Before Buying an LED Fixture, Find Out if the LED Array Inside can be Replaced

recessed cans in museum with LED array overlay

Every day more and more customers, both residential and commercial, contact us about LED lighting. The LED media buzz has been so pervasive that virtually everyone has heard about LEDs and feels compelled to at least give them a look the next time they buy lighting.

LED replacement bulbs are usually the first experience with LED for most consumers. Because light bulb manufacturers have built direct replacement LED equivalent bulbs to match the most common incandescent, halogen and fluorescent bulbs, the LED experience usually starts here.

The use of LED replacement bulbs that screw or plug into the same traditional sockets and that look mostly like the traditional bulbs they replace has been the early wave of both commercial and residential LED technology adoption.

The next wave, well underway in the commercial new construction and remodel sector, focuses on specifying or replacing traditional light source fixtures with dedicated LED fixtures. In this post, we’ll examine one important piece of information a buyer of an LED fixture should understand before a purchase.

New LED Fixtures Do Not Use LED Light Bulbs

LED fixtures often have similar housings, lenses and reflectors as traditional fixtures. The similarities end there. Inside the fixture you will not find the same LED bulbs being purchased today to replace existing incandescent, halogen or fluorescent bulbs. Instead you will find an LED array that looks more like a printed circuit board than a light bulb.

When manufacturers design LED fixtures, they have several options when it comes to the LED light source. Typically manufacturers do not simply install a conventional (and often bulky) light bulb socket that will accept LED replacement bulbs. Instead, they choose from a couple other options.

They can custom design and build the LED array to fit the housing, optics and the light output requirements for their fixture. This approach has the advantage of allowing a compact LED array that fits the unique requirements of the fixture. The disadvantages are the need for expertise and the cost of building custom LED arrays and connecting them to drivers and heat sinks.

Rather than custom built, the manufacturer can use pre-built LED integrated arrays and modules (an LED array, driver, optic and thermal control assembly) manufactured by Cree, Sylvania, Philips, GE and others specifically designed to fit different types of fixtures with different photometric requirements. This approach eliminates the cost of custom design and allows the customer a relatively easy way to replace the LED module if necessary. The limiting factor for fixture manufacturers becomes finding a module that matches the physical, electrical and photometric requirements of their specific fixture.

Either way, what ends up in the LED fixture is not a light bulb in the conventional sense of the word. Instead of shopping for replacement bulbs every couple of years, customers may order a new LED array or module every 10 years or so, if necessary. By that time, a new LED fixture may be the preferred purchase.

LED Technology Improvements May Drive LED Array Replacements

While there are benefits to customized LED arrays for fixture manufacturers, they also recognize that these arrays may need to be replaced or upgraded as technology improves. The pace of change with LED has been extremely rapid as both efficacy improvements and cost declines make last year’s LED light sources, if not obsolete, at least behind the curve very quickly. Therefore, LED fixture manufacturers, for both cost reasons and as a hedge against technology improvements, are moving toward the replaeable LED array or module approach. Practically this means the original LED array in the fixture can be switched out with a new array or module – analogous to changing a light bulb.

The bottom line for consumers – find out if the LED array can be replaced? If so, how easy is it to buy the new array (knowing it could be years away) and install it? These questions have not been necessary for traditional fixture purchases. With LED fixtures, a replaceable array may not be be required, but it’s important to know your options.

The learn more about the lighting industry effort to standardize LED light modules for fixtures, go the Zhaga consortium web site.

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Dave Burtner

Dave has been active in the lighting industry since 1994. Formerly a member of the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America and certified by the National Council On Qualifications for Lighting Professionals, Dave now writes blog posts, lighting tips and provides lighting product assistance for the Topbulb website.

5 thoughts on “Before Buying an LED Fixture, Find Out if the LED Array Inside can be Replaced

  1. LED lighting is what my father talked to me about doing for his home. He has plans to wire up his entire house with LED. The wiring is what got him wanting to work on after seeing a friend of his also doing it.

  2. Drew says:

    That’s interesting to know that you don’t really have to use led bulbs in led fixtures but I’m not sure I would want to use anything other than led bulbs if I had the choice. They save so much money that way.

  3. Baxter Abel says:

    I had no idea that LED lighting solutions vary so much. I also didn’t realize that LED fixtures often don’t use LED light bulbs. I’ve heard the LED lighting solutions usually help people to save money in the long run, I’ll have to look more into it though!

  4. Edward Paris says:


    I have 15 W led dowdlighter and the driver is gone. I found. Found 36w drivers same brand do you think I can use this

    Thank you

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