How Hot Do LED Strips Get? Is It Normal?

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You might often see LED technologies being touted for having lower heat output and higher efficiency. So, you might be surprised to observe an LED strip light get warm or hot during operation. Is it normal for LED strips to get warm or hot to the touch? Why is this happening? How hot is safe? Read on to find out!

First of all, it is normal for LEDs to get warm. But given what everyone says about LEDs running cool and efficient - why do LEDs get warm in the first place?

LEDs are indeed far more efficient than traditional lighting technologies, but they are still quite inefficient in absolute terms. When we talk about efficiency values, they are typically expressed as a percentage, which indicates the proportion of electrical energy that is converted to useful light energy, vs the portion that is wasted as heat energy.

LEDs typically have efficiency values between 30% and 50%. This means that for a typical LED with 40% efficiency, given every 100 watts of electrical input, only 40 watts worth of energy is released as useful light energy (i.e. illumination), and the remaining 60 watts are released as heat.

With LED strips, additional components as well as inherent resistance in the circuitry can reduce the efficiency values even further. As a result, typically, you may see LED strips run at 30% efficiency. This means that a 90 watt LED strip light reel will emit 63 watts (90 watts x 70%) of thermal energy - approximately the same amount of heat as a 60 watt incandescent bulb, which as you may recall from experience, certainly gets quite warm.

You might be surprised to find that LEDs are not as efficient as you first thought! But the efficiency values of LEDs are indeed far superior to incandescent bulbs, which have efficiency values of 5% or less. Also working against incandescent bulbs is the low efficacy of the light energy emitted, where much of the energy is in longer wavelengths such as deep red and and infrared wavelengths, which do not contribute much, if at all, to illumination. (High CRI LEDs are slightly less efficient than their standard counterparts, partially because they attempt to cover some of the red and deep red wavelengths, necessary for accurate color rendition).

How warm is acceptable? Is it safe?


How warm an LED strip gets during operation will depend on the LED strip design and quality, as well as the ambient temperature. Waveform Lighting LED strips are considered high power and high density, and therefore have a higher temperature rise than typical LED strip lights. We have measured a typical temperature rise of 54°F (30°C) over ambient temperatures. In other words, for an LED strip in a typical room temperature environment of 75°F (24°C), you can expect the LED strip to reach a temperature of 129°F (54°C).

It can be difficult to know whether an LED strip is "too hot" for a particular application without setting some general guidelines on temperature ranges and specific concerns with respect to heat. Below are three common concerns about LED strips and thermal properties:

1) Is it too hot for humans or animals?

Objects that are at 40°C (104°F) or higher will feel "hot" to the touch, and temperatures over 50°C (122°F) can begin to cause burns on human skin. Do note that some LED strips, including Waveform Lighting LED strips, rise to temperatures above the threshold for causing low temperature burns. While most LED strip applications do not involve contact with human skin, if your specific project does, you will want to take precautions to ensure the LED strips are not directly accessible to humans or animals.

2) Will the LEDs, components or circuitboard be damaged by the heat?

Almost all LEDs, components and LED strip circuits are designed to withstand temperatures of 185°F (85°C) or more without any detrimental effects on their longevity, reliability and operation. As such, except for poorly designed or malfunctioning LED strip products, or those installed in extreme locations where ambient temperatures are very high, virtually no LED strips will reach these temperatures, and there should be few concerns about whether an LED strip will malfunction due to heat.

Do note that the temperature limit of 185°F (85°C) is significantly higher than the typical threshold for human perception of "too hot" to the touch (typically 100°F / 40°C or higher). As such, while an LED strip might "feel" hot to the touch, in many cases, the actual temperatures nonetheless remain well below the temperature limits for preventing damage.

3) Will it melt or catch on fire?

While unlikely, a malfunctioning LED strip light can, in very rare instances, rise to temperatures far above their normal operating temperature range. The best way to reduce this risk is to use high quality LED strip lights that are manufactured with quality materials and oversight, as these products are less likely to contain manufacturing and design defects that can lead to heat-related malfunctions.

Another effective way to mitigate safety risks is to LED strip lights that are designed to remain safe even during a malfunction. One common precaution, that unfortunately is not always practiced by lower-cost product manufacturers, is to ensure that the circuitboard has a flammability rating. The UL 94 standard typically ensures that a circuitboard will not catch fire even if a component or wire ignites.

Another precaution would be to use Class 2 rated power supplies and LED strips, which limit the total amount of energy to 96W, which can further reduce the potential for fires or damage by virtue of limiting the total amount of heat and energy that goes into a system.

LED strip lights that are rated to meet UL safety standards will generally provide such assurances from a safety perspective.

Will dimming the LED strips reduce the heat generated?

Absolutely! Dimming the LED strip lights is typically accomplished by limiting the amount of power being fed to the LEDs. As a result, as you dim an LED strip, you will see a proportional decrease in the amount of thermal energy being released.

Do 12V LED strips run cooler than 24V LED strips?

The voltage of an LED strip generally does not affect thermal performance. This is due to the fact that the wattage, and not voltage, of an LED strip system is what determines the total heat output.

You may find, however, that the slight efficiency gains with a 24V system may result in slightly less heat output compared to 12V.

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