremely high melting point making it ideal for use in light bulbs.  The size of the filament determines the intensity of the light emitted.


Electrons burst through the tightly coiled tungsten but because it is so tightly coiled, some electrons are forced off.  These electrons collide into each other causing the filament to heat up intensely.  This causes the hot tungsten to glow from heat.  This red-hot glow creates the light we use in our homes every day.  The airtight seal around the tungsten prevents it from igniting the open air and burning itself into dust.  Eventually, the tungsten filament becomes brittle and breaks from the vibrations and heat.  When this happens we say your bulb is burnt out. 


To counter this, manufacturers fill the bulb with an inert gas such as krypton.  With the gas trapped inside of the bulb any atoms that break free of the filament are bounced around and eventually rejoined.  This triples the life expectancy of incandescent light bulbs.


Although you can find incandescent bulbs in almost every home or building you enter, they have proven to be very inefficient.  Your traditional incandescent light bulb produces about 20% visible light.  A small percentage of about 5% of the light being produced is outside of our visible spectrum such as infrared and ultraviolet light.  The rest of the energy is transformed into heat leaving the bulb too hot to handle.



Fluorescent lamps were invented to counteract the wastefulness and heat produced by incandescent bulbs.  A fluorescent lamp contains mercury vapor and inert gas.  When current is applied through the bulb energy is transferred into the mercury electrons pushing them into higher orbits around the atom.  When the mercury atom is restored to its uncharged state, these excess protons are released creating light energy.


What makes fluorescent light bulbs so much more effective than incandescent bulbs is the way it is able to convert non-visible ultraviolet light into visible light.  Fluorescent lighting systems convert the ultraviolet radiation into visible light by utilizing a phosphorus coating on the inside of the glass bulb.  This style of lighting has been popular in low intensity grow operations for decades but it lacks the power and lumens necessary to flower.


Full Spectrum Florescent

This style of fluorescent bulb produces both visible and invisible color wavelengths of light colors.  The term full spectrum was first introduced in the 1960's by a gentleman named Dr. John Ott.  At the time, his claims of producing a bulb that more accurately reflected the spectrum of the sun were revolutionary and many industries saw his project as a means to improve production.  By reproducing the entire light spectrum, Dr. Ott was able to produce a more natural lighting solution.  Full spectrum fluorescents combine the benefits of Dr. Otts research with the low-cost benefits of fluorescent lighting to save you money and increase your yield.



Halogen light bulbs provide brighter light and require less energy than your traditional incandescent bulbs.  A halogen bulb will last about twice as long as a standard incandescent bulb and uses up to 30% less energy.  This is accomplished by using a small halogen-filled quartz bulb to encase the lighting filament.  When the filament is heated by electricity, evaporated tungsten from the filament combines with the halogen gas inside the bulb to create light.  The combined electrons are then recycled to form a thin layer over the quartz bulb.  This provides further protection from heat damage and allows halogen bulbs to burn brighter.


High-Intensity Discharge

This style of lighting can produce up to 300% more lumens than a halogen bulb and because of this; HID lighting is the type of light bulb found in your car's headlights.  HID lights create these added lumens by applying electrical energy to vacuum-sealed Tungsten electrodes.  Halogen and metal salt are sealed inside of the quartz capsule.  When an electrical current is provided, the electrons react with the metal salt causing it to evaporate into a state of plasma.  This plasma intensifies light and reduces the amount of power needed.  Since there is no filament in a HID bulb, they last much longer than traditional incandescent.  HID bulbs were the standard in indoor growing until LED lighting systems.


LED Grow Lights

How LED lights workA LED lighting system contains multiple semiconductor diodes set up in a particular pattern.  A diode is made up of two semiconductor devices that have opposite charged poles and are sandwiched together.  When electricity is applied to the diode.  The electrons are forced across the semiconductor diodes and into each other.  When a positive and a negative electron collide, they combine with each other.  In order to make themselves stable, they must release some energy.  This energy is released in the form of a photon.  The amount of photon energy released determines the frequency and color of the light.  The type of material used in the semiconductor dictates the efficiency and performance of the LED.  This released photon is directed through a chip to channel as much light as possible in the desired direction.


LED Lights - A Brief History


A physicist by the name of Nick Holonyak Jr. was the first person to envision this style of lighting and how it could be used to revolutionize the way we light our lives.  Nick was working at General Electric at the time of his discovery and as a result of this, General Electric was the first company to produce a working LED.  The first LED's could only emit infrared light.  This is the type of LED found in your TV remote. 

Since there is no filament or gas to heat up, LEDs consume less electricity than incandescent bulbs and last longer.  LEDs can also be manufactured much smaller than traditional bulbs and a LED can handle rough movements without burning out, making them ideal for mobile applications such as headlights.  LED lights are easier to build and far less destructive to the environment upon disposal.  The results are in, LED lighting is here to stay.


Choosing the Best LED Grow Light

The internet is filled with pages of LED grow light manufacturers, all claiming to produce the brightest LEDs on the planet.  The truth is, not every LED is created equal.  By taking a little time to learn some of the key factors to consider when purchasing a LED grow light, you can save yourself some money and any potential problems in the future.



The first thing to consider is your budget.  You don't need to break the bank to get a reliable LED grow light but you probably have noticed that all LED lights are slightly more expensive than their fluorescent relatives.



You need to consider your power requirements.  LEDs usually have two power values.  The first power value is the rated wattage.  This is the higher number and it can be misleading.  The reason for this is LEDs do not run at full wattage.  They usually run at about 2/3 wattage to increase the chips life expectancy.  The second number is the actual wattage and this is what you should use when you calculate to see if your LED is the right fit for your grow room.


Grow Space 

Ideally, your LED should have a wattage that equals about 25-watts per sq ft. of grow space.  For example, say you have four plants in 4 square feet of area (2 x 2) each require a minimum of 400 watts.


16 square feet x 25 watts/sq.ft. = 400 watts.


According to this equation, you will need 400 watts to cover your grow space efficiently.  If you can afford it, you should push for the 600 watts and give your plants the extra energy.  This will ensure your garden has everything it needs to have explosive growth.  Below is a chart to help you make the right decision.


Coverage Area



LED Units

2 x 2



180 - 240w

2 x 3



300 - 400w

2 x 4



180 - 240w

4 x 4




4 x 6



(2) 600w


Light Spectrum

The next thing to consider is your light spectrum.  In most cases, you should try to get full spectrum lights for your grow room.  The exception to this would be if you were getting a light to use only in one stage of plant growth such as flowering.  Full spectrum LEDs come in two variants.

White LEDs - This style of LED closely approximates natural sunlight.  They function like a combination of HPS and MH lights and they are designed to give you a spectrum comparable to sunlight.  The downside of this type of LED is that it produces a large amount of green and yellow spectrum light, which cannot be absorbed by plants through photosynthesis.


Multiple Colored LEDs - Multi-band fixtures give you the maximum amount of plant-usable light.  Unlike white LEDS, this type of LED only produces light that is usable by plants, so it is much more efficient.  A 12-band spectrum is ideal for indoor growing.


Coverage Area 

Your coverage area will increase the higher you raise your LED light but as your coverage increases your PAR will decrease.  As a result of this, manufacturers are known to list their coverage areas slightly larger than optimal coverage.  The most powerful LED lights on the market can only provide a maximum coverage area of 5 x 5 square feet. 


This means, despite all the claims you may read online, you should anticipate this as the largest coverage area you will be able to handle with one light.  If you are using your LED for vegging your plants, you can get away with placing your light further away from the canopy.  During flowering, you are only going to get a maximum 4 x 4 square feet of effective coverage.


PAR Value 

Your PAR value is the amount of light that a plant can actually use during photosynthesis.  As PAR increases, the coverage area decreases and vice versa, PAR decreases as the distance from the canopy is increased.  You should try to get a LED with a high average PAR rating throughout the coverage area.  Recently manufacturers have begun to stop listing their PAR values because people have complained they can be misleading.  This is because PAR values are usually recorded directly under your lamp and unless you plan to grow one plant, there is not going to be an even spread of useable light.



The last thing to consider is the warranty program.  You should try to stick to a reputable brand LED.  These will include some sort of manufacturer’s warranty when purchased.  A 1-year manufacturer’s warranty is the industry standard at this time and sticking to a LED that is covered by a good warranty just makes sense.  However, it is important to mention that if you choose a no-name LED brand and they go out of business, there is not going to be anyone there to honor your warranty, if you need it.


Why LED Lights are The Best - Final Thoughts


After learning why LED lights are so great, it's easy to see why they have continued to grow in popularity over the last 5 years.  You can't beat the energy efficient long lasting shine of LEDs.  Save yourself some money on your next electric bill and give your plants the extra energy they need to grow stronger and faster than ever before.  Welcome to the high-tech world of LED technology.


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  • David Hamilton
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