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The Truth About LEDs

Four brands and very mixed results.

by
Stephen Green

Bio

December 7, 2013 - 8:00 am
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A while back I wrote that Melissa and I had given up our expensive and ultimately unfulfilling fling with CFL lightbulbs. We must have spent a couple thousand dollars putting them all over the house, but as soon as the ones in the outdoor sconces die off, we’ll be done with them completely. I’ve been experimenting with different brands of LEDs, and Glenn Reynolds’ mention this morning of Cree’s bulbs reminded me to finally write up what I’ve learned.

The first lesson is: Brand counts. When it comes to incandescent bulbs, your better brands tend to last longer but they all produce the same high-quality light we all know and love. LEDs however vary widely. For the purposes of this column, I’m putting halogen bulbs in their own category, even though they too produce incandescent light. We’ll get to them shortly.

We’ve tried four brands of LEDs, with extremely mixed results.

PHILIPSMy least favorite — and keep in mind, these are subjective observations but I am very picky about the quality of light in my home — are the bulbs produced by Philips. They look super-modern, which is what drew me to their reflector bulbs for the ceiling cans in my studio. The R30 size looks like the Pan Am spaceship from the orbital transit sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Everything else about them represents the worst of LED lighting. The light they produce has that sickly feeling that screams “cubical” instead of whispering “warm and comfy living room.” The light doesn’t emit evenly from lens, which might not be so annoying if the bulb didn’t stick out from below the can — but it does and so it is. There’s also a good half-second delay between flicking the light switch and when the light can be bothered to come on. It seems to have a very broad dimming range, but the light simply becomes fainter and sicklier and less pleasant the lower you dim it. (We’ll talk more about LEDs and dimming problems in a minute.) The Philips bulbs were also the most expensive. I have one in the studio and two (R20 size) in the bedroom and I can’t wait to ditch them all.

Next up is Feit, which produces a astounding range of LED bulbs. If there’s a size, wattage, or application you can even just imagine, they probably make it. That part is great. The reflector bulbs light perfectly evenly (unlike Philips), and the light is more pleasant. Of all the brands I’ve tested, theirs seem to have the longest power-up delay. But the R20 reflectors produce good-enough quality light for the kids’ rooms, which is nice because little boys don’t always remember to turn off the lights. In fact, this one time one of them might even have remembered. Anyway, Feit’s bulbs are moderately priced and their performance is acceptable — if you can live with that on-delay.

We’ve put EcoSmart bulbs in the garage and in a couple of other rooms, and I’m happy with them. Screwed into fixtures with that mock alabaster glass cover, the light they emit is almost indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs. They come on instantly, too. They dim as well as any LED is able to. At full brightness, they produce a lot of light. We have two of those alabaster-type ceiling fixtures in our laundry room, which used to hold two 60-watt incandescents each. The LEDs are so bright, that I replaced them with two 60-watt equivalent bulbs and two 40-watt equivalents — and then still had to put the whole shebang on a Lutron dimmer. And then I rarely turn the dimmer up more than halfway. So instead of running 240 watts in there, we’re now running maybe 20 watts — did I mention they produce a lot of light? That’s some serious savings, especially for moderately-priced bulbs.

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Top Rated Comments   
My truth is that there are many rural situations where a blub that produces heat is what I need. So wonderful that my government knows so much better what I need than I do.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I don't have any LED bulbs yet, although I do have several LED flashlights. They're great during power outages because you can leave them on for hours without draining the batteries. Much safer than candles. I think that LEDs are the future of lighting and that many of the current problems you identified will be ironed out eventually.

My prediction: Someday we will all regard CFLs as the lighting equivalent of 8-track tapes.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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Thanks for the comparative review. I converted my house to GE CFLs from Target, and although I didn't like the idea on principle I have to admit they worked for me. The built-in light fixtures here take only 60W, and I am happy to now use 75W equivalents. I don't have any experience with other brands of CFLs but GE make their tubes encased in clear plastic and I haven't had one break yet.

However going forward I would prefer to move to LEDs so I'm grateful for the recommendation for the Cree lights.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
My daughter is very sensitive to lights and color temperature. While cheap LEDs give her headaches from the flicker, she is very happy with the Philips Hue LED lights. She gives her apartment a bluish glow to help energize her in the mornings and a reddish glow to help her wind down at night. She also has an app on her computer to give it a reddish glow in the evening, and a red screen filter to put on her phone at night. Like I said, very sensitive.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've had excellent luck with the CFL's from Home Depot, and mixed luck with a dozen other brands. I finally broke down and spent $30 for my first 100-watt equivalent Phillips LED, dimmable although where I put it has no dimmer. It's OK, but actually painfully bright to look at without a shade, brighter than a classic soft-white 100 watt incandescent. It also puts out rather more heat than I expected, much more than the CFL. But, if it lasts ten years, I guess I'm OK with it.

Steven, your desire for yellow/red dimmed light is an interesting factor. Y'know, a lot of restaurants have replaced their actual candles with LED-based imitations, that do give off that same warm yellow light. Try turning off the big lights and getting some e-candles!
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
We put an LED in our living room overhead and we're pretty happy with it. I have never done CFLs because fluorescents are hard on my eyes and can trigger migraine attacks for me. We're trying to decide which other fixtures we want to put LEDs in because we've decided it isn't necessary to put them in all our fixtures.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Home Depot has the Cree bulbs, standard form and floodlight, in daylight and warm white. About 10 bucks and they should last longer than I will. I'm replacing my incandescent bulbs a few at a time with these. 60 watts equivalent from 9 watts adds up even more when I'm running this place on battery/inverter power.

CFL's weren't ever worth much and I'm getting rid of those too.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I may be an outlier, but I've had good results with my CFLs. I've got five installed around the apartment, all installed in Ikea's very contemporary Fado light fixtures. All are 100w equivalents (25 watts), all but one is a warm white - approximating the color temperature of incandescents. It's been at least two years since I replaced one. (I also have Circline fluorescents in the hallways, and get a minimum of two years out of them.) Before going in this direction I was replacing a blown incandescent every few weeks.

My only real experience with LEDs is with the strip variety. Because these are lacking any diffusing, I can't put them where one sees them directly. But they did solve a long-standing problem: dark shadows above a tall wall unit. I laid a six foot strip atop the unit directing the light to the ceiling, wiring it to a switch in the cabinet. What a difference! I run it all day without guilt as it's only drawing maybe 10 watts. Makes a dandy night light for the apartment.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
You must be. I used CFL's for a while and had nothing but bad luck. I had some that burned out faster than the incandescents (yes, the bulbs were the correct wattage for the fixture) and one nearly started a fire when it burned out the socket on an old and favorite lamp.

Managed to never drop any of them though which really would have been a disaster.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
This is why I've objected to the federal incandescent ban only on principal. I wasn't worried about losing incandescents - it's time for them to go the way of the dodo bird.

And I wasn't worried about the shortcomings of the CFLs, either, because LEDs have been on the horizon for a while and I knew they would supplant CFLs soon, ban or no ban. It's just crazy to continue to burn 100 watts when you can get the same light for 10 or less.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
My truth is that there are many rural situations where a blub that produces heat is what I need. So wonderful that my government knows so much better what I need than I do.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
Its not just rural uses. A lot of fixtures for outdoor use were designed so the heat melted the snow and ice that would otherwise cover the light. These included some traffic lights.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I recently installed LEDs in my exterior light fixtures because it is so darned difficult to change the bulbs, and I don't want to do it very often.

33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
I tried some LED lightbulbs years ago and wasn't impressed by them. The one I got was for my reading light and thing was much dimmer than most night lights. LED's in flashlights have come along very well though. I've got several different ones for different uses, including a very nice palm-sized one that is extremely bright for a single led. I may look into the Cree bulbs though.
33 weeks ago
33 weeks ago Link To Comment
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