Affordable LED lightbulbs on the way

Written by tim


The news out of Lightfair International (the lighting industry tradeshow) is that Lighting Science will soon introduce a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb in the “affordable” $30-40 range.

I used to live in a rental house with two five-bulb chandeliers – hey, don’t blame me, it was a 1910 Victorian, and I certainly didn’t design the lighting situation. The chandeliers came with 60-watt incandescent bulbs when I moved in. To replace those with these “affordable” LED bulbs would cost $300! That would not have been affordable on my post-college graduate starting salary.

I know, I know. The value of the bulb is best expressed over time since they’ll likely last 15 years, plus there are all those negative externalities associated with wasted energy in incandescent bulbs. So in the end it’s cheaper to get the LED bulbs. Honestly, though, none of these arguments would’ve convinced me to drop $300 on new lightbulbs for the fixtures in my rental home.

The most positive aspect about the price point is that it’s lower than before and is descending over time. At some point these bulbs become cheap enough that large power providers can buy them in bulk and give them away to consumers as a way to reduce the electricity demand. Free is definitely a price I’d pay for these bulbs.

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  1. David B

    What is the actual life expectancy of an LED bulb vs incandescent vs CFL? And how’s the color? I think they could actually make sense for anyone who is putting solar panels on their roof since they’re looking at their 20 year energy usage, and generally plan on being in the house for a long time. Yes, it could cost an extra several hundred bucks to switch all of your incandescent lights out, but if the LED’s are going to last 15 – 20 years, then it could well be worth it. My apartment has halogen track lighting and I feel like I’m replacing bulbs every 6 months and still always have at least one bulb out. The thought of not having to mess with another bulb for 15 years is pretty appealing. Expensive, but appealing.

  2. Tim

    David B. –
    Lots of information over at WIkipedia ( Looks like CFLs last somewhere around 10 times longer than incandescents (10,000 hours versus 1,000 hours), and LEDs may last around 3 times longer than that (30,000 hours).
    These are variable estimates, though. Newer CFLs may last as long as 50,000 hours, and LEDs could probably do that as well!

  3. Tony

    This highlights one of the big problems with high up-front costs for energy savings – little incentive for renters or landlords. To deal with this, I propose a combination of strategies.
    For portable things like lightbulbs, the utility companies could distribute them for free (or nominal cost) to their customers, but then slowly charge for the bulbs over time (eg, if a 100W bulb costs $2/month to run 10 h/day, then an energy-efficient bulb could be charged at $1/month for as long as it took to pay it back (~3 years at $36/bulb) and the renter would still come out ahead – they’d save more than $1/month in energy cost and pay $1 for the privilege. If they move out before they pay the full amount, the next renter could opt to assume the balance and keep the bulb or else the original renter would be required to pay off the balance and could keep the bulb.
    Oops – no time to describe how I’d handle energy-efficient appliances or furnaces. I’ll try to comment more later.

  4. David B

    Tony, that’s very similar to the thinking behind PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing for solar installations. The town/city loans you the money up front to pay for the solar installation, then you pay it back over time via an additional assessment on your property tax bill. However, if you move, the solar system and the property tax assessment both stay with the house. That way the new owner, who will benefit from the solar energy, also gets the payments for it.
    That applies to home owners, not renters, but that’s not to say that the homeowner couldn’t pass on the energy bill savings to renters.

  5. RussInSanDiego

    That CFL longevity of 10,000 hours has an awful lot of variability to it. I’ve had very bad experience with CFLs. For my purposes, they haven’t lasted any longer than incandescents, and in some cases, even less.
    I’m still buying them, but I’m not very happy with the wasted additional resources that go into manufacturing and recycling CFLs, considering their questionable lifetime.

  6. Kirk

    What if you’ve already replaced your entire house with CFLs, and now you want to go to LEDs? Do I need to wait for the CFLs to burn out in 15 (or maybe less) years — or 10,000 (or maybe less) hours? I’ve had my CFLs in for a small number of years now — maybe 2-3 — and I agree with Russ that they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.
    Most arguments and comparisons continue talking about getting rid of incandescents, when most of the folks who subscribe to TerraPass have made a switch away from incandescents a long time ago.

  7. Mary Florence Brink

    I’ve had the same experience as RussInSanDiego. The bulbs don’t last as long as they say. I’ve read on this and other blogs that you need to buy high quality CFLs, but no one seems willing to name brands, or show a thorough analysis of longevity, quality of light, color, whether they live up to their stated brightness, etc. How the heck is the average customer supposed to know whether a bulb is “high quality”? There are a lot of brands out there, but ratings (of almost anything) don’t seem take into account the fact that in parts of the country that aren’t the east or west coasts, there is no access to the rated brands. And while we’re at it, does anyone know where I can find a CFL that is manufactured in the USA?

  8. Eric

    So, I have 1 LED spotlight in our kitchen and that cost $25. If we ever move, and LED lights are still pricey, I’m planning on taking that sucker with me.
    I guess wherever you live you’ll need lightbulbs, so at least these are investments that are portable enough to make sense for everyone (not like solar panels which are not very portable).

  9. Mark

    Are LEDs so expensive in the USA? Here in Italy you can get them for about $10.

  10. Ronal

    I’m finding over and over again that CFL bulbs do not last any longer than conventional bulbs. And where I live it is very difficult to recycle them. The vast majority of CFL bulbs here are being just dumped in the landfill. I’ve come to the conclusion that they are not worth it.

  11. Tony

    Nice link – an obvious extension of this idea for a homeowner. So, what would make a landlord or spec builder more inclined to buy an energy-efficient appliance? Obviously, if they’re trying to tap into an eco-conscious market, but what would work for almost everyone? I think it would be remarkably effective if places such as appliance stores offered discounted prices on energy-efficient appliances coupled with the payback obligation. That is, instead of being given a choice between an 80% efficiency furnace at say $2000 and a 96% efficient one at $3500 (where the 96% efficient one might be expected to save $200/year in gas costs), what if the spec builder or soon-to-be-landlord could buy the 96% efficient one for $1900 instead, along with an 8-year obligation to pay $200/year to an appropriate authority (in this case, likely the local gas company)? Why wouldn’t they take advantage of this opportunity? Less cost up front for them and a higher efficiency furnace to brag about when selling or renting the house (and no difference in expected operating costs to the subsequent purchaser or renter). All it takes is a little courage and coordination on the part of the retailers and the utilities.

  12. Tony

    CFLs are at about this price point in North America, but LEDs are pretty new – everything I’ve seen is pretty pricey so far.

  13. Michele

    We have a couple of LED bulbs, and we love them. We bought them a while ago at about $80 each, so $30/$40 actually sounds good to me . They come on at full brightness right away, and you can choose your color. We have a warm white one for our main light in our family room, and it looks just like an incandescent, which is what we wanted. The color issue has kept me away from CFLs for several of our lights, so I’m really thrilled with the color of our LED bulbs.

  14. Owen

    Do these less expensive LED bulbs have a heat sink? I was told that if LED bulbs don’t have a heat sink that they will burn out very quickly? Not sure if it’s true does anyone know?

  15. Rebecca

    I just bought 2 LED Bulbs for my chandelier for $8.95 each at a chain hardware store in Wisconsin. Still a lot more expensive than the $1.99 incandescents selling right next to them but worth it in my opinion.

  16. h. mccalla

    I have installed a wide range of compact fluorescents lamps over the last 25 years. Some lasting as long as 12-14 years. Life of these lamps is dependant on operating conditions and frequency of on/off switching. Best results(>15000 hours) occur when you can turn them on and leave them on for days at a time. “On cycles” of less than 1.5 hours will lead to much shorter life. Some will have short life if operated in cold conditions or in the presence of magnetic fields(EMF). Many do not dim well.
    All that said, I have had very good luck with CFLs and use them in my home as well as for many clients. If you are getting short life, and do not experience the problems mentioned, you should check your power voltage and the country of orgin. Variable line voltage can shorten life. I see some difference in life even within a brand depending on plant location.
    I am now experimenting with small numbers of LEDs and am impressed with the potential. (see the the new LEDs that let you change the color of light).

  17. Mark

    I left my LED one for about 4 hours and it was warm, I could have removed it by hand.

  18. Eric B

    Cheaper prices could mean unsafer manufacturing for people and the environment.

  19. Jo-Lynne

    How about the LED lightbulb manufacturers contracting with the post office to pick up old bulbs in postage paid boxes to return to the manufacturer who would be responsible for recycling?

  20. Mark

    That hasn’t been my experience at all. I think I have replaced maybe two bulbs in over 15 years of using CFLs.
    My understanding is that Home Depot and perhaps other big boxes will recycle CFLs; as they are nearly everywhere you shouldn’t have to travel far to recycle.

  21. Ginny

    LED lights are definitely ready for many home and business applications. One of the biggest challenges LED lighting is facing and will continue to face isn’t just price, it’s also is a lack of understanding about the technology. W Because, just like many of you are complaining about the problems you’ve had with CFLs and how you’ve been disappointed with their performance, there are bad LED lights out there that could lead to the same complaints. It’s important to inform shoppers about what makes a good LED light. e aim to educate the public about LED lighting and share examples of places that are using them on our site.

  22. Mary Florence

    No one has yet answered my question. How do you know if a CFL is of high quality? What brand(s) should I buy? Are there any that are manufactured in the USA? The same questions apply to LEDs.

  23. Gillian Mark

    Does anyone know if LED lights can be dimmed?
    Thank you!

  24. Gillian Mark

    Does anyone know if LED lights can be dimmed?
    Thank you!

  25. Rene R. LeBlanc

    I don’t know if you live far away from civilization, but any Home Depot store will recycle your CFL bulbs.
    The newer CFL bulbs are available with more natural light spectrum emissions and really do consume about 25% of the power of a conventional light bulb with the same lumen output.
    They really are a vastly superior solution to lighting except for applications requiring dimmers. The dimmable CFLs just aren’t as effective as incandescent bulbs for dimmer applications.

  26. Linda

    LED lights have a good IDEA behind them but they sure suck for reading!! I’m stocking up on regular light bulbs until they (hopefully) improve the bulbs. Where’s a 3 way one? Where’s one that actually looks like 100 watts as it claims, it’s like reading by candle light!!

  27. Linda

    Amen – the new item is worse than the original product!! I live veery rural area – I can’t go finding someplace special to throw out a light bulb!! There’s gas burning then from the car!