The following guest post was written for Mapawatt by Jay Harris, a Home Depot sales associate in the Chicago suburbs and a writer on Home Depot's website. Jay's interests in home improvement include providing energy-saving light bulb tips to homeowners to offering advice on LED bulbs.
Throughout time, there have been many instances of technological revolution and artificial lighting has seen more than its fair share.
But not since the day that whales the world over leapt out of the water for joy that they would no longer be hunted (so heavily) for their oil (as the primary light-provider of the time) has our advancement in the sphere of electric lighting been so beneficial to the world around us!
Enter the new breed of LED lighting: poised to emerge from the shadows of small electronics (smartphones and e-readers, etc.) and step into the spotlight of residential lighting. These bright little bulbs are leaner, meaner, super long-lasting and coming to stores near you with brand new residential-friendly price tags.
From its humble yet extraordinary beginnings in 1809, the electric light bulb has seen quite a few facelifts. Here are a couple of the most notable advancements ushered in by the new LEDs.
Similar to the last turn of the century (circa 1906) when GE's expensive tungsten filaments hit the market and cost more than a few pretty pennies to a few years later when an improved method of manufacturing the filaments resulted in practical costs to the consumer, so is the current century's LED revolution.
Originally released into the wild at around the $70 mark, LEDs were toys for rich technology tinkerers and were simply not viable options for your average mortal. When you consider that the typical home has upwards of 30-40+ light bulbs, you see how that kind of cost could cripple quickly.
Now just a few years past the LED's introductory model, the most recent offerings from Cree and Philips come in around $15 and Cree's newly-released $10 bulb is setting the standard for all others. Estimates put this bulb paying for itself almost immediately and resulting in instant energy savings, starting conservative and then growing to close to $150 over the life of the bulb. This brings us to our next major bulb advancement: lifespan!
Touting a lifespan of 23 years (when used 3 hours a day), the new consumer-friendly LED bulb from Cree is providing almost unheard of longevity and a 10 year warranty. This begs the question:
What's so great about a Warranty?
Not much...unless you consider the underlying implications of even granting a warranty to consumers in the first place. In other words, when a company supplies a warranty on their product, several things can be inferred. When applied to a light bulb:
For one thing, the company affirms it is willing to provide you with a new one in the event this one fails on its own accord. This means lost revenue for the company as it has essentially promised you two for the price of one. This is good.
In a more sinister sense, a warranty can be a way to get the most money out of consumers by lulling them into thinking they are safe in the event something happens – which is perfect unless the company has no intention of following through with its promises or the company is likely to close up shop and skip town before its products start breaking. In that way, companies are the worst sort of carnie.
Best case scenario, "the light bulb is so awesome it's going to last at least X years – guaranteed! And if it doesn't, you're covered, but it will...so no worries!" It is this last warranty implication that is so striking when comparing the newest offerings in the LED market.
Consider the following (taken from a great chart available here: http://www.mapawatt.com/2013/03/17/cree-revolutionizes-residential-led-lighting-2):
Of the LED bulbs in the 800 Lumens category, Feit and Philips only guarantee their bulbs for 2 and 6 years, respectively, while Cree promises 10 years – that's a decade of illumination and nearly double that of its closest competitor. In the 2700 Lumens category, Cree is the victor again with 10 years to Maxxima's 3.
For bulbs that cost roughly the same amount and produce the same Lumens, you need to choose based on an alternative, yet equally quantifiable factor (not Watts, because even though Cree takes it in this category as well, the gap is more narrow) and warranty is as good a place to start as any. Given the warranty discussion above, it may be the most revealing factor of them all when it comes to bulb quality.
A Bright Future?
Notwithstanding its current superiority in the electric lighting market, at the end of the day, the fact that the new breed of LED light bulbs look and act like incandescent bulbs of old may be the biggest indicator of its future success.
For something that has been a "fixture" in households across the globe for over 200 years, less may be more in the looks category – two centuries of consistency can't be overturned overnight. After all, even though CFLs and their curlicues and Halogens with their spotlight-style eventually morphed into incandescent look-alikes for a reason: folks like the look of something familiar – the damage may have already been done.
With the new LEDs hitting the ground running already looking like our comfortable incandescents we love so much, they just might be in it for the long haul. And their future is bright, indeed.
What do you think? Are you ready to make the switch to the newer, less expensive LEDs?