Where Do Environmental Ratings Come From and Why Do We Use Them?

At Super Bright LEDs, we strive to provide you with the most accurate information about the products we sell. When discussing the most important attributes of a light, we typically like to include information about the environment in which the light can be installed safely. The most common categories of this information are IP ratings and UL environmental ratings. In some cases, we will also include our own environmental rating—e.g. non-weatherproof, weatherproof, waterproof, and submersible—which can be used to describe more general installation requirements. Where possible, products will feature more than one of these specifications to ensure that the information provided is as accurate, extensive, and useful as possible. 

A wide variety of products use IP and other environmental ratings to help clarify, specifically, how and where they can be safely used. IP (ingress protection) involves sets of standardized tests for various factors that provide specific, comparable details about a product’s durability and operating environment. Other environmental ratings exist in a number of forms and are not directly related to IP, such as UL environmental ratings which function more as simplified guidelines related to inspection and construction. Understanding what each type of rating means and how they apply to a product will ultimately be the best way to make a fully informed decision when purchasing new lighting.

What is IP Rating?

IP is an acronym for ingress protection that refers to the extent to which a product is guarded from intrusion. An IP rating is designed to accurately communicate two main properties—protection from intrusion by dust, dirt, and other foreign objects and intrusion from moisture such as water.  While they are both important specifications, moisture is the more often highlighted of the two in the marketing of lighting and electronics. For example, when something is advertised as being ‘waterproof’ or ‘water-resistant,’ it is often referencing that product’s IP rating in a simplified form. 

IP Rating Breakdown

A typical IP rating will consist of ‘IP’ followed by two numbers—ranging from 0–6 for intrusion and 0–9 for moisture. If either digit is ‘X’ or ‘0’ (used interchangeably), it means that whichever type of testing is represented was not conducted. In some cases, an additional character will be added to the end to indicate that other special conditions apply as well—such as the ‘K’ in ‘9K’. 

The first digit functions as a linear range of levels—each higher number meets and surpasses the numbers below it. The second digit works similarly to an extent, but has an important exception. The range from 1–6 and 9K work as one set of levels, each encompassing and surpassing previous levels of protection. However, 7 and 8 in the second digit only relate to each other and have no direct correlation to the others. This is because 1–6 and 9K deal with pressurized and directional resistance (ranging from water droplets to high pressure jet sprays and steam) and 7 and 8 deal with immersion. While it is often implied and certainly can be true, a product that is IPx7 does not necessarily pass IPx5 or IPx6 testing.

IP Rating Versus UL Environmental Rating

IP ratings were designed to be fairly specific in order to more accurately categorize products by their unique attributes. This is really valuable information for consumers, but some other systems use a more streamlined method in an effort to make it easier for installers to quickly tell where and how a product is intended to be installed. In the context of lighting safety, environmental ratings related to UL certification—marked as dry, damp, or wet on the product label—are assigned to products to give a more general idea of where and how the product can be installed and/or used safely. While these may not be as detailed as IP ratings, when used properly they serve as an effective general guide for appropriate installation types relating to inspection and construction concerns.

UL Environmental Ratings

During the certification process for UL, ETL, and similar safety certifications, most products are also given environmental (dry/damp/wet) ratings related to where they are safe to be installed in terms of moisture exposure. This system is a little more simplified than the IP rating system, but is also intended more for installers and inspectors than consumers.

What Happens When There Are No UL or IP Ratings?

In some cases, products are not UL/ETL Listed or may not be viable for IP testing, so we do not have all of the information we need in advance. When this happens, we utilize our in-house test lab to run extensive tests that help us make informed decisions. In the absence of a standardized rating, we will use information gathered from those tests to give products an appropriate environmental rating. These ratings give a general idea of the type of environment in which the product can be safely installed.

Wrapping Up

Environmental ratings, such as IP and UL ratings, can come across as overly complex and confusing. We hope that this guide has helped provide some clarity on the topic, so you can make the best decisions for your LED lighting needs. Of course, if you have any lingering questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Super Bright LEDs product specialist team who would be more than happy to assist you. We are available Monday through Friday from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM Central, and we can be reached by telephone at 866-590-3533. Alternatively, you can live chat with us or send our team an email, and we will be in touch with you as soon as possible.