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Weighing the Switch to LED Lighting

Purchased By Sommer From

I live for those moments when saving money and making an Earth-friendly decision line up and walk hand-in-hand. Hence, my household's recent conversion to LED light bulbs.

At first, I was skeptical of LEDs because they are so costly, in comparison to incandescent or CFL light bulbs. In fact, I wondered why they cost so much more, and if they really could save me money and help the environment.

I asked my friend Anna Hackman, the blogger behind Green-Talk, for her suggestions on where I could start. She suggested this easy money saving calculator to see exactly how I could save money with LEDs, followed by a visit to the Energy Star website for more information. Both are great resources that I recommend for evaluating your own household's current lighting costs and the savings behind making a bulb switch.

Next, I wanted to learn more about the difference between LEDs and CFL light bulbs and really understand if making the switch was worth it for my family. Lynn Schwartz with LPS Green Technologiesgave me some great information explaining how using LED lights could have a long-term cost benefit. According to Schwartz, LEDs yield at least five times the return on investment of incandescents (and as she pointed out, I have less of a chance of injuring myself falling off of a ladder changing light bulbs all the time!). A high quality LED lamp or fixture will generally last 25,000 hours or more, and some LED lamps can go for 100,000 hours. Consider that the average household typically uses their lights for 2,000 hours or less each year, and the longevity of LEDs becomes clear.

The accompanying environmental benefit is easy to see: less waste, because you're using fewer light bulbs, and greater energy efficiency. LEDs generate far less heat than incandescents, reducing strain on your home's cooling system. And it gets even better: unlike CFL bulbs, LED bulbs do not have mercury in them. If CFLs are not properly disposed of, the mercury can leak out into landfills or into our water supply, but with an LED bulb, we don't have that concern.

One final environmental benefit is the energy saved to make the LED bulb. Schwartz explains, "The amount of energy it takes to make one LED is less than the amount of energy they save, so they have a net gain of energy savings."

It's an upfront investment to switch to LED bulbs: the cost can be five times as high as a comparable incandescent, but the long-term cost and environmental benefits make them a worthy expenditure. Design Recycle Inc. has a good comparison chart that breaks down the watts used, cost and environmental impact between CFL and LED bulbs. If you're still on the fence, the chart is a good way to visualize the money you'll save.

Personally, when shopping for LED bulbs, I had to get over the sticker shock and remind myself of the benefits, as well as considering that LED bulbs are more expensive to make. As Schwartz points out, LED light bulbs use a semi-conductor chip, which is more expensive than a filament or gas connecting chip used in other bulb types. She explains, "Connecting that chip to a heat dissipater (heat sink) that is usually aluminum or another conductor of heat (which is more expensive than bulbs that have no heat sink). This chip makes the bulbs electronically sound so that they can transform electricity into a form that the LED can use so it does not overload."

So, if you're going shopping for LED light bulbs, keep these little facts in mind when you see the price tag. Chant to yourself, "I will save money long term. I am helping the environment. It is going to be okay, I have less chances of killing myself on a ladder!"

Finally, it's worth noting that not all LED bulbs are the same. There are different colors and wattages, just like an ordinary bulb or CFL bulb. I prefer the soft white color, whereas my husband and son prefer the daylight color (which is very, very bright). Consider the warranty the company offers on the bulb, and because you're making an investment, save your boxes and receipts. We're converting our lighting room-by-room, and in the end, I look forward to going years without changing a light bulb!

Sommer Poquette writes about energy savings for the home, as well as DIY tips, for The Home Depot. A selection of LED light bulbs like the ones that Sommer writes about can be viewed on the Home Depot website.

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2/14/2015 9:19:26 PM

We still have some incandescents that are used an hour a year or so. All the socket based bulbs are CFL. Naturally there are some cheap ones that have died early (I take them apart and scrounge the electronics) but the rest just keep on going. I don't foresee getting LED screw-in bulbs because they don't disperse light efficiently; I'll get direct-radiating fixtures with no shades that put light where I want it. I've built some LED lights out of stick-on strips. When you don't have to replace bulbs, you don't need screw-ins. 2800K is too orange for me. 4000K is just about right, full spectrum so you can see blue. 6000K is OK for some places where you'd use a "cool white" fluorescent. For low levels of illumination where you can't see color anyhow, it's fine. Be skeptical of reliability figures. They refer to the LED output drooping over time if they are run at a certain temperature. They'll still work after that, just dim over time. But the electronics will fail catastrophically, depending on the design, damage from power line spikes, heat, or defects like cold solder joints. With no-lead solder, tin whiskers can short out the boards especially under high humidity. Make sure to ventilate the heat sink, not enclose it. I like to spread out LEDs in a line and put the power supply somewhere else. Good LEDs will dim well, won't flicker or radiate RF interference; will have excellent power factor (not inductive); nice pattern, good color rendering index. Usually these are name brands at high prices, not the no-name Chinese ones. Since they are an investment, don't get a whole houseful at once. Try some as your CFLs die.

2/13/2015 9:36:51 AM

We are off grid and have switched completely over to LEDs. While some of them run off the inverter and are 120 volt, the majority are 12 volt...which are much harder to find and even more expensive. But what I save in power consumption saves me the cost of another solar electric panel. We've been off grid since 1984 and this is one of the greatest cost saving benefits we have...along with energy efficient danfoss compressor driven refrigerator and freezer...the prices of energy conservation items will come down as people buy more. Economy of scale. All of the LEDs we use are in the 2800 to 3000 kelvin range (the light is measured by temperature...imagine the flame of a campfire...the hottest flame is the blue/white...the cooler flames are the more yellow, which approximates the light of natural daylight...the 5000 to 6000 kelvin lights are more of a harsh white, like the moon. The hotter temps are good for shop lighting, but not for house lighting. Be aware of this. I have unused 6000 kelvin bulbs which I already purchased...just too harsh for us.

2/13/2015 8:58:48 AM

We built our efficient passive solar home two years ago and installed all LED lighting. Like Sommer said, you'll have different colors from the yellowish hue of a warm or soft white that is more like an incandescent, to a bright white thats more blue. You can really see the difference when the bulbs are lit up side by side. We like the brights for work spaces like the kitchen counter and the softs for room lighting. The exterior LED fixtures are at full brightness from the get go, even at -20F, and don't need to "warm up" like CFLs. We used the bright white there as well. The only quirk we've seen so far is in the dimmable LED bulbs. Even with the required LED compatible dimmer switches, the LEDs don't dim as low as an incandescent. Also the bulbs don't always come on if the dimmer slider is all the way down when switch is turned on. We have to bring the dimmer up for the bulb to turn on then back down to the desired light level. Not a reason not to go LED just a couple of things to be aware of. And a side note on our passive solar home: We live in the cold snowy mountains of Vermont and heated our home with just 1/2 cord of firewood and the sun last winter. It's -5 out and sunny today and 69 in the house, everybody should build this way!

2/13/2015 8:51:07 AM

Let's see,where to start.The difference between CFL and LED is arsenic and lead vs mercury.Just how much do you want to pay for saving a few energy dollars.Saving the environment......well,tell me how mercury lead and arsenic save the environment let alone you and your children's health. Also the flicker rate of CFL's and their generation of dirty electricity.can affect people's health.And soon said bulbs will interface with your TV and other appliances leaving you in an electrical smog you didn't plan on. Next figure the cost to get these bulbs here from China on the huge tankers that use about 2000 gal of fuel per hour .These bulbs have to be recycled at special facilities which are usually hundreds of miles from the drop off more fuel used for trucking.So just how much are we saving?????9 out of 10 of these bulbs end up in the land fill to poison future water supplies.Seems the PTB just can't find enough ways to get these toxic metals into our bodies. In terms of cost to our health and environment I'll take incandescents or even candles any day.Wake up people,you being sold a load of cow manure.

2/13/2015 8:40:11 AM

LED lighting is great, BUT, research your brands carefully. I just finished building a house, purchased recessed LED lights (8) for my kitchen, foyer, hallway area. After installing several, we flipped the light switch, and behold- the radio in an adjacent room became all static. Long story short- went online to research further, and found that many LED lights will cause electronic interference. (much due to inferior regulation standards in the country of import). Needless to say, we uninstalled, and returned the lighting. I wasn't going to risk interference with other electronics. So it's back to old-fashioned "light bulbs," and I'll just cut back on usage (like I should anyhow) to cut pennies.

2/13/2015 7:40:52 AM

I don't see where you considered the hazard of the used (or broken unused) bulbs during disposal. If you are saving money and poisoning the water supply... I'm just saying!

2/13/2015 7:40:20 AM

I don't see where you considered the hazard of the used (or broken unused) bulbs during disposal. If you are saving money and poisoning the water supply... I'm just saying!