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Monday, April 21, 2014
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Published: 3/24/2013

Lamps cost more but burn cooler and longer, consume less electricity

NEW YORK TIMES
General Electric's 9-watt Energy Smart LED light bulbs are tested in an oven at the lighting group's Nela Park headquarters in East Cleveland. General Electric's 9-watt Energy Smart LED light bulbs are tested in an oven at the lighting group's Nela Park headquarters in East Cleveland.
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People sometimes have trouble making small sacrifices now that will reward them handsomely later. How often do we ignore the advice to make a few diet and exercise changes to live a longer, healthier life? Or to put some money aside to grow into a nest egg? Intellectually, we get it — but instant gratification is powerful.

You don't have to be one of those self-defeating rubes. Start buying LED light bulbs.

You've probably seen LED flashlights, the LED flash on phone cameras, and LED indicator lights on electronics. But LED bulbs, for use in the lamps and light sockets of your home, have been slow to arrive, mainly because of their high price: Their electronics and heat-management features have made them much, much more expensive than other kinds of bulbs.

That's a pity, because LED bulbs are a gigantic improvement over incandescent bulbs and even the compact fluorescents, or CFLs, that the world spent several years telling us to buy.

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.

But wait, there's more: LED bulbs also turn on to full brightness instantly. They're dimmable. The light color is wonderful; you can choose whiter or warmer bulbs. They're rugged too. It's hard to break an LED bulb, but if the worst should come to pass, a special coating prevents flying shards.

Yet despite all of these advantages, few people install LED lights. They never get farther than: “$30 for a light bulb? That's nuts!” Never mind that they will save about $200 in replacement bulbs and electricity over 25 years. (More, if your electric company offers LED-lighting rebates.)

Surely there's some price, though, where that math isn't so offputting. What if each bulb were only $15? Or $10?

Well, guess what? We're there. LED bulbs now cost less than $10.

Nor is that the only recent LED breakthrough. The light from an LED bulb doesn't have to be white. Several companies make bulbs that can be any color you want.

I tried out a whole Times Square's worth of LED bulbs and kits from six manufacturers. May these capsule reviews shed some light on the latest in home illumination.

For normal use, the best I found were Cree's new home LED bulbs, available at Home Depot. They start at $10 apiece, or $57 for a six-pack. That's about as cheap as they come.

The $10 bulb provides light equivalent to that from a 40-watt incandescent. Cree's 60-watt equivalent is $14 for “daylight” light, $13 for warmer light.

The great thing about these bulbs is that they look almost exactly like incandescent bulbs. Cree says that its bulbs are extraordinarily efficient; its “60-watt” daylight bulb consumes only 9 watts of juice (compared with 13 watts on the 3M, for example). As a result, this bulb runs cooler, so its heat sink can be much smaller and nicer looking.

LED bulbs last decades, save electricity, don't shatter, don't burn you, save hundreds of dollars, and now offer plummeting prices and blossoming features. What's not to like? You'd have to be a pretty dim bulb not to realize that LED light is the future.



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