What is the best choice when choosing a LED landscape lighting system? LED drop-ins or integrated LED fixtures

This has been a highly debated question for the past couple of years.  Nine out of ten landscape lighting professionals still see the drop-in LED as the perfect solution for their professionally designed outdoor lighting systems due to their ability to maintain flexibility on a project.  Having the ability to change beam spread, color, color temperature, and wattage is the pillar to creating the perfect landscape lighting scene because as we all know things change from the design stage to the installation stage.

Integrated LED fixtures are becoming more and more popular but they have many drawbacks that can create problems once they are installed in the field.  One of the main problems is that integrated LED fixtures take away a lot of the professional’s flexibility. No longer can you simply swap out a 7W LED MR16 for a 4W LED MR16 because a feature is too bright.  Now, with integrated, you have to remove the fixture and replace it with another lower wattage LED. Also if the LED driver or chips fail then you will have to replace the entire fixture.  No longer can you simply swap out the bad LED for the new LED.  These are just a few of the drawbacks of integrated LED fixtures.  Obviously integrated LEDs have their pros but some of the cons have prevented their continued growth in the marketplace when compared to direct replacement LEDs.

Below is a quick comparison of integrated LEDs and direct replacement LEDs…

Pros of direct replacement LEDs:

  • Fit into most new and existing landscape lighting fixtures
  • Flexibility of design
    • Variety of beam spreads, color, wattages, and color temperatures available
    • Lower cost to retrofitting an existing system
    • Fastest return on investment

Cons of direct replacement LEDs:

  • There are many low quality drop-in LEDs on the market which have given the quality drop-ins a bad rap.
    • Cost does matter…just because an LED has a CREE chip does not mean it is quality – you get what you pay for with LEDs.
  • Not as good heat dissipation as integrated fixtures thus the warranty life is usually 3-5 years (standard). Anything higher than 5 years on a direct replacement LED – be wary.
  • Cannot be dropped into any old fixture.  The fixtures must be water tight to help protect the drop-in LEDs.

Pros of integrated LEDs:

  • Higher lumen output based on size of LED package
  • Smaller, more compact form factor
  • Better heat dissipation
  • Longer warranty – 10 years (standard)
    • Most all capacitors located in LED drivers only have a life expectancy of 10 years (or less) so this often drives the warranty.
  • Water tight design
    • You usually do not have to worry about water intrusion because the fixtures are specifically designed and pre-assembled to be watertight.

Cons of integrated LEDs:

  • Less flexibility
  • Harder to maintain – once the LED package fails you usually have to replace the entire fixture
  • Higher cost – takes much longer to recoup your initial investment

So which LED package do you choose?  LEDs are like computers, constantly changing and getting better each and every day.  Choosing the right LED system completely depends on the goals of the user, project, and end result.  Integrated and drop-in LED fixtures both have their place in the landscape lighting market and there’s no black and white answer as to when to use one or the other.  When considering a LED lighting system, ask yourself questions that pertain to cost, control, and overall quality in order to choose an option suited best for you and/or the end user.  There are plenty of opportunities for either side and choosing which is best can be difficult.  Consult a qualified ClaroLux Lighting Dealer who can point you in the right direction.