LED Lights are highly efficient. They are much more efficient than the incandescent, fluorescent, or HID bulbs that they replace. However, not all the energy that an LED uses is transformed into light. Some of it is used to create heat. Nevertheless, while LEDs produce very little heat, the heat it produces must be eliminated.

Why Do You Need Cooling?

Removing the heat from the LEDs extends the life of the product. Think of an LED light installed inside a cooler or freezer area. The ambient air is cold. The entire air source of the cooler area acts as a heat sink, keeping the LEDs performing extremely well and efficiently for years. And while it is impractical to only install LEDs inside a cool environment, having a heat sink to remove this heat is the next best thing.

Removing Heat: Active Cooling

So, what is active cooling? Typically, this means a fan. This type of cooling has been used for decades on other types of electronics: computers, laptops, TVs, and amplifiers. Fans blow a steady stream of air onto a heat sink and transfer the air away. If inside an enclosed fixture, this hot air is then moved to the fixture itself, thus acting as a secondary larger heat sink. It creates airflow inside the enclosed fixture, creating turbulence over the face of the LEDs, and removing any static heat that might build up without the present airflow.

Within the LED industry, there had been a debate on whether fans are good or not. Some who think they are bad claim they are a point of failure. And over the years, we have heard these types of arguments as well. However, the truth of the matter is fans are extremely robust and rarely fail. LED Lighting Supply has sold 1000’s of active fan retrofit kits over the past 10 years and has maybe seen 2 failures. In both cases, water intrusion into the fixture caused the fans to fail.

The benefit of an active fan solution is the physical size of the heat sink required is significantly smaller. So, retrofitting an existing fixture, and replacing the bulb and ballast with a LED Conversion and Replacement Kit makes sense. If there was no active fan, the heat sink wouldn’t be able to fit into the fixture because it would be too big.

Removing Heat: Passive Cooling

Using a fan for cooling isn’t the only option. A heat sink can be integrated as part of the fixture housing. This way combines both form and function. One example would be our LED UFO Lights. The UFO part of the fixture is the heat sink. It is significantly large enough to absorb the heat produced by the LEDs and radiate the heat away from the fixture. These types of fixtures are typically not installed inside other fixtures, so they can utilize whatever available airflow is available to help remove air that is available. Outdoors, there are available breezes that can effectively remove heat. So, creating a stylish fixture that radiates heat away is practical and economical. Engineers can easily design the right size heat sink to accommodate the removal of heat for the fixture they are designing.


High Power LED Recessed Lights Installed at International Airport

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So, Which is Better?

Neither. They are both good. Both are perfect for the solution they were designed to solve. Fans are extremely robust. So, if a retrofit is your best option, you should not let the fan be the deciding factor in moving forward with either an active cooling or passive cooling solution.

Dwayne Kula

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About the Author

Dwayne Kula is President of LED Lighting Supply. On any given day, Dwayne is writing content for the site and helps manage the marketing initiatives that are on-going. He has a Software Engineering degree and still dabbles in writing software for the company as needed. When not working, he enjoys spending time with his family, working out, playing the occasional game of golf and exploring New England.

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