LED light bulbs have some huge advantages over incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs. But they perform differently, so here’s your guide to understanding LED bulbs so you can enjoy their benefits and play to their strengths.
LED bulb designs are constantly evolving, and they keep getting cheaper and more user-friendly. They’re energy-efficient, durable, and they contain no hazardous materials like mercury. But if you walked through your home today and replaced every single incandescent or fluorescent bulb with an LED, you might be disappointed with some of them. Consider the following factors to make sure you’re getting the most out of your LED light bulb upgrades.
Point The Light Where You Need It
Even when an array of light emitting diodes is packed into a “bulb” shaped casing, they still create a somewhat directional light source. This usually means that an LED light bulb will cast more light from the top end of the bulb than from the sides.
Manufacturers often refer to an LED bulb’s equivalent wattage (compared to an incandescent bulb) based on overall lumen output. Incandescent bulbs usually cast an evenly distributed glow, so a “60-watt replacement” LED bulb may not seem to pull its weight in a shaded table lamp. But in a recessed ceiling fixture, an LED bulb may actually cast even more light than its incandescent counterpart.
Energy Efficiency And Durability
One of the biggest advantages of an LED light bulb is its energy efficiency. Today’s best LED bulbs use roughly one seventh of the electricity consumed by an incandescent bulb, or half the power of a fluorescent. One of our favorites, the C. Crane GeoBulb 3 (which retails for $69.95), is a 7-watt replacement for a 50-watt incandescent bulb or a 13-watt fluorescent.
Despite a relatively expensive initial purchase price, LED bulbs will pay for themselves over time by cutting your power bills. But only when they’re actually turned on – so they are especially well-suited for lights that are constantly in use. For example, a ceiling light that’s on all day long will take advantage of an LED’s efficiency better than an occasionally-used reading light.
LED bulbs last for a long time too – typically up to 50,000 hours (which translates to 12 hours a day, every day, for over a decade). This means fewer burned-out bulbs ending up in landfills, and added convenience too – you’ll rarely have to get your ladder out to change a bulb in a hard-to-reach fixture.
Beat The Heat
LED bulbs run cool, which is a double bonus for energy savings: electricity is being converted into usable light instead of wasted heat, and lighting isn’t competing with a building’s air conditioning system. But if the diodes within the “bulb” do become overheated, their efficiency plummets and they become unreliable. LED bulbs shouldn’t be used in unusually hot settings, and many manufacturers specify that their bulbs must only be used in unsealed, open-air fixtures.
Ever wonder about those metal “fins” around the base of an LED bulb? It’s a thermally conductive heat sink, designed to keep the internal diodes cool. An alternative design is active heat management, where liquid coolant or a tiny cooling fan does the job.
A liquid-cooled LED bulb that was previously featured on MetaEfficient is the Hydralux from EtarnaLEDs ($35). For a fan-cooled bulb, a good choice is the EarthLED Evolux, which retails for $77.99. Note that the sound of a cooling fan can sometimes be heard in a quiet environment – which could be a drawback in a quiet space like a bedroom, but might not matter at all in a living room or workshop
Is It Dimmable?
Some LED light bulbs feature circuitry that lets them perform just fine on a dimmer, whereas others can be damaged by the variations in power supply. Be sure to check the specs on an LED bulb before replacing a bulb in a dimmable fixture. One solid performer that is rated for use with a dimmer is the Pharox III LED light bulb ($52.98), a 6-watt warm white bulb from Dutch lighting company Lemnis.
Quality Of Light & Color Temperature
In a living space, light quality is just as important as the amount of light output. “Color temperature” is a common measure of light quality (described in degrees Kelvin), and it provides a handy reference for finding appropriate lighting in household applications. To put it simply, a lower color temperature indicates a warmer light with more red and yellow, like candlelight or a sunrise. Higher numbers mean a starker, bluish light.
There is no “ideal” color temperature for an LED bulb – it’s primarily a matter of personal preference. For the sake of comparison, the color temperature of a candle might be 1,800K, while a standard incandescent light bulb could be around 3,000K, and a computer monitor might measure over 9,000K. Compare different models to find the LED bulb that best matches your needs and taste.
Of course, light quality is really only an issue for “white” light. LED bulbs can be a great choice for accent lights or signs that require colored bulbs, where color temperature is a moot point and bulbs may be illuminated for long stretches of time. Sylvania/Osram makes a range of LED accent bulbs, available in red, green, blue, or yellow.
LED bulbs are a great choice for many applications around the house, and they’re certain to become even cheaper and more popular as they continue to evolve. Leave a comment below and let us know if you’ve made the switch to LED lighting in your home.