So, i’ve moved to a new place, and all the existing lighting were of the fluorescent type. Granted, they were installed more than 7 years ago, and back then, LED was expensive. The fluorescent tubes were unbearably dim, and some don’t even light up. Depressing. Replacing all of them with LED light was top priority when it comes to the makeover of this new place.
Obviously, i was going to buy all the LED lighting from Taobao, like i did before. Even though there are many brick and mortar shops here selling LED lighting that are also sourced from Taobao, with similar pricing as compared to Taobao, my preference is still to buy directly from Taobao.
Not many people will agree with my choice. I know where they come from – if the goods are similarly priced, why not enjoy better assurance from the local sellers. If something goes wrong, the local sellers will be able to fix the problem quickly, whereas buying from Taobao means a lot of hassle if something goes wrong.
Well, here’s my reasoning. In order for the local sellers to make money, they have to source for lower cost products so they can remain competitive. Yes, they get bulk discount from the manufacturer or supplier, but would the discount be enough for them to be profitable while selling at a similar price as compared to the pricing on Taobao? Very unlikely. Something has to give, and i reckon it is the quality, among other things.
The typical consumer probably doesn’t bother to find out what kind of chip is used in the LED lighting, e.g. whether it is the latest technology, or whether it is imported from Taiwan or Korea. Neither does the local seller bother you with such details, since they know the consumer typically don’t even know how to ask. However, if you bought from Taobao, the seller keeps you informed on these details. The seller does this to differentiate their products from their competitors’.
The products sold by local sellers probably work fine (otherwise their business will fail), but by buying from Taobao, i am buying the latest and user-verified leading brands and products.
So, from among the thousands of stores selling LED lighting on Taobao, how does one shortlist choices? Here’s my strategy.
How to choose Taobao LED seller
#1 Go for the expensive
The more you pay, the more likely you will get better products. Taobao sellers can’t get away with asking for more money without offering better quality products. When you sort the search result by sales volume, the products with the highest sales volume aren’t always the lowest priced – quality is deemed more important.
Going by this strategy, i bought some of the most expensive downlight on Taobao. These aren’t the highest sales volume ones, because not everyone can stomach the price. They turned out to be truly outstanding – they cast the prettiest light. I highly recommend this seller – GELED. They also sell IP65 waterproof downlight (i don’t recall seeing any other seller offering this), which would suit the bathroom just fine.
Anyway, within 4 months of installing new lighting, i encountered the first casualty. It was a cheap downlight, costing only 11.60 Yuan or S$2.40. In comparison, the GELED ones are 90 Yuan and above. The colour rendered by this cheaper LED looks artificial (i.e. low CRI, see below). Overall, i am still satisfied with the quality of this cheaper LED downlight, but this incidence does show that cheap equals inferior.
#2 Go for brand
Most of the LED lighting sold on Taobao are by Chinese brands, but there are also a handful of foreign brands, most notably, Philips. Philips LED light are expensive even on Taobao, and i’d rather buy from the higher end Chinese brands. Nevertheless, i managed to also find Panasonic branded ones. These are manufactured for the Chinese market, but they are carry the genuine Panasonic brand.
Well, although i chose cool white, the colour of these downlight tended more to the warm white side. They look much less attractive than the GELED downlight, but they still do work fine. And i get the feeling that they will be long lasting. I had them installed in the kitchen where there is very high usage, and they feel reassuring.
#3 Go for sales volume
Finally, as with how i normally pick items on Taobao, choose the seller with high sales volume coupled with generally good reviews.
How to choose LED light
Here are the factors to consider when choosing the right LED light in accordance to the space it is meant to light up.
#1 Colour temperature
Shopping malls have to create the right cozy ambiance to attract customers, and the lighting plays a huge factor in their success to do so. So you can take your cue from shopping malls – what is the colour temperature they generally employ? They mostly use cool white and warm white. Daylight looks outdated (your parents probably love it). Someone commented that if you used daylight in your home, it will look like a hospital. I kind of agree.
To be precise, the colour temperature range, as measured in Kelvin (K), that will make your home look cool is 3000K to 4000K. 3000K is warm white while 4000K is cool white. On Taobao, warm white is 暖白 (sometimes also called 暖黄), while cool white is 中性光 or 自然光. Warm white actually stretches down to 2700K, but at 2700K, it is overly yellowish. Sellers don’t usually tell you the exact Kelvin figure, but if you bought from a reputable seller, it is usually fine.
It is usually OK to mix warm white and cool white lighting within the same space, so that’s another advantage you get when you choose these.
There are guidelines as to how many Watts per meter square you need to adequately light up a space, but i think most people will not bother to find out the size of rooms in their homes. Neither did i measure room sizes, but i have an idea (through prior experience) how much power is generally needed, and that knowledge was good enough.
If i were to come up with a guideline, it will be something like this:
- Minimum power needed for any room at all: 18W
- For rooms that need low to medium brightness (e.g. bedrooms): 20W – 40W
- For rooms that need high brightness (e.g. living, dining, study and kitchen): 24W – 80W
For my home, i used 24W for the kitchen, 32W for dining area, 32W for living room (plus another 60W of recessed strip light), 24W for bedrooms and 48W for the study area.
The ceiling height has to be taken into consideration as well when choosing the power rating. Generally speaking, except for bedrooms, the higher the brightness, the better people will feel about the space, so you can’t go wrong when you opt for higher power.
The more lighting points you have, the more evenly distributed the light will be. For this reason, downlight is usually the best choice. Unfortunately, the cost of installing of downlight is very high due to the need for false partition ceiling, plus the installation labour cost which is charged per downlight.
Other ways to increase the lighting points without installing a false ceiling include track lighting, or to use lighting that snakes around, including the use of hanging light.
#4 Beam angle
Beam angle is more relevant to downlight, where light is focused onto a smaller area. This means you get more light where you actually need it (nearer to the floor or table). This is especially helpful when you have a high ceiling. As a side effect, a narrow beam creates an artistic effect on the wall, or table, which enhances aesthetics.
A narrow beam also helps when there is a ceiling fan nearby. You wouldn’t want the light to cast a shadow through a rotating fan. This is a matter of taste – many people opt to install a ceiling fan with an integrated light, but it just looks cheap to me. I prefer a fan to be just that.
Sometimes you want light to flood an area as much as possible. Well, generally speaking, all lighting other than downlight cast light all around (they are expected to anyway). Again, a matter of taste, but I strongly recommend that you install lighting that has at least some beam angle (in contrast to casting all around which you could technically say is 180 degrees angle) in the living and dining area. It will look more classy, trust me. I’ve seen the effect of the 180 degrees lighting in the living and dining area, made worse by the choice of daylight colour temperature – it makes the space look like an outdated office.
Anyway, I especially like the “Hamburger” lighting i got for my house entrance area, and it is the 180 degrees all around lighting, in warm white temperature. It creates a very cozy feel. By the way, i have two extra pieces of these (black colour) to let go for cheap, so drop me a message if you’re interested.
I also got hold of a motion sensor (pictured above next to the light) to automatically turn on the light whenever someone is near the entrance. The motion sensor cost only 33.90 Yuan (S$7), and makes life so much easier!
#5 Colour Rendering Index
The colour rendering index is about how close objects appear, when lit by a particular light, compared to when they are lit by natural light. This measure is almost never mentioned for the LED light sold on Taobao, or for any light sold anywhere for that matter.
I came across a seller on Taobao that trumpets the high colour rendering index measure (measured in Ra, and called 高显指) of its products. I was actually looking for a downlight with very narrow beam angle, and they had just what i was looking for. The beam angle goes down to 12 degrees! I was even more sold on their claims of the high colour rendering index. The light does look good, though it’s hard to say how much better they are. i suspect downlight by GELED has pretty high colour rendering index also.
Overall, i was quite impressed by the quality of these BeiDou branded light, and although they target commercial installations, they would work well for the home also. They allow you to customize the colour temperature too (5 different options! No other Taobao seller offer this).
#6 Base type
If you are installing new LED lighting, there is no longer any point in installing the PL (2G11) or G24 socket type of lighting, which were meant for compact fluorescent light (CFL). There may be a case for the T5 (the once ubiquitous long fluorescent tube), but one base type remains relevant – the E27.
Besides the general usage LED E27 light bulb, other creative forms of E27 LED light are also available, such as bulbs that mimic incandescent light. E27 light socket are actually future proof, allowing to you to adopt new technology when they become available.
Fanciful lighting can give your home a sophisticated look, or add an element of fun. They are like sculpture really. And there are too many choices available on Taobao these days. Here are some of the LED lighting installed in my home:
Update 24 July 2021: It’s been slightly over 4 years, and 3 of the GELED downlight have broken down so far, usually the driver unit (apparently one of them due to exposure to water/humidity). Otherwise, they are solid. They seem almost as bright as when first installed. The set of 4 that’s installed at the dining area, the most frequently used ones, are still bright enough. When they were first installed they were slightly too bright, but looking in retrospect that was a smart choice, to counter the drop in brightness over time. The cheaper LED lights appear to become dim more quickly than desired. One of the Panasonic downlight (out of eleven) also broke down. I guess they’re ok (rate of dimming slightly faster than GELED) and a little more expensive than what they’re worth. I would expect LED light to work for 8 to 10 years before they should be replaced, and it’s easy enough to change the LED light yourself.