LED strip light experimentation and impressions (Part 1)

The first custom lighting project in our new home will be under-cabinet lights in the kitchen. After researching various choices for high-CRI LED strips, I decided to purchase a reel from Flexfire LED’s for experimentation. I settled on the Ultrabright High CRI Series Warm White LED Strip Light.

Let me start by saying I’ve never purchased or played with LED strips before, but these are the real deal. I’ve played with demo strips at electronics stores, and the Flexfire strip is much brighter and the color is quite natural.

This product is sold by the reel or by the foot, and comes in three color temperatures. In a home, 2700k (aka “Soft White”) is almost always the safest choice. Most LED strips seem to start at a cooler 3000k. Flexfire’s specs say their warm white ranges from 2700k – 3200k. It’s not clear why the range is given. Is it marketing or is the binning of the LED chips that wide? In any case, this particular strip appears to be at the high end of the stated range, probably at least 3000k. I’d prefer slightly warmer white, but I think these will work well in the kitchen.

For test purposes, I hooked up a 300-watt, 12-volt Magnitude constant-voltage LED driver and a Lutron Diva DVLV-600P dimmer. Both products are frequently recommended for this application, so for my proof-of-concept test I decided not to venture off the beaten path.

For initial power-up, I set the dimmer to its lowest and turned it on. I was surprised by the initial surge of nearly full brightness, followed quickly by dimming to about the lowest practical setting. The surge is slightly annoying, but not necessarily a deal breaker. The dimmer works perfectly throughout its range, although there is some barely perceptible flicker at some levels. Perhaps that’s caused by PWM? I’d like to try another dimmer. The Lutron is clicky and has an ugly neon lamp under the switch paddle to help find it in the dark.

I may end up using these at full brightness most of the time. My old Xenon under-cabinet kitchen lighting was rated at 177 lumens/foot; This strip is rated 402 lumens/foot. I reasoned that the LED strip should be incredibly bright at about 50%, and with reduced brightness it should last nearly forever. It will be interesting to see if that works out or not. After all, is it possible to have too much light in the kitchen?

At maximum brightness, the LED strip gets too warm to touch for prolonged periods. I can see now why Flexfire didn’t want me using a cover lens on this product. Any additional heat would lead to premature death.

In summary, I’m impressed with this product, but not blown away yet. I’ll post an update once I’ve been able to test it while positioned over a countertop.

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