David Boultbee, Technical Consultant at Ultra LEDs, discusses how LEDs can help improve safety when lighting new buildings.

As sustainability becomes more and more important to customers, sourcing not only the best quality, but also the safest materials needed for a building is essential. When it comes to choosing the lighting for a building, here are some of the most important considerations to make:

Choose the correct cabling for low voltage circuits

Low voltage wiring, used to power LEDs, is often considered safer because the risk of electric shock is greatly reduced. But, while this may be true, the lower voltage of these circuits means that the amount of current drawn from them is far greater than that of a high-voltage system. As a result fittings and fixtures can overheate and pose a fire risk.

This can be for a number of reasons: the cables and fixtures may not be protected by a low voltage fuse, or the cables may not be thick enough to carry the designated load of the system. Similarly, contractors may underestimate the overall current that's drawn by an installation.

When installing LED tapes, I recommend always taking the time to choose the correct wire — at least 20AWG for a current of up to 3A and 18AWG for up to 7A. Similarly, the installer will need to ensure that long runs of tape are powered from several points and each wire from the transformer is protected by a fuse that is at least 10% below the maximum rating of the cable.

To avoid any wiring problems, it is important that the building adheres to the standard required for wiring in the UK as set out in section 715 of BS7671:2018. This requires all low voltage wiring to be protected by a failsafe device. The installer should also choose the cross-sectional area of conductors based on the load current.

Choose lighting with quicker cooldown period

Traditional bulbs, such as like incandescents, convert more than 90% of the total energy input directly into heat, with only 10% actually turned into light.

In comparison, LEDs use much less power and are able to operate effectively on the low-voltage electric systems outlined above. The hottest part of an LED is only half the temperature of a halogen or incandescent bulb of the same brightness, and they are around 20% cooler than CLF bulbs. This is because they use a heat sink, located at the bulb's base that draws most of the heat to one place.

When working with LED tapes, I would recommend sticking these to something metal, like an extrusion which has been designed to dissipate any heat generated from LEDs.

Pick more resistant lighting materials

While traditional bulbs are typically made of glass, LEDs are solid state lights (SSLs). SSLs produce visible light by means of electroluminescence rather than relying on electrical filaments, plasma or gas for illumination. They also don’t generate heat through infrared radiation like incandescents.

Electroluminescence is a process whereby an electric current passes through a semiconductor diode, which causes the semiconductor material to glow, producing visible light with better energy efficiency and reduced heat generation.

Similarly, in adherence to European Legislation, LED lamps do not contain mercury. This makes them safer in instances of bulb breakage in comparison to traditional bulbs.

Opt for lighting with a longer lifespan

The cooler temperature of LED bulbs makes for a much longer lifespan, which ensures efficiency and sustainability for your modular buildings. LEDs have the potential to last 1,500 hours, and have the advantage of gradually depreciating in lumens over time, rather than just failing at the end of their lifespan like incandescent bulbs do.

Most domestic LEDs are considered to be at the end of their lifespan when they drop to 70% of their original brightness, however this can be as low as 50% for some makes.

Be aware that any bulbs that are used in wet areas, such as bath and shower rooms, must be IP-rated, or moisture from steam or any water could damage them.

LEDs offer many benefits that can help make a new building both more sustainable and more safe.