Light Switch: Why You’ll Start Using LED Bulbs This Year

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LED bulbs are already the go-to technology for illuminating cell phones, tablets and TVs. They haven’t become the standard in the lamps and lights in American households, however, largely because they’re so expensive. But as prices drop sharply, the upgrade to LED makes more and more sense.

If traditional incandescent bulbs are the tail-finned gas guzzlers of the lighting universe, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are like plug-in electric cars: Better for the environment, but not appealing to many because of the way they look and perform, as well as higher upfront costs.

The third bulb breed, LED, combines the warmth of incandescent light with the never-have-to-change-it lifespan and energy efficiency of CFLs. The down side is that LED bulbs have always been really expensive. “The public has been less keen on them, as price points for 40-watt bulbs begin around $20 a pop,” the Christian Science Monitor pointed out last month. At that price, LEDs just weren’t going to shine in middle-class American homes, no matter how great their other qualities were.

This is the year that could change. Manufacturer Cree came out with a $10 LED bulb last month that replaces a 40-watt incandescent bulb, and one equivalent to a 60-watt bulb that costs $14. Philips says it will have a $10 LED bulb on the market by year-end, and it started selling a $15 one last month. (In Europe, German manufacturer Osram just started selling a 40-watt equivalent LED bulb for about $13).

(MORE: Maybe All the Skepticism and Paranoia Over New Light Bulbs Is Justified)

These LEDs look and act like incandescent bulbs, and experts say the price point is low enough that people will be persuaded to give them a shot.

“I just think that LEDs are becoming more affordable for consumers. If they buy this bulb for $9.97, they will cover that cost in the first year, and they have the bulb for the next 20 years, [and] that will bring them cost savings in the amount of energy that they use,” Marianne DiMascio of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) told Scientific American last month.

Unlike CFLs, LED bulbs deliver a warm glow as soon as you flip the switch — no annoying warm-up time or harsh color that makes everything look washed-out. In its review of the 9.5-watt Cree bulb intended to replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb, Consumer Reports says it “instantly gave off a warm, bright light.” The $15 Philips bulb, it says, “instantly cast a white light similar to a halogen bulb, and the light was even brighter than promised.”

The magazine calculates it would take a little less than two years for the Cree bulb to pay for itself, and after that, you’d save $149 in energy and replacement bulb costs over the bulb’s lifetime. Cree says its new LEDs will last almost 23 years if they’re used three hours a day, and offers a 10-year warranty.

Those lifetime-value calculations have been a major plank in the pro-LED platform, but the upfront cost has been a huge stumbling block. The average house has more than 40 light bulbs, according to the Energy Star program. With $25 bulbs — roughly the average global price for a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb last month — that adds up to a $1,000 investment to outfit your home with LEDs. (And are you really going to remember to unscrew all those bulbs and take them with you if you move?)

There’s also the perception that new lighting technologies promise more than they deliver. When CFLs came on the market, people who paid a premium found that the performance didn’t always live up to the hype. Two years ago, California utility PG&E conducted tests and found that bulbs died about three-and-a-half years earlier than claimed, especially if they were used in recessed fixtures or in rooms where they were switched on and off frequently.

(MORE: Why Energy-Efficient Home Improvements Haven’t Brought Your Energy Bill Down)

Still, both CFLs and LEDs are likely to be adopted more widely in the future, thanks to the Energy Independence and Security Act. Passed in 2007, it requires lightbulbs to become more energy-efficient; manufacturing and importing energy-hogging bulbs is being slowly phased out. It started with 100-watt bulbs last year and continues with 75-watt bulbs this year. By the beginning of 2014, 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs will have to comply.

Although the incandescent bulb as a class isn’t being banned outright, the law drew charges of nanny-stateism, and 13% of respondents to a survey conducted before the law took effect said they would start stockpiling 100-watt bulbs.

“While today’s prices are a big plunge from $70 for a bulb in 2009, it still seems exorbitant for people used to paying 50 cents for an incandescent,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune pointed out in an article earlier this month. Advocates believe that cheaper “entry-level” LED bulbs will convince people who are on the fence to give them a try.


If you want to upgrade your lighting system to efficient LEDs without the up-front costs, consider joining the Dollar LED Club. For just a $1/bulb/month you can lease high quality LEDs. After two years the bulbs are yours and you continue to save.


Everyone is now switching to LED because they want to save money on electricity bill and they want to save energy. Apart from it LED is a great lighting source for decoration purpose. They are environment friendly and have good cooling efficiency. Another big reason behind the using of it that LED light is a very economical choice.


I bought a newer house in January and have replace 28 br30 bulbs with led.  I have also replace 2 jumbo contractor boxes of cfl 40 and 60 watt equivalent in lights with grass shades covering them up.  

The LEDs are great most are instant on with no hum and great light.  I have alot of switches with dimmers on them where the cfls just would not work.  

Since I have started replacement (1 room at a time) I have seen the price and quality of light improve (I took back several lights because the light from it either looked bad or the time from switch to light was to long). 

My last purchase of 17 br30s for my living room and kitchen I used my favorite br30 the new cree that they talk about in this article.  This light is great instant on, looks almost just like a incandescent, easy package, 10 year warranty, and ok price $17-19 depending of if you buy the 4 pack online.  I installed 1/2 of these bulbs and let my wife try and pick out the leds and incandescents and she could not do it untill I dimmed them.  The incandescents dim to almost black where the leds still have some lumes lets at low dim.  

I figure that the living room is on for 6 hours a day and with my wife soon to be a stay at home mom maybe even on longer then that.  They should pay themselves off in 1

19 blubs (2 switches: kitchen and livingroom) 19x65 6 hours a day .098 = $265 19x10watts 6 hours a day = $40.78

Break even point 1 year 22 days (if they are actually on for 6 hours a day which I hope they won't be)

I will continues to replace the last of my bulbs in the future when they are even cheaper.  The rooms that we use the most and the lights that are on the most have all been upgraded.  I have seen decent drops in our bill each time I replace a set of bulbs and look forward to next month after replacing the last 17.


Hi, totally disagree with you upthewazzu. LEDs are already saving consumers significant amounts of cash on their electricity bills plus the light output is so much better compared the CFL. If you were building a new home you would be crazy not to use LED lights


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I seriously doubt many people will be spending that much cash on a single light bulb this year. They're a non starter  until they are less than $5. CFL's are fine, although it's a pain to dispose of them. Anyone who stockpiled the old 100w bulb is just crazy.