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Home LED Lighting - Purchase Considerations

LED light bulbs

So as your incandescent bulbs burn out, you are thinking it may be a good time to switch to LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. LEDs have been around for a few years now and we all know basically 3 things about them. They are pricey, they last much longer than incandescent or CFLs and they are more energy efficient. There are other things we should know as well when looking at making the choice to switch but lets look at those first three to start with.

LED Bulb Cost

As we all have noticed LEDs are much more pricey than the old incandescent we are used to buying, much more pricey! In fact I would say on average they are 15-20% more than your standard incandescent bulb. Their prices have come down some over the last couple years but its still a large jump.

One thing to consider on the price side though like many things is you get what you pay for. There are cheaper LEDs but they are cheaper for a reason, lower end parts are being used to make them and the light quality and life span are not likely to be the same as a higher end ones. Over time just like we seen with the CFL bulbs that price should come down.

Long Life

25,000 hours is the typical life span of many LEDs (most manufacturers print it on their packaging) So basically that works out to a typical LED lasting 13.5 years if left on 5 hours a day every day 365 days a year! Pretty impressive! Compare that to other bulbs average life spans …That’s 25x longer than an incandescent, 10x longer than a halogen and even 4x longer than a CFL.

LED bulbs lifespan package

Efficiency

So what makes LEDs more efficient? Lower rates of wattage used by them to create light. I've seen someone do a comparison with a 60 watt incandescent, 14 watt CFL and a 12 watt LED to see what the yearly cost to run each bulb would be. They based this on each bulb burning for 3 hours a day 365 days a year and an average national rate of power at .11 cents per kilowatt hour. The approximate costs were $5 for the incandescent , $1.17 for the CFL and $1 for the LED. So you can see that the LED is much more efficient to run especially compared to the incandescent. There are other things though to consider when looking at switching to LED bulbs that you may not of heard of or been made aware of before. I will discuss the more important ones next.

Color & Brightness

The light color from a typical incandescent bulb we are used to is that warm yellowish hue. LEDs are capable of a wide spectrum colors but whites and yellows are the ones you will see in different household bulbs. Light color or color temperature is measured in kelvins (K) . The lower the number, the warmer (more yellow) the light the higher the number, the brighter (whiter) the light. A typical incandescent is somewhere between 2700 and 3500K so if that’s the type of lighting you are looking for than that is the range to look for. These numbers will be listed on the box or packaging. Traditionally we are used to looking at the bulb wattage to determine the bulb brightness but with LEDs that is not really a true reading anymore, lumens or light output is the relevant term. Most LEDs will have a comparison of the LED bulb you are looking at to the equivilent incandescent bulb wattage right on the packaging so you have an idea of the brightness. I recommend looking for stores with displays that actually have the bulbs being used so you can compare them right in the store to see the differences. If that is not possible then buy only a couple different bulbs and take them home to try, before making a decision on color.

LED bulbs color temperature ratings

Fixture Types

LEDs are not designed (yet) for use in enclosed light fixtures. For a LED to function correctly and last as long as expected they must be used in non-fully enclosed fixtures so that the heat they create can dissipate. LEDs do not create as much heat as halogen or incandescent bulbs but because of the electronic make up of them the heat they do create can damage their electronics and shorten their life span. Good quality LEDs have some form of heat sink that helps to dissipate that heat as quick as possible but even those bulbs if used in an enclosed fixture can over heat and fail sooner than expected. So popular fixtures like the one pictured below should not use LED bulbs until manufacturers solve that issue.

Ceiling fixture not good choice for LEDs

Dimmer Switch Compatibility

Most LEDS can be used with dimmer switches and will specifically state that on their packaging. Some dimming switches work with LEDs better than others so you are best to try one bulb before changing everyone on that circuit. If your switch does not work well with the LED then changing to a newer compatible dimmer switch is an option usually as well.

Incentives

Some places are giving tax credits, incentives or rebates when switching over to some more energy efficient products so it may be worth checking out first, especially when doing large system conversions like your whole home or office.

Environmental

From an environmental stand point LEDs should be better because they contain no mercury like CFLs and they require slightly fewer watts than CFLs and significantly fewer watts than incandescent bulbs to operate which in turn means less energy needed to be generated from power plants to operate the LEDs. Less energy production should equal less fossil fuel pollution from those plants into the environment.

Unfortunately even though LEDs do not contain mercury they do contain other toxins that time will tell us if it is a concern or not. A study published in late 2010 in the journal of Enviromental Science and Technology found that LEDs do contain lead, nickel, other heavy metals and arsenic.

Conclusion

As you can see the LED technology is a great advancement over the old incandescent type bulbs we are so familiar with and for now we will have to pay a premium up front for the purchase price, but in the long run they should pay off. In the coming years I am sure the cost to purchase will lower as well. Are they better than the CFLs available right now? I think that is a little more of a close comparison as far as cost to purchase compared to cost to operate. The real difference there is the difference in life expectancy between the two types.

For me, changing every bulb I can in my home to LEDs from CFLs is not a huge push, but what I have started to do is replace bulbs as they burn out especially incandescent and halogen to LEDs were it warrants. Hard to get at bulbs or bulbs that are turned on many hours everyday are going to LED for sure. Bulbs in enclosed light fixtures are going to CFLs when replacing the fixture is not warranted yet. Everyone has there own reasons to switch or not to switch but I hope this article gives you a little more knowledge when the time to decide does come for you. There has been some great discussion on LEDs on my forum, here is a link to it if you are interested in reading more or contributing to the discussion.

As always, if you have any questions about your LED/lighting situation or other home improvement project, feel free to ask questions in our home improvement forum.