When it comes to Bi-Pin LED bulbs, along with various size and brightness differences there are two general categories to choose from: encapsulated and non-encapsulated. So, what’s the difference and why would you want one or the other?
Bi-Pin bulbs (the kind with the two small pins that stick directly into a socket) are a mainstay of landscape lighting fixtures. Bi-Pins are the usual bulbs for pathway lights or other fixtures that are non-directional. Unlike a directional bulb, such as an MR16, a non-directional bulb just send the light out in all directions. Perfect for pathway lighting and when you want a wide effect, such as a wall wash, but not so great for spot lights.
Pictured above are two different Bi-Pin bulbs that give off the same lighting effect. They are both the same pin-size, the same wattage, the same lumens. At night, their effects look pretty much identical. They differ in only one respect: the bulb on the left is encapsulated, and the bulb on the right is not.
An encapsulated bulb is encased in clear silicone. The silicone is soft to the touch, almost spongy. Unlike halogen bulbs that shouldn’t be touched by bare hands (due to oil deposits from your fingers), encapsulated LED bulbs are okay to handle without gloves.
The main point of the encapsulation is wet weather protection. Encapsulated bulbs shouldn’t automatically be considered submersible, but they are water tight and suitable for wet location use. Also, they are pretty much a requirement around salt water or salty air. Encapsulated bulbs are also generally better at withstanding vibration and swings in ambient temperature.
You should always use encapsulated bulbs for any fixtures on boats, docks, near back yard water features, etc. Think of how many of your own path lights are directly in the path of pop-up sprinklers, or near pathways/driveways that get salted in winter. But there’s no downside to using them in any fixture, so they are increasingly the standard as cost for encapsulating comes down.
It will likely be the case eventually that all LED Bi-Pin bulbs will be encapsulated. The only thing holding them back is cost, but that cost is coming down.
There’s no reason to go out today and replace your still-working non-encapsulated bulbs with encapsulated ones. But once your bulbs start to fail or dim, you should upgrade to encapsulated LEDs at that time. That’s especially true in places like here in Toronto where large seasonal temperature differences and high lakeside humidity can really affect outdoor LED bulb life.