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LED Lighting for Clear, Bright, Energy Efficient Illumination”

Last updated 2010-12-17 - Send Feedback
Related: lighting
Click for reviews of specific bulbs

LED lights are the future.

They keep getting brighter, cheaper and more power efficient every year, and they already offer superior performance (power efficiency + light quality) to any other kind of home lighting.

LED lights offer ultra-low power consumption, with very low heat for the light generated. Not only do you get more light for far less wattage, air-conditioned buildings have less waste heat to deal with, saving further energy.

Good quality LEDs are excellent, but still “expensive”, so the real drawback in 2010 is price, but that’s just not true for some of us— they can be a great investment for the right situations.

Reviews of specific LED light bulbs follow the introductory material

LED issues

Background on LEDs and fluorescents.

LEDs vary widely in quality

The best LEDs offer outstanding color quality. The worst LEDs are dim and dingy and/or badly off-color (bluish or greenish)— terrible stuff.

There is a lot of garbage out there on the market; LEDs come in a wide range of quality grades, they are “binned” according to brightness and color quality. The best ones are expensive.

If you want to see the very best in LED lighting, look no further than the Lupine Wilma or Lupine Betty. Those lights use absolute top-bin parts, and it shows.

LEDs can burn out if too hot

LED lifespan can be reduced by a factor of ten (10) if run too hot.

When you buy an LED bulb, you’re getting ripped-off if the light doesn’t have some kind of heat sink to dissipate the heat, or circuitry to reduce power if overheated— the LED will fry .

This is true for LED flashlights, LED headlamps and LED light bulbs. There is a huge amount of cheap garbage available on the market that might be just disappointing for a while, until the LED is toast and its premature demise really hits home. Value is not low price.

Fluorescent — no thanks and no poisons

I’ve tried the best fluorescent bulbs I could find. All have disappointed or had limitations of one kind or another. As a strongly visual person, I despise poor lighting. Also, I could always see CRT flicker when others could not, and fluorescent bulbs can develop flicker over time.

Fluorescent bulbs don’t work with dimmers, they don’t fit into my Par38 or Par30 light sockets, and bottom line is that I’m not looking for mediocre light quality or the inevitable buzz from a transformer (I still have youthful hearing). And unless one get the expensive photo-quality fluorescents (I have), the color balance is marginal to hideous, especially for indoor photography.

Fluorescents are also filled with toxic mercury (how many people really dispose of them properly, even if they don’t break the bulb by accident, or break on purpose to get them into the trash can).

A final hassle is that I’ve had fluorescent bulbs break during shipping. Broken glass and toxins and the return hassle are not for me.

Electricity rates and return on investment (ROI)

The up-front price on quality LED light bulbs as of 2010 is still high enough that they really cannot be justified on a ROI basis for anyone enjoying low electricity rates.

My analysis follows as to why LED lights can be justified purely on a financial basis, using my own situation. But it’s also about light brightness, coverage and quality; I am willing to spend something on better lighting, at least in a few key areas of my workspace. You might be, also.

I want a return on my investment, and if the light quality and brightness is superior, and I can help the environment in the process, well that’s a nice bonus.

Here in California, we have some of the highest electricity rates in the nation, consisting of five “tiers”. Every time I read in a newspaper about how electricity is $0.11 per kilowatt hour, I wonder why I’m stuck paying $0.49 per kilowatt hour in tier 5 (it’s slightly lower in summer, but in winter I need lighting for much more of the day). I end up paying for about 110KWh at the top tier each month, or about $60 (after tax dollars).

Since my town has a 6.5% utility tax, that’s really $0.53 / kilowatt hour. And since the bill is in after tax dollars, it really is more like $0.90 / kilowatt hour in terms of pre-tax income I have to earn. So $0.90/Kwh is what I have to earn per KWh.

California electric rates (winter) — 5 tiers. Summer is slightly lower.
This is just part of my bill

I don’t have an air conditioner or electric car or electric stove or water heater, so there are no single big items to convert or cut. We use natural gas for cooking and hot water and stove. There’s no way a family of five can live in a home and use much less electricity than we do (shivering in the dark with dirty clothes is not an option).

So my only realistic options are to install solar (problematic roof for that, poor ROI), or cut power usage enough to lop off the top tier rate and part of the next tier; that’s where the big savings are. And the only way to do that in my case (realistically) is to make the lighting more efficient.

My home has a lot of halogen “cans” containing Par38 or Par30 or MR16 halogen bulbs‚ 90 and 75 and 50 watts respectively. A main working area has bulbs that consume 660 watts!

Since those halogen lights probably are on at least ~3 hours a day, even in summer, that’s 2 kilowatts per day, or 60 kilowatts per month. By moving to Par38 and Par30 LED bulbs, that 680 watts drops to about 80 watts, or about 0.25 kilowatts instead of ~2 kilowatts.

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Return on investment (ROI)

I ran a cost savings estimate, using the rates discussed above ($0.53/KWh post-tax dollars, $0.90 pre-tax dollars). A lot depends on the cost of the bulbs, how long they are run, etc. Also, replacing only the bulbs used the most has major impact on the ROI. But for this calculation, I just assumed that they would all be replaced.

Your electric rates might be a lot lower, but you might also run your lights a lot longer. Run your own calculation accordingly.

As shown below, in one year, my estimated pre-tax savings are $900 in pre-tax dollars, or $528 in post-tax dollars, if I replaced all the bulbs below. In post-tax dollars, I’d have to spend $1730 on these bulbs (using post-tax dollars). But if I skipped the least-used bulbs, and simply replaced the most-used ones, the cost would plummet.

The bulbs are rated for 30,000 hours. Let’s be cynical, and reduce that to 10,000 hours. Assuming a savings of (90-11) = 75 watts for one Par38, a 10,000 hour life means a savings of 790 kilowatts, or $419 at the $0.53 rate, or $711 at the pre-tax $0.90 rate. At about $90 for a Par38 bulb (prices vary slightly), that looks like a sweet investment. Since electric rates have been going up about 6% a year for the last 30 years in California, actual numbers are likely much better.

That’s a 360% post-tax / 710% return on investment over 10,000 hours or runtime (depending on pre-tax or post-tax dollars). How many hours... hard to say, but for the main lights, 1100 hours/year is about right.

But wait! Halogen bulbs are not free either. A good quality 90 watt halogen bulb is about $11, and most are rated for only 2500 hours. So that’s about $44 for the same 10,000 hour life. Now the LED lights don’t look nearly so expensive, the ROI goes WAY up— and you don’t have to keep spare bulbs on hand either.

Most stock market investors would drool with delight if they knew they could get that kind of return in 10 years. In other words, these bulbs are a very strong investment. Run your own numbers to see if it makes sense for you.

Bonus: I can enjoy a well-lit house with better and brighter lighting, and I don’t have to yell at the kids to turn the lights off!

Buying these bulbs? Thank you for using my links further below.

Estimated savings ($) in pre-tax and post-tax terms

Eaglelight Par38 and Par30 bulbs

Get at Amazon: Eaglelight Par38 | Eaglelight Par30

EagleLight LED PAR30
75W equiv (9W)

These bulbs replace the standard 90 watt and 70 watt halogen lights in ceiling “cans”. They are a screw-in replacement. They stay just mildly warm after being left on— excellent cooling, very important for LED lights.

The Par38 bulbs replaced my 90 watt halogens and consume about 11 watts, an 87% reduction!

It doesn’t get much “greener” than that!

With brighter, more uniform, and more daylight-balanced color. I found I could read the newspaper with greater ease than with the halogen lighting. These bulbs worked fine with my dimmer switches, too.

Even more important, they passed the critical “spouse test”, and I am blessed with one discerning wife. The verdict: “I like them better”.

I like the “natural white” the best. The “warm white” is good too, but not as bright, and the “warm” means more like the halogen color balance (but not as grossly yellow as a halogen).

Update Dec 17, 2010: one of the bulbs has gone dim and flickers, and it was also causing a power spike that set my uninterruptible power supply (UPS) off. EagleLight is promptly replacing it.

EagleLight LED PAR38 Dimmable
100-120W equivalent (11W)

Eaglelight MR16 bulb

EagleLight Dimmable LED MR16
35W equiv (3W)

Get it at Amazon. There are several variants. I liked the 60° “Natural White” the best (gold ring as shown), but all are good. Really superb bulb.

I had Solux daylight-balance halogens (very high quality MR16 lamps) on low-voltage track lighting. Those are premium MR16 lamps, with excellent color.

But the problem with low voltage lighting is that the voltage drops with 5 bulbs, which means that my 4700°K Solux bulbs were putting out about 3000° K instead— very yellow. So if one uses Solux, it’s important for each bulb to receive its rated volage, or it will no perform as designed.

I replaced the Solux bulbs with the EagleLight “Natural White” MR16 bulbs 60° (spot version is also OK). Consuming only three (3) watts, they are brighter and more uniform than the Solux bulbs (in good part because track lighting cannot maintain the required voltage for the Solux bulbs to work as designed). No doubt color accuracy is less good than properly-driven Solux bulbs, but I have the wiring I have in my office, and it’s not for print matching.

That means I could leave the lights on for 16 hours for the same amount of power as one hour with the halogen Solux bulbs. Amazing!

MaxLite SKMR1604DLLED LED MR16 Day Light Bulb

MaxLite LED MR16
45W equiv

This bulb is not dimmable, a fact which was omitted from its description when I bought it, but which the box clearly calls about.

Though the description claims a color temperature of 5000°K, I measured 7000°K with my Gossen Color Pro IIIf color meter, radically more bluish. I also did the “skin test” — the excessively blue light made my skin look like a corpse.

The light is otherwise acceptable, but not at all pleasing compared to the Eaglelight MR16 Natural White bulb.

While this bulb is very bright, the fact that it cannot be dimmed along with the excessive blue cast led me to return it immediately.

Otherwise, this appeared to be a well made good quality bulb. But 7000°K won’t flatter people or anything else, nor is it as good for visual acuity (e.g., reading a book or newspaper).

Designers Edge L-610 5 Watt High Power LED MR16 Bulb

Designer’s Edge L-610
NOT recommended

This bulb is a turd.

The “Designers Edge L-610 5 Watt High Power LED” was priced 20% higher than the Eaglelight MR16.

Yet the light quality was dim and dingy, grossly inferior to the Eaglelight MR16, and it takes 5 watts, or 66% more power than the EagleLight MR16.

What look like metal fins might be plastic (not certain). LEDs die when overheated, and this light had glass over it. I feel sure that this bulb, as poor as it was brand-new, would not last very long.

I sent this overpriced piece-of-crap bulb back to Amazon. This is a good example of the garbage out there on the market. Caveat Emptor.

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