Many LED lights come in two varieties: line voltage vs low voltage. A line-voltage version for direct use with a 120V mains supply and a low-voltage variant with a 12V transformer. LED technology has been around far longer than line voltage and low voltage technologies. Both variants of the classic incandescent bulbs were available. This article explains when each of the two technologies should be used.
Definition of Line Voltage and Low Voltage
Line voltage is the standard voltage in outlets and junction boxes in the United States and Canada, 120 volts. Line-voltage fixtures are essentially plug-and-play in this regard. Low-voltage lighting utilizes 12 or 24 volts and requires a transformer to reduce the line voltage from 120 volts to avoid the low-voltage bulb burning out.
Low-voltage lighting transformers are either incorporated within the fixture or situated elsewhere. A transformer’s wattage rating should be equal to or more than the lighting system’s total wattage. Transformers typically require a minimum combined wattage to run the lighting system correctly and without flickering or buzzing.
Line Voltage vs Low Voltage Comparison
#1. Initial Cost
Line voltage offers lower-cost fixtures and light bulbs, as well as more straightforward installation. Dimmers for line-voltage lighting are also less costly than low-voltage lighting dimmers. Although line-voltage lights have a cheaper starting cost, their ongoing expenses are often more extraordinary unless they’re put in low-use areas, in which case the difference in operating costs is minimal.
While low-voltage light fixtures, bulbs, and dimmers are more expensive due to a transformer’s requirement, the running expenses are often less costly over time than line-voltage operation if the lighting system is utilized frequently.
#2. Quality of Light
Low-voltage bulbs generate a sharper, more natural-looking light than higher-voltage bulbs, which provide a warm, diffused light. While focusing the beam of a high-voltage bulb that scatters light is brutal, low-voltage bulbs give a great degree of optical control using only the bulb’s reflector. Because a low-volt lamp’s filament is smaller than a regular lamp’s, most of the lumens are concentrated in the beam. As a result, there is less light diffusion.
#3. Energy Efficiency & Associated Costs
While a low-voltage bulb, such as a 50-watt MR16, uses the same amount of energy as a regular line-voltage bulb of the same wattage, the former provides approximately 100 watts of illumination for the same amount of energy. Furthermore, light is more efficiently focussed where it is required, reducing the number of fixtures needed in a given lighting design.
Low-voltage lights also have a longer lifespan. A regular MR16 bulb lasts 6,000 hours, compared to 750 hours for a standard home bulb. Low-voltage lights are also less likely to shatter than high-voltage bulbs since they are designed to withstand more significant stress and vibration.
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Line voltage lighting vs. low voltage lighting: which is best for your space?
When it comes to selecting the right lighting system for your project or area, it’s critical to understand the benefits and drawbacks of both line voltage and low voltage lighting systems, as well as where each is most typically employed.
#1. Where to use line voltage lighting
Although the contrary is not valid, line voltage lighting can be used almost anyplace low voltage lighting can be used. Line voltage lighting systems can be installed as far as a wire from a power source can reach. Lighting intrinsic to a building’s construction – or anything that isn’t in the furnishings or millwork – is usually powered by line voltage.
#2. Where to use low voltage lighting
Low voltage lighting is frequently used in show lighting and other applications where running entire standard-voltage electrical conduit and wire is difficult.
Low-voltage lighting systems are often used for display lighting and landscape lighting and are occasionally employed in pendant and recessed lighting applications. Its biggest drawback is distance; you can only receive low voltage from a transformer box so far.
Pros and cons of both technologies
Many LED lights are available in both line voltage and low voltage variants. Both provide the same amount of light. When should you select between the two options? In many circumstances, it doesn’t make a difference, but the technologies offer benefits and drawbacks in others.
#1. Line voltage pros
Line voltage LED lights to have their built-in power source and may be used straight from the mains. There is no need for an additional transformer. The previous bulbs may be replaced with retrofit LEDs when upgrading to LED.
- No transformer required
- Simple conversion to LED
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#2. Line voltage cons
Because of the integrated power supply unit, line voltage LED lights have a more significant power consumption than low-voltage LED lights. This results in more waste heat, which might be a concern depending on the installation scenario. Heat buildup lowers the LED’s lifetime in tiny lamp glasses or recessed spotlights. During connection and operation with 120V mains power, all safety standards must be followed.
- More power dissipation/waste heat
- Higher safety requirements
#3. Low voltage pros
In most low-voltage LED lights, the LED and its driver are the only components. Because the integrated power supply is lacking, there is extremely little power dissipation, and very high efficiency may be attained. A central power source is typically the better solution, especially for setups with several lighting. For cable systems or moist rooms, 12V low voltage operation is safe and preferred.
- Lower power dissipation/waste heat
- High efficiency
- Non-hazardous voltage
#4. Low voltage cons
An appropriate LED transformer is required for the operation of all low-voltage LED lights. This isn’t inherently a drawback, but it’s only practical in installations with many LEDs or spotlights. The transformer should match the light installation’s performance; otherwise, the individual LEDs’ excellent efficiency would be squandered in the transformer.
- Transformer required
- Higher planning effort
Determined factors to choose which technology
#1. Existing installations
It is advised that the prior voltage variation be kept when upgrading existing installations to LEDs. The benefit is that you can keep using the cabling. The only things that need to be replaced are the lighting or spotlights. To eliminate difficulties like flickering or flashing, the transformer in low-voltage installations may need to be replaced with an LED power supply.
Maintain the current electrical installation’s high or low voltage variation.
#2. DC or AC voltage
Some low-voltage LED bulbs require a 12V DC power supply, while others require a 12V AC power supply. Most LED bulbs include an inbuilt rectifier and may be used with both DC and AC power. Would you please keep in mind that while using 12V AC, there will be extra rectifier losses? It is better to use a 12V DC power supply.
Select an AC/DC transformer that matches your LED lights.
#3. LED spots and recessed lights
The choice between line-voltage and low-voltage LED recessed lights, and ceiling spots is the most challenging. Some electricians propose LED recessed lighting in low-voltage technology for wet spaces like restrooms for safety reasons. The transformer should then be placed outside the room as well. Due to their decreased power dissipation, low-voltage spotlights are predicted to have a longer lifespan.
Wet rooms should be placed in low-voltage areas.
If you want to put a lot of spotlights with a lot of luminous power to light up a big room, the line-voltage version is the way to go. In contrast to the 12V version, line losses with a 120V mains supply are minimal.
For lengthy cable paths, choose line-voltage sites.
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There are advantages to both line-voltage vs low-voltage lighting systems. However, the simplicity of installation and long-term functioning and the expenses connected with each are the main factors in choosing one over the other. Line-voltage lighting is more expensive to operate in the long term, but it is less costly to acquire and install. Low-voltage lighting is more costly to purchase and install, but it is usually less expensive to operate in the long run.