6 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Purchasing LED Grow Lights
When looking to purchase LED grow lights there are a multitude of factors to consider.
From underperforming LEDs claiming 1,000 watt high pressure sodium (HPS) “equivalents'” (while only pulling an actual 200 watts) to the high-performance 1,500-watt fixtures pulling 6+ pounds per light, it’s safe to say the landscape has changed dramatically over the last few years.
Let's take a look at a few key factors to consider before purchasing your next LED fixtures as we separate fact from fiction to uncover some commonly missed details along the way.
1. Buying Underpowered LED Fixtures
Underpowered fixtures have been a plague on the industry since they started being used for cannabis cultivation over a decade ago.
I remember the first LEDs I saw being used on the forums was a “200” watt UFO LED. These lights were heavy on blues/reds and the ‘burple’ power was strong. Plants initially looked decent in their early vegetative life, however the quality of the flowering product was often larfy, underdeveloped, and severely lacking compared to its soon-to-be-outdated cousin, the HPS.
Around that same time, a lot of early LED companies were hopping on the whole ‘equivalent to a 1,000W HPS’ messaging bandwagon. You probably remember seeing advertising headlines such as “600W LED - Equivalent to a Typical 1,000W DE HPS!”.
These campaigns were misleading to the consumer as the fixtures did not perform nearly as well as the HPS fixtures they were supposedly ‘equivalent’ to. In my opinion, these campaigns were the desperate attempts of early LED companies trying to be relevant to the burgeoning cannabis space.
Underpowered fixtures even to this day create a labor-intensive “canopy chasing” practice in order to maintain adequate light levels throughout the grow cycle. I’ve operated multi-tier flower rooms not much bigger than 1,000 sq. ft. with over 224 LED lights, and having to adjust every single one of those fixtures on Sungrip hangers almost every other day became painstakingly cumbersome to both my staff and my operating budget. If we missed a light-raising day and let the plants go a few days too long during stretch, the plants would grow within a foot of the light before we knew it. This would drastically increase the µ/mols in the center of the footprint with a significant drop off towards the edges of the footprint. Everyone knows that this total lack of light uniformity directly affects yield, quality, and consistency. The only way to solve for this problem with underpowered fixtures is to adhere to a nonstop light-raising agenda on most days until final height is achieved after stretch.
2. Buying the 'Bare Minimum' Quantity of LED Fixtures
Buying the bare minimum quantity of fixtures recommended is not always the way to recoup your ROI in a timely manner, and often leads to quite the opposite. Having to run your fixtures at 100 percent intensity 100 percent of the time will lead to your fixture degrading faster and decreasing the longevity of the fixture altogether. Always be sure to check into the manufacturer's warranty as well. If it's anything less than 5 years you may be wasting your time. If the company asks you to pay for a 5-year warranty then you are definitely wasting your time, and that's a telltale sign they have cut every corner in manufacturing their product with the cheapest most cost effective components.
Be sure to inquire about the failure rate. If you get any stutter in their voice, run away. A good manufacturer will have their products checked by a third party before shipping to ensure they fire up when they arrive at your facility. If they try to sell you multiple lights extra just in case of failures, their failure rate is most likely higher than what they lead on. Run!
3. Not Looking Beyond the Far-red Reaches of the Spectrum
If you are somehow still considering high intensity discharge (HID) in this day and age, then consider this: Photosynthetic Active Radiation (PAR) is the spectral range from 400-700nm that plants are able to utilize for photosynthesis. Typically, spectral charts show this range or a slightly extended version of this range to advertise their spectrum, but what people don’t see hidden in the dark is the Infrared (IR) spike associated with plasma-burning HID lights. Past 700/780nm lurks a hot spike of IR energy waiting to wreak havoc on your HVAC, volatile terps, and canopy temperature gradients… not to mention the risk to your entire crop if one of those bulbs explode over it! IR has little to no benefit to the plant and is one of the reasons HPS lights run hundreds of degrees hotter than thermally efficient LED grow lights. If you have some leftover chicken tenders from the night before, fire up your 1,000-watt HPS and get those tenders sizzling, but stop putting plants under them please, we have better options available now.
4. Not Considering the Ingress Protection Rating
Growrooms are a hazard to sensitive electronics such as grow light. Climate fluctuations, chemicals, insecticides, nutrients, soil, disinfectants — your growroom equipment should be able to handle all of these. An IP or ‘Ingress Protection’ rating is the rating given to equipment based on its ability to withstand solids and water. Solids being rated from 1-6, and water being rated from 1-8. For instance, an IP67 rating would imply the fixture is able handle ingress of dust particles at the smallest particulate diameter, while being able to be submerged under water by 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. IP65 and up are what you should be looking for to be able to handle the multitude of conditions in your grow space. While a higher IP typically comes with a higher price point, the quality of the materials and build are more superior.
5. Not Considering the DLC First
Design Lights Consortium (DLC) is a nonprofit organization that helps set standards for LED products and controls covering most types of commercial lighting including horticulture. While IP looks at solids and water, DLC looks more into efficiency, controllability, and light quality in order to give consumers an unbiased report on the accuracy of a company’s marketing material. Many medical and recreational states are starting to make DLC listings contingent upon receiving energy rebates, so if your choice of grow light is not listed it could mean the organization purchasing your light may not get rebates for purchasing LEDs. Some companies have chosen to use “liquid cooling” in their fixtures, which automatically disqualifies them from being DLC listed.
6. Buying Cheap LED Lights
As we highlighted before a good IP rating coupled with a DLC listing will ensure you have quality fixtures that are set to last. If you choose to buy a fixture from a shady website for your 4x4 tent, or, potentially far worse, for your commercial grow facility, your low entry cost is likely coupled with a high probability of fixture failure as well as subpar returns in yield and quality. If that’s a risk you want to take then by all means, but you'll learn the hard way and think about this article once it all goes to hell.
(Read also: Making the Switch from HID to LED Grow Lights)
Quality grow lights are not cheap, nor should they be. I advise growers around the country every day about their choice of grow lights, and I always hear the same question: “Why are premium lights so expensive when I could get lights from this other company much cheaper?” That’s the wrong question. I encourage people to instead ask “What corners are these other companies cutting to make their lights so cheap?” My go-to recommendation are fixtures from Fohse, as they are the only company I’m aware of that have built their fixtures to last for decades.
When you choose to grow indoors, your grow lights are the crowing investment that either sets your crop up for success or utter failure. No amount of corner-cutting is worth risking your crop. Ever. Do your research. Buy right and buy once.
Since 2015, Fohse has been pushing the threshold of what indoor cultivators have dreamed is possible when it comes to yields and quality. Fohse's remarkable, custom made-to-order grow light technologies consistently outgrow every other fixture on the market, and the word is spreading like wildfire. With fixture models for single-level environments, multi-tiered environments, and greenhouses, Fohse serves clients from all corners of the industry. To learn more, visit fohse.com.