New Construction: LED Bulb vs. LED Fixture

12 days ago

Hi all,

So I’m building a new house and have about 225 recessed fixtures to select. The house is higher end (8,000SF in total living space), traditional style (whites, grays, dark floors), and Im trying to decide between the new construction recessed fixture with LED bulb, and the integrated LED fixture, or a combination of both depending on floor/room, etc. either option would be 4”.

Pros and cons seem pretty obvious to me.. LED fixture has better light, looks a bit nicer, but is literally 2x the price of the recessed fixture with LED bulb. This equates to a premium of roughly $12,000.

Am I crazy for thinking about using the LED integrated fixtures in the first floor, and using the recessed housings with LED bulbs in basement, 2nd and 3rd floor? That would drop the premium to roughly 6k.

Trying not to be penny-wise, pound-foolish, but every $1k helps when you’re building a new home and you’re nearing the finish line..


Comments (28)

  • Leslie NE. Florida coast, zone 9A

    Can you post a picture of each fixture you're considering for those of us who don't know what you're talking about?

  • worthy

    False choice as there is no reason you can't use conventional fixtures with energy savings LED bulbs plus the recessed LEDs. We will be avoiding the integrated fixtures just because they're a current design cliche. Freedonia considers some of the pros and cons of integrated LED fixtures.

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  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    Will it bring value to the home? The combo LED recess trims are used in most builds in our region up to about $2 mil. If you get a knowledgeable, trained lighting consultant, they will be able to tell & sell you on the more expensive fixtures.

    Just putting together a project for clients and whittled away a list 20-30 x the size of your lighting decision in order to get it bank approved, otherwise it would just be another lot for sale with a wasted full set of plans.

  • functionthenlook

    In the past 5 years that we've been in our present house we have gone from incandescent, to CFL, to LED bulbs without changing a light fixture. How long LED will be the popular and most energy efficient bulb is unknown.

  • missenigma

    $12K / 225 = $53 / light. That seems high to me but you haven't provided any information on brand / style. In that vein, just so we're all on the same page, I'd like to clarify the terminology you are using.

    1. When you say LED bulb are you thinking of these installed in a standard can designed for a screw in bulb?

    2. Or are you thinking of a standard can with a combined trim ring / LED module like this?

    3. Is this what you mean by integrated LED fixture?

  • strategery

    We did 100 recessed 4", matte white trim, with PAR20 LED bulbs, screw-in base, 3000k temp. We wanted to be able to replace the bulbs if needed.

  • fgenova

    Thanks all. For those that aren’t sure of the difference, integrated LED fixtures actually have the LED diodes connected directly to the hard-wired electrical components inside the housing. Traditional recessed fixtures with LED bulbs are just that, traditional line voltage housing with a bulb, and trim.

    As for the pricing, the traditional recessed setup runs about $20 for the housing, $20-25 for the trim, and $10-15 for the bulb.

    The integrated LED is $130 per fixture.

    Like I said, the integrated units look a bit better.. the LED is higher up in the housing so it’s very difficult to see. Trims also are a bit better looking. Very hard to distinguish from a photo, but links are below:

    (Requires trim as well)

    (Requires trim and bulb as well)

  • tatts

    What a stupid concept. When the light fails, an electrician has to come and rip out the ceiling to replace the whole unit, then patch and paint. On the other hand, if a bulb fails in a dumb receptacle, just stick a new one in. New bulb, with integrated electronics, and you're all set.

    And, don't kid yourselves, LEDs do fail, whether the light emitter itself or the circuitry that drives it.

    And dumb receptacles do not, by their nature look, worse that the integrated ones. You're just looking at samples from one off-brand from one bargain basement source.

  • missenigma

    As for the pricing, the traditional recessed setup runs about $20 for the housing, $20-25 for the trim, and $10-15 for the bulb.

    Do you realize you can use a traditional can with a trim that has the LED integrated with it? That approach brings your calculation to $20 for housing and $15 - $30 for trim with LED. No bulb needed. That saves you the cost of the bulb and if you choose your trim correctly, it will look no different than the pricey Junos

    You can also use LEDs that require no housing needed at all which would put in the $15 to $35 range.

    I'm not sure how you arrived at the conclusion that the Juno fully integrated setup would give you better light.

  • suedonim75

    We have had to have 3 LED recessed lights replaced twice. An electrician friend said that the new LED technology doesn’t have “all the bugs worked out yet”. One fixture still randomly blinks.

  • missenigma

    tatts - Maybe just dumb instead of stupid. It looks like you can replace the LED driver assembly from below the ceiling.

  • rrah

    My only comment--if you're paying $10-15 for a recessed LED bulb, you're paying way too much. I'm slowly replacing all of the recessed bulbs in my standard fixtures with LEDs as they go out. I've not paid more than $5/bulb for awhile.

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    For a recessed LED light fixture you can't compare the quality of an integrated driver to one built into the base of a replaceable LED bulb.

    Your two linked examples are like comparing apples to oranges. The integrated fixture has almost twice the lumen output and twice the expected life as the incandescent fixture with a PAR 20 LED lamp in it. And the warranties are 5 years vs 1 or 2 years which is a good measure of quality and reliability.

    An interesting compromise would be a "retrofit" integrated LED fixture that fits in a standard housing like the Nora NLCBC 451 Cobalt Click for about $80 or less total, It uses a superior 750 lumen COB CREE LED. Select the haze reflector or white baffle.

    The reason these fixtures can sell for less than a fully integrated fixture is the technology has advanced to the point that a large heat sink is no longer needed. The design of LED lighting is changing so fast its difficult to keep up with it.

  • fgenova

    Thanks all for the comments..

    Tatts, I’ve seen the two fixtures I hyperlinked to in the show room. IMO, the integrated fixture looks better installed (you don’t actually see the lighting element, which I think is nice), but the standard housing obviously doesn’t look bad at all.

  • Jennifer Hogan

    I have helped my sister in law and my sister pick lighting for their homes and picked lighting for my home. My sister's color palette is fall colors in a Tudor home. After testing light bulbs in several areas we determined that the 3000 k lighting worked best in her home.

    My SIL has a country style home with a color palette that includes a lot of cornflower blues and peach colors. We selected 4000 k lighting for her home. My home is a MCM home with taupe, purples and teals. I selected 5000 k lighting for my home as even the smallest amount of yellow makes purple go brown.

    I replaced most of the fixtures in my home and did not select any with integrated lights because doing so meant that I had to accept the color and quality of the light they were offering.

    I wanted 5000 k - virtually impossible to get in an integrated fixture.

    I also want every light in the house to have identical 5000 k color. Every brand of "5000 k" Daylight light bulb is slightly different in color. Each one also renders color a bit differently. Same applies to any other temperature bulb. I tested 5 or 6 brands before landing on the Cree bulbs. The only bulb not available through Cree was the appliance bulb over my cook top and it is noticeably blue where the Cree is a true white light.

    There is no way I would want to guess that I could find bulbs for lamps or other fixtures that would match the light produced by the manufacturer of an integrated light.

    I will admit that I have been in homes where the ceiling fixtures are obviously a higher k value than the lamps in the room and no one but me seems to notice the difference, but I couldn't live with the variance in my own home.

  • scottie mom


  • PRO
    Patricia Colwell Consulting

    IMO the LEDs with integrated bulbs are not my choice for the simple fact once the bulb dies you need a whole new fixture. I have old halogen pots all through we replaced the bulbs with LED replacements no issues we used 4000K everywhere because I do not like a yellow cast in my spaces.

  • fgenova


    Really helpful concept (traditional housing, retrofit integrated LED). Would you say this is far superior to the LED bulb, and worth the additional investment? Also, Would these two options work for down light and wall washer?



    Lastly, any guidance on how to select the right housing for something like this?

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    The elements of most fully integrated LED fixtures are replaceable. An entire "retrofit" LED fixture must be removed from the housing and replaced but they are less inexpensive.

  • fgenova

    Thanks all. RES, for the Nora retrofit unit you noted, do you have any recommendations on housing, or is that not a material design consideration?

    My electrician needs either the integrated fixture, or the housing ASAP, and this approach would allow me to buy the housing, while continuing to research retrofit LED units, and LED lamps... which I like..

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    Those are great fixtures and a bargain for the better light quality of a CREE COB (chips on board) light source recessed 1 3/8" above the ceiling.

    The Nora Cobalt NLCBC-451D you selected is 1000 lumens which OK with a dimmer and 2700K but a 750 lumen version is available as a Cobalt Click NLCBC2-451. Its the same fixture as the Cobalt with fewer lumens and "Click" refers to the ability to easily change trims. I'm not sure if there is a price difference.

    A special feature of the Cobalt and Cobalt Click series 451 downlights is that there's an "eyelid accessory" that makes them a wall washer.

    In the Cobalt series there's the "Adjustable Reflector" that you selected and an "elbow" where the lamp swivels down below the ceiling. These are not available in the Cobalt Click series.

    I really like the Haze reflector with a white trim ring (HZW) but go see them in a showroom.

    In 10 years you can replace these fixtures with whatever is the new thing at that time.

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    IMO the next step up is a fully integrated Lightolier Lytecaster L3 fixture for $140. I've not found anything to equal it.

  • PRO

    worthy False choice as there is no reason you can't use conventional fixtures with energy savings LED bulbs plus the recessed LEDs.

    I agree with worthy. I have taken my inexpensive can lights which were installed 25+ years ago and simply replaced the bulbs with LED bulbs .........very simple. Just make sure you use a PAR bulb for a crisp clean light appearance.

    BTW if any of your ceilings are over 9ft, the 4" can is probably not the correct scale for the ceiling.

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    Any standard 4" recessed housing with a medium base screw socket should work but the compatible housing from Nora is shown here. I've seen them on sale for $10 on the internet. Run all this by the electrician for approval.

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    The less noticeable the recessed fixture the better IMO. I like trimless pin spots and 800 lumen 3 1/2" fixtures from Lightolier in 9 ft ceilings and since the taller the ceiling the wider the beam spread, I use even more powerful 4" fixtures in taller ceilings.

    I used 5" Lightolier Calculite fixtures in the 10 ft kitchen ceiling in my house in 1980 because that was the smallest available. I have replaced the halogen PAR 30's with LED PAR 20's and the lamps are recessed 8" above the ceiling.

  • PRO
    RES, architect

    LED lights on a house circuit require a "driver" to change 120 volt AC to low voltage DC and protect the LEDs from fluctuations in voltage and current that can cause the diodes to vary in output or degrade faster due to high temperatures within the diodes. This is especially important inside of a small recessed light fixture.

    In an integral LED recessed fixture the "driver" is a small brick-like thing in the housing external from the rest of the fixture with a wire to the "light engine" which is the diode array sandwiched between a lens and a cast metal heatsink. The life of such a light is usually rated at 50,000 hours ... whatever that means.

    An LED lamp (commonly called a "light bulb") is similar but has an internal miniaturized driver in its base connected to an array of diodes behind a frosted lens. Some have a metal surround with holes that acts as a heat sink but more commonly they rely on the wide spacing of the diodes and the closeness of the lamp to the fixture opening to reduce the chance of overheating. These lamps usually have a rated life of 25,000 hours but often fail much sooner.

    If you pay $15 for a PAR 20 LED lamp and $24 for the appropriate dimmer it might take a long time to break even unless you're putting the PAR 20's in existing 5" fixtures.

  • Mrs. S


  • David Cary

    I have had both. In my last house, we had changed all the bulbs to LED. Had to replace a few over the years but mostly they are early failures from defects (and as such, you can get them for free).

    I have integrated 4 in now. I think they look better. The light is fine but honestly we don't use them that much. They are on a 10 ft ceiling and i don't agree that the scale is wrong. Not trying to draw attention to them. We have been in a year and no failures.

    We have already had a led bulb failure on a light we don't use that much. Easy to change out but I do think the bulbs fail more often than the integrated fixtures.

    If I visited someone in a house with 225 recessed fixtures and they cheaped out in parts of the house, I would have a hard time not passing judgement. But that is probably a regional (and personal) thing. But I for sure would notice.

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