Which Is Better for Outdoor Use: LED or Incandescent Lighting?

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Regarding outdoor lighting, both LED, and incandescent bulbs have their strengths and are popular among homeowners and designers. While incandescent bulbs may provide a more classic and elegant feel to outdoor spaces, LED lighting is increasingly gaining popularity due to its flexibility and cost-effectiveness. LEDs are known for their durability and energy efficiency, as they consume much less power than incandescent bulbs while still providing bright and long-lasting illumination.

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Additionally, LED lights are versatile and can be used in various outdoor settings, from highlighting garden features and pathways to creating ambiance in outdoor seating areas. On the other hand, incandescent bulbs have a warm and familiar glow that many people find comforting and timeless. They also have a more comprehensive range of color temperatures and can be easily dimmed to adjust the brightness and mood of the outdoor space. Ultimately, deciding between LED and incandescent lighting for your outdoor place will depend on your tastes and the specific requirements of your project.

To make an informed decision about which type of lighting to choose for your outdoor project, learning about each type of lighting is essential. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place. With our vast experience in lighting up numerous projects, we can provide valuable insights to help you choose the most suitable for your needs.

Let’s get started.

outdoor facade lighting

Before we delve into the nuances of outdoor lighting and which options may be best suited for your needs, let’s take a moment to review some basic information about incandescent and LED lighting and the distinctions between the two.

What Is Incandescent Lighting?

Incandescent lighting is an electric lighting technology that produces light by heating a filament, usually tungsten, inside a glass bulb. When an electric current passes through the filament, its temperature rises, and it starts to glow due to a phenomenon known as incandescence. This glowing results from the filament emitting visible light as it becomes hot.

Incandescent bulbs are typically made of a glass enclosure filled with an inert gas like argon or nitrogen and a tungsten filament coiled inside. When the bulb is linked to an electrical circuit, an electric current passes through the filament, leading it to become hot and produce light. Tungsten is used for the filament due to its extremely high melting point, enabling it to endure the elevated temperatures required for light emission. Additionally, the temperature within the bulb can reach up to 4500°F or 2500°C.

For more than a hundred years, incandescent bulbs have been extensively utilized. Still, they are now being replaced by more energy-efficient alternatives, such as compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs. This is because incandescent bulbs are relatively inefficient, converting only a small percentage of their electrical energy into visible light, with the majority lost as heat.

Empirical Evidence: Only 10% of an incandescent bulb’s energy is converted to light, whereas the other 90% turns into heat.

As a result, they have a shorter lifespan compared to other lighting technologies and can contribute to higher energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions. As a result, incandescent lighting is being phased out in many countries in favor of more energy-efficient options.

led vs Incandescent bulb

What Are The Primary Drawbacks of Incandescent Lights?

The following are some of the shortcomings associated with incandescent lighting:

Incandescent lights are the least energy-efficient, with 10 lumens/watt efficiency ratings. Unfortunately, the vast majority of the energy they consume (~90%) is wasted as heat instead of visible light.

Incandescent lights have the shortest lifespan of all the lighting options available, with an average operating time of around 1,200 hours. This means that, despite being inexpensive, you need to purchase a significant number of bulbs (50-100) to match the lifespan of a single LED light. As a result, incandescent lamps have high maintenance costs.

What Is LED Lighting?

LED lighting is a type of lighting that uses light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to produce light. LEDs are semiconductors that emit light when an electric current passes through them; LED lighting is known for its energy efficiency, long lifespan, and durability.

It is used in a variety of applications, including residential lighting, commercial lighting, automotive lighting, and electronic displays. LED lighting rapidly replaces traditional incandescent and fluorescent lighting due to its many advantages, including lower energy consumption, lower heat emission, and longer lifespan.

The Differences Between LED and Incandescent Lights

Color Temperature

Incandescent lights are renowned for their cozy and inviting ambiance, characterized by a warm and yellowish hue due to their color temperature, which typically ranges between 2700K-3000K on the correlated color temperature (CCT) scale.

LED lights offer great flexibility in color temperature and are available in a wide range of options to suit different needs and preferences. Unlike incandescent lights, LED lights are not limited to a particular color range and are available in both warm (<3000 K) and cool (>6000 K) temperatures, as well as all ranges in between. This makes LED lights versatile in various settings, from warm and inviting spaces to cooler, more clinical environments.



The LED lights’ CRI (color rendering index) can vary widely depending on the light used. However, LED lights offer a broad spectrum of CRI values, ranging from 65 to 98.

Incandescent bulbs typically have excellent CRI ratings, with a perfect CRI of 100 for a ‘warm’ light with a color temperature of around 2700K. Although CRI values may decrease slightly as color temperature increases, they still tend to remain above 95, which is still considered outstanding.

WINNER: Incandescent

Turning ON / OFF

Regarding outdoor lighting, incandescent bulbs require a few seconds to reach their maximum illuminance, as the filament needs time to heat up and glow red hot. In contrast, LED bulbs don’t require any warm-up time and can reach their maximum illuminance almost instantly.



Incandescent lights have the shortest lifespan of all lighting types, with an average operating time of only 1200 hours, which means that they require frequent replacement and maintenance, leading to higher overall costs for your lighting project. Additionally, to match the lifespan of a single LED light, you need to purchase about 70 incandescent bulbs.

LEDs can run for about 50,000-100,000 hours, almost 100 times more than the average life of an incandescent lamp; while an incandescent light will need replacement every year, LEDs can last up to 20 years!



LEDs offer easy and flexible dimming options, allowing you to adjust the light output anywhere from 100% to 0.5%. This dimming is achieved by reducing the forward current or modulating the pulse duration. It’s worth noting that traditional incandescent dimmers, which reduce the voltage sent to the light, are incompatible with LED lights. To dim LED lights, you’ll need to purchase LED dimmer switches.

Dimming incandescent lights is also a straightforward process. Incandescent lights are susceptible to voltage inputs, and dimming is achieved by reducing the voltage, causing the light to emit progressively less light exponentially. However, unlike LEDs, incandescent dimming has a more significant impact on other characteristics of the light, such as power consumption, lifespan, and color temperature.



Due to their short lifespan, incandescent bulbs require a higher maintenance budget. Over a year, you’ll need to replace or maintain specific components of each incandescent bulb, which can be costly in labor and materials. This can result in significant yearly expenses.

In contrast, LEDs require minimal maintenance. LEDs can last anywhere from 5 to 20 years, depending on their quality and brand, resulting in significant savings on replacement and maintenance costs.



The direction of lighting is another crucial distinction between the two types.

Incandescent bulbs emit light in all directions, also known as omnidirectional lighting (360 degrees). This type of lighting cannot be concentrated, reflected, or deflected onto a particular illuminated area, resulting in energy waste. Although diffusers and reflectors can improve this somewhat, the energy losses are still significant compared to directional lights.

LEDs emit light in a 180-degree direction, which is advantageous as it lets the light be concentrated over a specific target area instead of being dispersed in all 360 degrees around the bulb. To better understand how directional lighting impacts illumination, it’s advisable to examine measurements such as “useful lumens” or “system efficiency.”

WINNER: Incandescent

Energy Efficiency

LEDs are highly efficient compared to all other lighting types available and particularly efficient compared to incandescent bulbs. The typical efficacy range for LED light sources is between 80 and 150 lumens per watt. LEDs stand out for their exceptional system efficiency, which evaluates the quantity of light that reaches the desired target area after considering all the losses. The majority of LED system efficiency values are above 100 lumens per watt.

Among modern lights, incandescent lights are the least efficient, as a vast proportion of the energy they consume (90%) is utilized for producing heat instead of light. However, their source efficiency, i.e., the light the bulb generates overall, is approximately 10 lumens per watt. In contrast, their system efficiency, i.e., the amount of light that reaches the intended target area after all losses, is even lower.


Light Emissions (In the Visible Spectrum)

LEDs emit a narrow spectrum of visible light, minimizing energy loss due to irrelevant radiation types such as IR and UV, as well as heat commonly found in conventional lighting. This efficient conversion process enables most of the energy the light source consumes to be directly converted to visible light.

Most light emitted by incandescent lighting is in the form of infrared (IR) and ultraviolet (UV) rays, with only a tiny fraction converted to visible light. Prolonged exposure to IR and UV radiation can lead to eye damage and various eye conditions in humans.


Efficiency Droop

As the current supplied to LEDs increases, their efficiency decreases, and the heat output rises, resulting in a reduced device lifespan. Over time, the overall performance decline is minimal, with approximately 80% of production maintaining an average output at the end of the LEDs’ lifespan. Nevertheless, recent research advancements have identified the root causes of LED efficiency droop and look to reduce losses further.

Despite having an exceptionally brief lifespan (approximately 1,200 hours), incandescent bulbs maintain their brightness consistently until they burn out.


Heat Emissions

LEDs produce minimal forward heat, which is advantageous in most situations. However, when used as outdoor lighting in cold and snowy conditions, it can pose a challenge. Unlike traditional HID lights, snow that lands on the LED light will not melt, necessitating a visor or downward-facing orientation to prevent it from accumulating on the light’s surface.

Around 90% of the emissions produced by incandescent lights are in the form of heat. Although heat emissions may be advantageous in specific scenarios, they typically indicate energy inefficiency as the device’s primary purpose is to emit light, not heat.


Failure Characteristics

LEDs usually fail gradually by dimming over time. Since LED lights typically consist of multiple light emitters in a single luminaire, the failure of one or two diodes does not necessarily result in the loss of the entire luminaire.

Incandescent lights usually experience a hard failure, meaning they stop functioning altogether and abruptly. Although incandescent lights burn brightly throughout their lifespan, their limited longevity (around 1,200 hours versus 100,000+ hours for LEDs) makes them challenging to maintain and replace, resulting in higher maintenance and replacement expenses.


Upfront Cost

Incandescent bulbs are relatively inexpensive, with a manufacturing cost of just $1 or $2. In contrast, LEDs have a higher upfront cost, typically ranging from $3 to $10.

WINNER: Incandescent 

Foot Candles

Footcandle is a unit of measurement that specifies the amount of light that reaches a designated surface area rather than the total amount of light emitted from a source (luminous flux).

LEDs are highly efficient compared to all other lighting types available, with a typical source efficiency ranging from 80 to 150 lumens per watt. However, their system efficiency is where they truly excel. After accounting for all losses, this metric measures the amount of light that reaches the intended target area, and most LED system efficiency values are above 100 lumens per watt.

Incandescent lighting is generally inefficient due for two primary reasons. Firstly, a significant portion of the electricity is consumed for heat generation. Secondly, the bulb emits light in all directions (omnidirectional), leading to energy loss in non-relevant areas rather than the intended target.


Lifetime Costs

LED lighting incurs relatively high initial costs, but lower lifetime costs, making it a technology that gradually pays back the investment over time (payback period). The primary contributor to this significant payback is reduced maintenance costs over time (dependent on labor costs), while the secondary contributor is energy efficiency improvements (dependent on electricity costs).

Although incandescent lights are the most affordable, they are challenging to maintain over time due to their short lifespan. Therefore, you will probably need to purchase 20-50 incandescent lamps and incur associated labor costs to achieve the equivalent lifespan of a single LED light. Furthermore, incandescent lamps have the highest energy costs on the market.


Shock Resistance

Solid-State Lighting (SSL) refers to highly durable LED technology that can withstand physical shocks that might cause other types of lighting to fail. This characteristic makes LEDs an ideal lighting solution for various applications that require ruggedness and reliability.

Incandescent bulbs contain a delicate filament prone to breakage due to physical shocks, and the glass bulb that encases it can shatter easily. This fragility makes incandescent bulbs less durable than LEDs, which have a solid-state design that makes them highly resistant to damage from external forces.



The flexibility of LED sizing makes them suitable for an extensive range of applications, from small electronic devices to large outdoor displays. Additionally, the range of colors that LEDs can produce and their energy efficiency makes them an attractive choice for various applications such as automotive lighting, horticultural lighting, and architectural lighting, to name a few.

Incandescent lights are available in various shapes and sizes but are primarily suitable for indoor and residential applications where size is not a significant consideration. While they can be small, they cannot match the compact size and durable design of solid-state lighting such as LEDs.


Cold Tolerance

LEDs can turn on instantly, even at temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Celsius.

Incandescent bulbs may experience slight delays in lighting up in very low-temperature environments as they require time to warm up to a temperature where light can be emitted.


Heat Tolerance

LEDs are suitable for use in average operating temperatures, both indoors and outdoors, without experiencing any significant performance issues. However, they may experience degraded performance when exposed to significantly high temperatures, such as 100 degrees Celsius, and require proper heat sinking, especially near other sensitive components.

We need help locating factual information on how incandescent bulbs perform in high-temperature environments. If you possess any relevant information, please do not hesitate to contact us.


Warm-Up Time

LEDs require almost no warm-up time and can achieve maximum brightness almost instantly.

While incandescent lights do not usually require warm-up time, there can be a brief delay as the filament heats up when operating in frigid temperatures.



The typical lifespan of LEDs is often between 5 to 10 years.

The lifespan of incandescent bulbs is typically not applicable due to their short lifespan and low purchase price compared to other lighting options.


Which Is Better for Outdoor Lighting: Led or Incandescent?

While we understand that you may have received your answer by now, we would like to provide further details to ensure that all aspects of the question have been adequately addressed.

Outdoor Decoration 

outdoor led lighting decoration

LEDs are a popular choice for decoration applications because of their design, color, shape, and size versatility. Moreover, the color temperature, brightness, CRI (Color Rendering Index), and beam angles of LED bulbs can be customized to match the desired ambiance of a project. This feature allows designers and architects complete control over the lighting, resulting in a unique and personalized lighting experience.

The dimming capability of LEDs makes them a suitable option for use in offices and restaurants, where users can adjust the light output from 100% to as low as 0.5% and change color temperatures to match the time of day. Furthermore, LED lights can be automated and synchronized with audio signals to create a more immersive lighting experience. In security applications, LEDs can also be used with motion sensors to detect movement and trigger the lights accordingly.

Unlike LEDs, which offer various customization options such as dimming, adjusting color temperatures, and synchronization with audio signals, the only adjustment possible with incandescent lights is reducing their brightness by modifying the input voltage. This lack of flexibility can limit the overall lighting experience and may not be suitable for applications where specific lighting effects are required.

Landscape and Facade Lighting

landscape and facade lighting

When undertaking larger projects such as facade lighting, landscape lighting, and outdoor settings, choosing a lighting solution that provides better value for money and helps save on budget, time, and effort is advisable.

LEDs are the answer if you’re looking for an energy-efficient and cost-effective lighting solution in the long run. LEDs are approximately 80% more energy-efficient than incandescent lights, which translates to lower electricity bills. Although the initial investment cost of LEDs may be higher, they make up for it through lower maintenance requirements, longer lifespan, reduced labor costs, and significant energy savings over time.

In addition to their cost-effectiveness, LEDs are an environmentally friendly option compared to incandescent bulbs. LEDs contribute to reduced carbon emissions and waste disposal, making them a more sustainable choice. Furthermore, LEDs are non-toxic and can be recycled, reducing their environmental impact.

LEDs are now available in various designs, including floodlights, washers, wall grazers, uplights, downlights, spotlights, RGBW lights, and many more. This wide variety is not commonly found in incandescent lamps.

The following applications widely use LEDs:

  • Safety and Security 
  • Shopping Malls
  • Hospitals
  • Office buildings
  • Restaurants
  • Gyms
  • Clubs and casinos
  • Road lighting
  • Parking lots
  • Street lights
  • Residential lighting


There are several reasons why LEDs are quickly replacing traditional lighting options such as incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen light bulbs. One of the primary reasons is their energy efficiency. In summary, the following factors make LEDs the ideal choice for outdoor lighting:

A. Due to their longer lifespan and reduced maintenance requirements, LEDs can result in significant cost savings over time. These savings come from reduced labor costs and the need for fewer replacement bulbs, making LEDs more cost-effective than incandescent lights.

B. LEDs demand significantly less power than incandescent lights to generate an equivalent amount of light output. LEDs use about 80% less power than incandescent lights while having more lumens. This means that LEDs are not only more energy efficient, but they also produce brighter light. As a result, businesses and homeowners can benefit from LED lighting as it can provide better lighting while consuming less energy, resulting in lower electricity bills and a reduced carbon footprint.

C. LEDs are considered an eco-friendly lighting choice because they can conserve electricity, decrease carbon emissions, produce less waste through a longer lifespan, and reduce the need for bulb replacements.

D. LED light bulbs are highly versatile and customizable, providing a wide range of color, shape, and size options to meet diverse lighting needs.

outdoor project led lights

Upward Lighting Is a One-Stop Shop Manufacturer for Outdoor LED Lights

Upward Lighting has assisted numerous clients worldwide in illuminating their LED facade and landscape lighting projects. Our expert designers, engineers, and technicians collaborate to transform your lighting design vision into reality. Before proposing any solutions, we conduct extensive brainstorming sessions to ensure that we provide the best possible results tailored to the specific requirements of your project.

Our LED fixtures are of industry-leading quality and are designed to be highly sustainable and durable. We rigorously test all our products in our labs to ensure they meet international standards.

We offer a wide range of LED lighting solutions, including outdoor lighting, indoor recessed lights, spotlights, and track lights, that cater to your specific lighting needs for your upcoming project.

Get in touch with us! Our team will guide you through our catalog’s extensive range of options.

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