Energy-Efficient Lighting: LED Bulbs

The biggest electrical energy drain in your home is usually lights. It goes without saying that if you can address that area, you’ll be a whole lot happier when the electric bill comes.

To this end, we’ve been replacing the lights in our home, starting with CFL a few years ago.Rather than an all-out replacement campaign, we simply replaced bulbs as they went out, under the premise that those are the ones that are on most of the time, and consequently consume more energy. There are several lights in our house that are incandescent, but are rarely used. As such, changing them is not a cost-effective proposition, given the higher cost of the bulbs. There are other areas in the house that are on dimmers, so CFL was not an option there.

One area where I absolutely love the CFL’s usually annoying habit of having to warm up to full brightness over a few minutes? The master bathroom. The overhead light there needs to be reasonably bright, but first thing in the morning, a 100W bulb is an assault on the senses. The 13W CFL there now warms up gently (slower on colder mornings) and isn’t quite so rough when you wake up.

Even CFL bulbs have a limited lifetime (about 2-3x that of incandescents), so those are starting to die now, and need to be replaced. Disposal of fluorescent lights is problematic due to a number of toxic substances involved. Over the past few years, LED bulbs have become a much more mature technology, and the price has come down substantially. Most residential LED bulbs are expected to last 20 years.

Where I’m using LED bulbs in my house:

Kitchen Track Lighting. Gradually replacing the eight halogen GU10 bulbs. So far, I’ve got three 4W Philips LED bulbs from Home Depot ($30). They’re just as bright as the 50W halogens, and they don’t emit any IR to speak of (the halogens would melt butter on the counter!). Net Cost savings over the 10-year lifetime of eight bulbs: around $1500.

LED StackMaster Bedroom. Just got a set of four Dimmable 8W LED lamps from LED Liquidators (please ignore the horrible web design – it seems to be a common problem with online LED retailers) that claim to be equivLED Stack Bulb in Ceiling fanalent to 60W. These go in the ceiling fan and are ideally suited to that application – they’re on a lot, on a dimmer, and the fan has a lot of vibration, which is really hard on incandescents. Net cost savings over 20-year lifetime of the bulbs: $800.

And if you’re into that sort of thing, it also reduces your carbon footprint.

Update, December 2010: All four of these bulbs have failed – they’ve got entire strips of LEDs that are flickering or flat out not working. An e-mail to customer service in October went unanswered. Called by phone and they said “customer service will call back and take care of it”. We shall see.

3 Comments On “Energy-Efficient Lighting: LED Bulbs”

  1. I am with you on the switching from incandescent to CFL where applicable. One area I could not find a solution was dimmable high hats. Theoretically, they make dimmable CFL, but not ones that work well.
    However, I would call you out (in a really friendly way) on your first sentence. If you really want to save $, get a high efficiency A/C unit with a variable speed fan, and a thermidistat. This coupled with an r-30 insulation will make a much larger difference than the lights. I’ve seen the difference a VS AHU makes. Sounds like a plane taking off, but NICE.


    • HVAC is right up there with lighting in terms of energy use – but the cost to retrofit is considerably higher than lighting and requires significant capital outlay, and the payback (if any) is a lot longer. Going with a SEER21+ system is going to set you back over $10,000. The sweet spot right now is in the SEER14-16 range (a SEER14 system is typically the same cooling loop as a SEER16, the difference is in the air handler, with the more efficient ones having multistage/variable blowers) Updating insulation is also going to be extremely expensive.

      In new construction, however, it makes sense to design for energy efficiency from the start. Unless you’re doing a custom home, good luck with getting a builder to work with you.


  2. Some people are indeed beginning to use LED lighting in their home. Most people don’t use their lights enough hours per day for a quick “payback” on energy savings alone, but often thats not a prime consideration. They want to do good things for the planet, and they don’t like the heat that incandescent and halogen lights put out. Just make sure that if there is a dimmer in the circuit, that the LED lights are designed to be dimmable, otherwise you will probably shorten their lifespan (even if the dimmer isn’t dimming, its mere presence in the circuit can cause issues)


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