LED emitters are vital to the functioning of your lighting system but also one of the most fragile parts by far. Small electronic components are incredibly easy to dislodge and are highly susceptible to damage from dirt, debris, and liquid. Even the slightest touch – like a broom handle knocking against a light – can damage emitters.
This is why well protected emitters are vital to the longevity of your LED light sources. Most LED emitters need some kind of physical barrier. This comes in the form of either an external coating or a physical barrier like a hard covering.
Below, we will go over the two main types of protection for LED emitters: conformal coatings and hard coverings.
This is the least expensive option and often the most accessible to new growers or hobby growers. Conformal coating is a thin polymeric film which can be applied to the printed circuit board of an LED light. Conformal coatings can be applied via brushing, spraying, or dipping and will then conform to the contours of your system, hence the name.
Conformal coatings can provide protection from dust, grime, and small debris in the air. They also block less photons than other types of emitter protection. Plus, they tend to dissipate heat much better than a hard covering.
However. If the coating is too thick, it can shift the color output of your lights. This can affect the overall health of your plants and the quality of your final yield. For best results, consult a professional for guidance when selecting LED fixtures and their coating. Your light output should not suffer simply because of the protection of your emitters.
Hard coverings are the more expensive option and usually used by larger, commercial growers who need better protection. The three most common choices are glass, plexiglass, and polycarbonate.
One of the biggest advantages of glass acrylic is that it lets the most light through in comparison to the other choices. With glass acrylic coverings, light transmission is at 90 to 95%. They also tend to be less costly than plexiglass or polycarbonate.
The major downside is that glass acrylic coating is both heavier and more fragile than other options. It can be cumbersome to install and can become damaged easily in the process. Another issue is that glass acrylic provides less protection against impacts. If an emitter gets jostled at all, it is more likely to become dislodged or damaged with glass acrylic covering.
With plexiglass, light resistance is generally around 92%. A quality plexiglass covering can often be as good as a glass covering. Plexiglass also tends to be lighter in weight, making it easier to install.
Plexiglass also offers more protection against impacts than glass, although it offers less protection against scratches.
Polycarbonate has a lower light transmission rate, averaging around 88%. However, they also offer the most substantial protection against impact-related damage, making them a good choice if you work in an area prone to earthquakes.
Which Option Is Right For Me?
One could say that – as a general rule – conformal coatings are usually sufficient for hobby growers while commercial manufacturers should go with hard coverings. However, you do have to take into account your specific circumstances as well as what it is within your budget. Again, conformal coatings are generally the cheapest option.
If you do plan on getting serious about growing, be aware conformal coatings provide significantly less protection than hard coverings in several key aspects. Conformal coatings often rub off if exposed to liquid, so be careful when watering or spraying pesticide.
Conformal coatings also offer no protection against impact-related damage. Emitters can easily become damaged – destroying your whole lighting system – in response to intense movement. Hobby growers working in a small space where it is easy to bump against equipment should strongly consider hard coverings if it is within their budget.
Always Be Careful Around LED Lights
Even the best kinds of protection are not 100% effective against damage. Therefore, always be very careful when handling your LED lighting equipment. Keep your fixtures away from liquid and handle them with extreme care.
Quality LED lights are made to be durable, but even the best-made equipment can be damaged due to human error. The best way to protect your LED emitters is to treat your lights as gently as possible. A damaged emitter – which can be the result of a single clumsy mistake – can destroy your entire lighting system.
LED Emitters: The Bottom Line
LED emitters are some of the most sensitive components of your light fixtures. For commercial growers especially, investing in high-quality protection is important for the lifespan of your LEDs. Many factors come into play when deciding on the right type of covering or coating, but high-quality hard coverings are the best means to protect your emitters long term.
At California Lightworks, we are committed to helping growers at all levels thrive. If you have any questions about emitters – or other LED-related matters – feel free to reach out here