LED Light Bulbs Are Increasingly Cheaper, Greener And Controllable

LED light bulbs are the longest-lasting and most efficient mass-produced light sources to date. And now, they’re also among the most affordable, with some costing less than $10 per bulb — a drastic drop compared to their recent $50 price tag.

They’ll also do anything an incandescent or compact flourescent bulb can do, and more. Last week, the New York Times published a product review of LED bulbs from six manufacturers, several with features such as dimming, changing colors, and pulsing. Four of the bulbs reviewed can be controlled remotely: using an iPhone or Android app, users can control the brightness and colors of Philips Hue bulbs, and Greenwave Solution bulbs come with an online app that users can program according to their schedules — turning off all the lights at night or when they’re away.

The article’s author lauds the benefits of LED light bulbs, and with good reason. Even in 2012, when the bulbs cost closer to $50 instead of $10, an LED bulb saved consumers about $100 over its lifetime compared to an incandescent bulb. LED bulbs save energy — from manufacture to disposal, an LED bulb uses 5 times less energy than an incandescent one.

And LED bulbs are far more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last longer than both incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs, as the NY Times points out:

LEDs last about 25 times as long as incandescents and three times as long as CFLs; we’re talking maybe 25,000 hours of light. Install one today, and you may not own your house, or even live, long enough to see it burn out. (Actually, LED bulbs generally don’t burn out at all; they just get dimmer.) You know how hot incandescent bulbs become. That’s because they convert only 5 to 10 percent of your electricity into light; they waste the rest as heat. LED bulbs are far more efficient. They convert 60 percent of their electricity into light, so they consume far less electricity. You pay less, you pollute less.

LED bulbs have been popular installations in flashlights and Christmas lights for the past few years, but maybe this recent price drop coupled with the high-tech features the bulbs boast of — along with the federal phase-out of some kinds of incandescent bulbs — will help spur more regular household use of LEDs — an important scenario to consider, given that electricity used to power homes, businesses and industry is the highest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

40 Responses to LED Light Bulbs Are Increasingly Cheaper, Greener And Controllable

  1. The incandescent bulb is going to get wiped out in the next 5-10 years (maybe closer to 5 than 10, but we’ll see). CFLs are soon to follow (their use of mercury and their fragility will make them obsolete very soon after incandescents).

    Here’s an account of our experience putting LED down lights in the house we purchased in 2011:
    Installation was simple and the light is so good that my wife gave her enthusiastic approval. I’ve recently seen similar products at Home Depot for $35 (we paid $50, including installation), although not the major brand we used (Sylvania).

    I also recently bought some excellent $10 CREE LED bulbs at home depot to replace 40W bulbs in our bathrooms, so prices are really starting to come down:

    Finally, if you have someone in your household who is a real stickler for incandescent light, you can try the Phillips LED lamp that won the L-prize from DOE. I defy anyone to tell the difference without looking at the bulb itself. It works very well in standard upright lamps with lampshades. It used to cost around $50 each, and is now down to $25 on Amazon. It’s a nice thing when prices follow the laws of electronic products!

  2. fj says:

    Yes, minimal waste heat also greatly facilitates bringing light real close to where you need it pretty much amplifies LED usabilty since light falls off by the square of the distance.

  3. fj says:

    Minimal power requirements greatly amplify usability were energy is expensive and precious as in highly mobile and or remote situations.

  4. Paul Klinkman says:

    They also don’t increase your air conditioning bill.

    LED bulbs are better for the chemically sensitive 2% of the nation than mercury vapor bulbs. Tiny amounts of mercury released from a broken light bulb act as a neurotoxin. This won’t bother most people, but some people are 100 times as medically sensitive to neurotoxins in the air. My wife is sensitive.

  5. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    “LED bulbs are far more efficient [than incandescent bulbs].”


    “They convert 60 percent of their electricity into light…”

    Not true. LED bulbs are about 6 times more efficient that incandescent bulbs, and are about 60% more efficient than CFL’s. But the actual efficiency of an LED bulb is about 29.3% (using CREE’s most recent 200 lumen/watt, and the idealized 100% efficiency of 683 lumen/watt). That puts the lowly incandescent efficiency at under 5%.

  6. jack speer says:

    LED Bulbs are the future . True prices dropped and have improved. China has taken a leading role in LED.s but Cree an American company that pays very good wages has made many technical advances in LED’s. Buy the best buy Cree ( an American Company) PS I have nothing to do with Cree.

  7. Joan Savage says:

    People have been attached to incandescents precisely because they radiate heat, so we need other cheap localized heat sources by the time the old light bulbs go off the market.

    I urge industrial designers to come up with alternatives for chicken incubators, keeping an old car engine warm over night, keeping pipes from freezing. I’m sure people can come up with something or other.

  8. bSpittle says:

    I’ve bought a lot of led lights and very few have lasted even a year.

    So even though they are “rated” at 25,000 hours, only about 1/5 of the ones I bought are working after a year.

    I’ll keep trying the newer ones, though.
    I like LED’s.

  9. Adam R. says:

    I’d like to replace my CFs with the neat, new LEDs, but the damned CFs will not die. The one on my front porch is 14 years old and still going.

  10. Gord says:

    We use incandescents here in critical areas of the house. They give off both heat and light for us in the Winter time. One 100 W bulb heats my office for the most part when days are over 0 C Mean 24 hour temp. We are at 43 N Latitude.

    Banning incandescents is a huge mistake for northern climates.

    Summer and warmer days are the cfl times here for sure.

  11. Language Cop says:

    RE: “an LED bulb uses 5 times less energy”

    Do you mean one fifth of the energy? Five times less is a mathematical impossibility. One times x is 100% of x.

  12. john c. wilson says:

    Wish I knew how you do that. I’ve never had a CFL that lasted a significant length of time and thus own no CFLs. I’m sure you are not using magic and I’m sure not all of the bulbs I bought over the years could have been defective in the ordinary sense. But in practical terms all the bulbs I bought were worthless. Since I don’t own an iphone I may not even be able to operate an LED. Hence I am stocking up on incandescents before the ban.

  13. sjay says:

    Or a carboy of homebrew fermenting away.

  14. Steve Magruder says:

    I have to have any problems with any CFLs I have installed the past few years, and I’m using them in many spots. None have burned out yet. However, the older style tube fluorescent lights burn out infrequently.

    If you want to pay a lot more in electricity bills than your neighbors, stocking up on incandescents will work great for that purpose.

  15. Steve Magruder says:

    I have yet to have any problems, I meant.

  16. enrriqa says:

    No tengo gran cosa que decir, y menos en otro idioma, sobre las lamparas LED, tan solo q es la iluminacion del futuro proximo ( hope that more near than away) i’ts right

  17. Steve Magruder says:

    Space heaters do the same thing, and they’re cheap.

  18. Joan Patrie says:

    I want them with some amber (bi-chromatic red/green mixture type) LEDs mixed with the quasi-white (i.e. UV emitters in florescent casings) LEDs to yield a lower-temerature (mellower) white.

    Also, as many appear very flickery to me, I assume most only rectify one way (chopping the AC sine wave in half). It would not be that difficult a design problem to solve. Arranging the LEDs electrically into four banks (within each bulb) into a bridge rectifier configuration, and then adding a single capacitor to each bank, would smooth the line voltage to a merely slightly ripply DC. In this way, the ‘flicker’ can be smoothed to an imperceptible level

    Do that, and I’ll buy it

    If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then hire me to design it for you

  19. Joan Patrie says:

    I agree, Gord. Banning incandescent lighting altogether would be an excessive measure.

    I also live at a high North latitude. Interestingly, we are only allowed electric heat in my apartment building. Therefore, every 100 (or 60) Watts of incandescent light I decommission is just another 100 (or 60) Watts of additional energy my two [permanently installed] electric heating units have to transduce (into heat) to make up for it

    The compact fluorescent bulbs in my apartment (which are most of them, btw) are at their best in the warm summer months (when waste heat from lighting is detrimental to comfort)

    I am all for energy conservation. I’m a member of our local 4R group (Reduce; Reuse; Recycle; Repair). I ritually unplug my equipment rack and turn my thermostat all the way down when I leave the house. But, given that my building uses electric heat (exclusively), thinking that I would be saving energy by not using incandescent lighting during the heating months would be quite daft

  20. John Casey says:

    I have been using them over the past 3 years or so. Initially they were not that bright, but the bulbs today are almost as bright as their incandescent counterparts. Initially I used them where temporary task lighting was required stairs, laundry room, etc. With the energy savings, I wish they had of been around when my kids were younger, would have saved a lot of chasing kids to turn out lights. Yes the up front cost is more, but you will see a significant reduction in your energy bill.

  21. Camburn says:

    When looking at non-heat, it depends where you live.
    In the northern areas of the country, the incand bulbs provide light and heat, which is required approx 8 months of the year.

    Also, as stated, heat lamps are going to be hard to replace.

  22. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Joan, the white LEDs used for lighting are made by coating a visible blue LED emitting around 460nm with a yellow (red plus green) phosphor. They are bichromatic, and can also be made “softer” by skewing the phosphor a bit more toward the red.

    The LED bulbs directly rectify the line voltage using a silicon diode bridge circuit. LED’s are unsuitable for use in the bridge because their reverse breakdown voltage will be exceeded when reverse biased by line commutation. This would damage the LED. The rest of the circuitry drives the LED(s) with a chopped 120 Hz signal. It’s amazing that you can see a flicker. The vertical sweep on a raster scan TV is 60Hz line-interlaced for a vertical refresh rate of 30Hz, and most people can’t detect a flicker on that.

  23. Adam R. says:

    @ john c. wilson:
    “But in practical terms all the [CF] bulbs I bought were worthless. …Hence I am stocking up on incandescents before the ban.”

    Oh, I doubt the actual performance of CFs has anything to do with it, John. More likely? You think they’ll give you Al Gore cooties.

  24. Tom says:

    The progress in LEDs has been great!

    My house is filled with 40 and 60 watt candelabra base light fixtures – so far the max lumens is about 200 in that form factor. I have been slavishly checking the hardware stores for the 400 lumen candelabra base bulbs. They don’t seem to exist yet.

  25. DallasNE says:

    Geez, my bicycle is powered by an LED that is solar charged. Battery life is advertised as 6 hours though I have never had the need to have it turned on for much over 1 hour. I think the newer ones have a little more output, which I would welcome.

  26. john c. wilson says:

    My most recent monthly electric bill is for $28.20. That would be $6.96 for 145 kilowatts of power and $21 for tribute to our overlords. This powers a house in Evanston IL for a couple in their early 60s. I assure you our neighbors all have much higher electric bills.

    After the first few rounds of failures I went to so much trouble as to find reviews of which bulbs were more reliable and purchased only those. I have experimented within the past year with new purchases. They just have a short life. Part of it is living in an old house. Part of it is the extraordinarily erratic service from Com Ed. Much is unexplained. It is not mature tech. It has been oversold.

  27. Joan Savage says:

    I have put in LED to replace halogen spot lighting in the kitchen, gradually, as the halogens burn out. It has been about $24 per LED. I didn’t need the heat from the halogens and the quality of LED light is adequate though not great for color.

    The big pluses with the LEDs are of course chipping away at the electric bill and in my case, a much longer interval before I have to go through the multi-step process of using a step ladder and dis-assembly and re-assembly of the lighting canisters.

  28. Chris says:

    They can be controlled remotely using your phone. How many people will now try to convince their friends and family that the house is haunted. Fun uses for green technology!

  29. Ric Merritt says:

    When people complain about the short lives of CFL’s, I always wonder if they are buying the cheapest they can get their hands on, and getting what they paid for.

    I bought name-brand CFL’s about 6 years ago, and am just replacing the ones of that vintage, in living room lamps that are on just about every evening of the year for reading. I would love to know for sure what the difference is in our experiences.

  30. peter springer says:

    In my experience, for CFL (spiral) bulbs to last, they need to be protected from overheating, vibration and cold temperatures.

    They last best when mounted in a table lamp pointed up (threads down). some have a vent for heat to escape in the base. If the vent is not pointed up, or they are in a closed fixture, they can easily overheat.
    pointed down or sideways against the ceiling is bad, in a ceiling fan is bad.
    If you are having trouble with them burning out, try one this way and see if it makes a difference. they also work better if they are not switched often (a timer is good). If you figure out the cost of electricity for the needed amount of light and much lower watts using CFL vs incandescent, you might find that the cost of the bulb is inconsequential. even if you had to replace a CFL yearly, it might cost less than standard bulbs.

  31. Sasparilla says:

    Don’t forget the EasyBake Oven…

  32. Sasparilla says:

    There was a time, when prices were dropping dramatically for CFL’s and they were going widespread that the quality was awful for many of them (short life times), but that was fixed after a while and the darn things last forever now.

  33. Sasparilla says:

    Dennis, from what I’ve seen while an actual LED is very efficient (much more efficient than a fluorescent source) once you add in the power conversion inefficiencies boat anchor that converts 110volt power to LED compatible power the LED bulbs end up putting out about the same amount of light for the same amount of power as CFL’s.

    The LED’s will last longer and come on instantly (great for cold spots like the garage in the winter), but the CFL’s at this point are significantly cheaper but come with complementary mercury dust if broken.

  34. Gord says:

    WRT space heaters … they don’t provide enough light.

    I forgot to mention that our elecrical power is only 25% carbon. The rest is hydro and nuclear. We heat our house with a gas boiler for domestic hot water and hot water for the radiators. So replacing heating at 100% carbon with heating at 25% carbon is a good trade-off. We also use electric space heaters to the same end … ie to off set carbon release.

    Seems to be working; our winter heating efficiency is getting better even though we are not modifying the house further with more insulation.

  35. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    I think the boat anchor set sail a few years back. With the new breed of switching PWM controllers and drivers, it’s not unusual for LED drive circuitry to achieve 90% efficiency. The diode bridge that rectifies the AC line is responsible for most of the non-LED electrical losses.

  36. john c. wilson says:

    So I walk into a room, turn the light on, walk out of the room, turn the light off and I have just damaged my CFL. I have no lights whatever on timers. I do not need my house lit up like the mall. If I use less electricity than all my neighbors, by a large margin, why must I use CFLs that I do not want?
    Oh well, we do some of our lighting already with beeswax tapers and kerosene is still an option. When all my obsolete stockpiled incandescents die of old age or get confiscated maybe by then the LEDs will stop flickering and looking blue. And maybe by then some genius will have an LED I can work with a switch instead of an app. But I doubt it.

  37. john c. wilson says:

    Vibration. You said vibration. Yes, the 1885 house vibrates. A lot. Visitors who walk like elephants only visit here once.

    So we’ll tear down the house, pour large amounts of thick reinforced concrete, and then we can use socially acceptable lightbulbs.

  38. Hi Tom,

    May I suggest SEXY LEDS’ candelabra base light bulbs?

    They are 400 lumen bright (thus considered 40 watt incandescent equivalent). Please read customer reviews about these bulbs at LED candelabra Gold-Round

  39. johnbartram says:

    LED light bulbs use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs as they waste far less energy as heat. good reasons to choose LED light bulbs are that they can last for 25 -30 years, they give out all their light immediately at start-up, so don’t have to wait for a few moments of dim light when flick the light switch, and importantly for the environment, LED light bulbs don’t contain mercury.