The government-mandated phaseout of the incandescent bulb has opened the door for low-energy replacements. A couple of years back, compact fluorescent lighting, or CFL, was the favored alternative. But, now there’s something better, LED lights. They more resemble the conventional lights they are replacing and they don’t have the mercury found in CFLs.
What’s made LED lights feasible is their plummeting prices due to new design innovations, manufacturing efficiencies and subsidies from electric companies. Priced just a year ago from $60 to $90, LED lamps can now be found for as little as $10.
LEDs are tiny electronic solid-state components that emit an intensely bright light. Individual LEDs have been used in flashlights, lighting in cars and even large-screen LCD TV illumination. And now, many of these high-energy LEDs have been combined to create light bulbs to replace incandescent and CFL lights.
LEDs are more efficient than CFLs and last longer, and at their new lower prices provide a big savings. Replacing a dozen conventional bulbs with LED bulbs can save you $400 per year in electricity or $10,000 over the bulbs’ life.
Most importantly, some of the latest LED designs are much more suitable than CFL light bulbs that have weird shapes and produce uneven illumination. And while I haven’t tested them for many hours, they are advertised to last longer.
I replaced most of my recessed lights and light bulbs a few years ago with CFL bulbs made by FEIT. These bulbs use a coiled tube shape — some bare and some inside a glass enclosure. They are far from a decorator’s dream —the coiled light pattern casts striped shadows on lampshades and the long bodies often peer below the bottom of lampshades or outside recessed fixtures.
CFL lights take a couple of minutes to reach full brightness, while LED lights turn on instantly. And, based on my experience, CFLs last a shorter time than their ratings say. While rated to last 13 times longer than the bulbs they replace, I needed to replace about half of the bulbs in the first year.
CFLs use about 25 percent of the energy of an incandescent, but because of their containments, they must be recycled rather than discarded. However, only some stores that sell them will take back the used bulbs. In the San Diego area, The Home Depot takes them, but Dixieline, where I purchased the bulbs, does not. So CFLs can save money, but they are not ideal.
What’s important in selecting one of these new LEDs? Long life, uniform light distribution, natural color temperature and the same size as the conventional bulb it replaces. It should also be capable of dimming.
In my quest for a better light bulb, I’ve been trying out some LED bulbs from Cree, an American company that has been a pioneer in the development of LED lighting. I first came across the company’s name on some of the first very bright (and expensive) pocket-sized LED flashlights. Cree designed and supplied the LED assembly to other flashlight manufacturers.
There are many brands that make LED lamps, including Philips, Sylvania and FEIT. But I found that at least for now, the Cree bulb most looks like and works like the incandescent bulb it is replacing. The other brands fail to emit light in a uniform pattern in all directions because they have designs that block the light with fins, covers or heat sinks.
The Cree LED bulbs are made with what the company calls Filament Tower Technology, which emulates the incandescent filament in which the illumination originates from the center of the bulb.
The Cree bulb emits a similar pattern with its halo-shaped arrangement of the LEDs inside the bulb around its center axis. The enclosure around this tower is shaped just like a light bulb, and has the same diffuse finish to spread out the light. The illumination appears to be similar in color to an incandescent. What was startling to me was that during use, the outer surface, which looks just like an incandescent bulb, remains cold to the touch.
According to Cree, the bulbs save 84 percent of the energy compared to typical incandescent bulbs, are designed to last 25 times longer, and come with a 10-year limited warranty.
I’ve been trying their 60-watt replacement version. It produces the same 800 lumens as a 60-watt bulb, but uses just 9.5 watts. It fit into lamps that have little room for anything longer or wider than a normal bulb, such as a garage work lamp with a shroud and a living room lamp with a lampshade bracket surrounding the bulb.
With local subsidies from electric companies, the bulbs cost less than $10; retail is $13. If you use them three hours a day, they will last for 20 years! The bulbs are available locally at The Home Depot. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Baker is the author of "From Concept to Consumer," published by Financial Times Press. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published online or as Letters to the Editor.