Metal halides are more energy-efficient and provide better lighting than incandescent lights, making them the lighting technology of choice for years until LED lights surfaced on the market. Both lighting options are certainly better than incandescent lights, but which is the best? Check out the comparison below.
What Are They?
Before we can get into comparing LEDs and metal halides, it’s important to understand the differences in how each one works.
Metal halides work similarly to incandescent light bulbs. Metal halides are encased in thick glass and operate when an electrical current passes through a combination of metal and halogen elements. This generates gas that creates visible light. Metal halides are commonly the go-to lighting for high-intensity lighting areas such as parking lots, pedestrian walkways, athletic facilities, and fields.
LED stands for light-emitting diode. A diode is an electrical device or component with two electrodes (an anode and a cathode) which electricity flows through. Diodes are made from semi-conductive materials that conduct electricity in some circumstances and not in others, like at certain voltages or current levels. When a current passes through the semiconductor material, the device emits visible light. LED lighting can be used in all sorts of settings, from in-home LED light bulbs to commercial LED floodlights in locations metal halides may also be found.
LED vs. Metal Halide Lighting: A Comparison
Both metal halide lamps and LED bulbs can produce high lumens. The main difference here is the depreciation rate of the available lumens.
For a metal halide light, the initial light output is extremely high. However, metal halide bulbs tend to lose those lumens very quickly. After six months of use, you will already need to start looking into replacing metal halide lights. However, LEDs can last years at the same lumen levels.
Metal halide lamps are also omnidirectional. This means that they produce light in every direction. Oftentimes, producing light in every direction can reduce energy efficiency. To prevent wasted illumination, reflectors are often used in combination with metal halide lamps to force light into a single direction, but reflectors can create even worse lumen efficiency.
LED lights are directional, which gives them greater lumen efficiency. Since lumens aren’t wasted on unnecessary areas, they help to conserve brightness. A longer lasting lumen efficiency rating directly correlates to a longer lifespan as well, adding another benefit to LED lights.
Energy Usage and Savings
LEDs consume less energy to produce the same, if not better, lighting than a metal halide light. As the more energy-efficient option, LED lights save you more money as well. Since metal halides are more efficient than an incandescent bulb, these lights will save money, but LEDs save you much more. This means your electric bill is reduced significantly through simply swapping to LED lights.
Heat emission also plays a large role in energy usage and savings. LED bulbs produce very little heat, if any. This can be a downside of outdoor lighting in winter or cold settings, but overall, it results in energy efficiency and savings.
Metal halide bulbs emit a significant amount of heat. These bulbs emit roughly 10-15% of the total energy consumed as heat. While this could be beneficial in the cold outdoor settings that LEDs lack in, it is generally representative of energy inefficiencies. By using more energy to compensate for heat emissions, you are spending more on your monthly bill too.
Lifespan and Maintenance Costs
Lighting maintenance can equate to serious cost savings and spending. Metal halides do not last as long as LEDs. Metal halide lights typically last 6,000 to 15,000 hours before needing to be replaced, but their poor lumen efficiency can cause them to depreciate more rapidly. With 100,000 to 150,000 hours of use, LEDs have a substantially longer lifespan. This means you will need to replace them less frequently, spending less on replacement bulbs in return.
Correlated Color Temperature
The correlated color temperature (CCT) is the measure of a light source’s color appearance. CCT typically measures how yellow or blue a light source is. CCT can impact how a space looks and feels based on the color it gives off in comparison to the environment of the space. For example, high-end restaurants typically use warmer light for greater ambiance and a sense of class.
LED lights are typically available in a wide range of warm yellows to cool blues. Metal halide lights more commonly produce cool white light than yellow CCT.
Color Rendering Index
Color rendering index, or CRI, is a measurement of a light’s ability to reveal the actual color of objects as compared to an ideal light source such as natural light. For example, not being able to tell the difference between a navy and a black shirt would be an indicator of poor color rendering.
If the goal of your lighting placement is to mimic natural lighting, a high CRI is a desirable choice. Metal halides are one of the best sources of high CRI white light. Although, LED lights can be a great option as well. CRI for LED is highly dependent on the light in question. Purchasing high CRI-labeled LED lighting, or lighting with a CRI rating above 80, will signify a bulb that can appropriately display the colors in your environment.
Cycling refers to the light's ability to power on and off effectively. LEDs drastically outperform halide lights in cycling. LEDs require no warmup time and can instantaneously turn on and off at their full lighting potential. LEDs also produce steady light without flickering. Even as they burn out, the light will simply become less bright rather than flicker on and off.
Metal halide lights have a slow warm-up period that can take a few minutes at a time to reach full light capacity. Opposite of LEDs, metal halide lamps can flicker on and off without human input and will likely do so as they run out of power.
In a comparison of LED vs. metal halide lighting, both perform significantly better than incandescent bulbs, but LEDs perform even better than metal halide lights overall.