My takeaway lesson from long-term experiments with light bulbs in my house is this: don’t be an early adopter with new light-bulb technology.
You’ll only suffer.
I have a green job and a semi-green life, so seven years ago I convinced myself and my wife to replace the light bulbs invented by Thomas Edison (a.k.a. incandescent) with the new compact florescent lights (a.k.a. CFLs) that were just hitting the market.
I had two old-style semi-compact fluorescents that had worked for years giving me confidence in the decision. So I spent $200 on CFLs, and our electrical bill dropped by about $20 a month.
With a 10-month payback on the investment, and I was feeling green and smart.
But I soon learned to hate the new CFLs. They take too long to get bright, have an annoying hum, give off a light that reminds me of the elementary school cafeteria, and have mercury vapor inside.
When LED lights first arrived at our local big-box retailer about four years ago, I bought two very expensive LED floodlights to replace several CFLs that I particularly loathed.
I decided not to tell me wife about the change and see if she noticed. She didn’t. Nor did she notice the bigger bill from the retailer. And thus began my new strategy.
During every trip to a big box retailer I would buy an LED bulb to replace a CFL in the house. Of my half-dozen early LED lights, most were from manufacturers I had never heard of, and none worked for more than two years.
Some quit working within a few months and others lost individual diodes one by one over time.
Now LEDs often come with a warning on the package to not put them in enclosed fixtures or damp areas. I did both. Expensive lessons learned.
I now have half LEDs, half CFLs, and a few outlaw bulbs in the house. For me, the sweet spot for a full switch to LEDs would be around $5 a bulb with a multi-year guarantee on the bulb.
Without a guarantee, I’m not convinced that the LED will last long enough to actually save me money.
Finally, if you’re one of the 13% of American with no CFLs or LEDs in your home, it’s doubtful you would have read this piece to begin with, but on the off chance you’re reading, consider this: using a 60-watt incandescent bulb for 3 hours a day, you’ll pay $7.94 a year at the average residential electricity rate for the US (12.09 cents per kwh in November 2013).
A LED with comparable light intensity would cost $1.46 for the year. And don’t even think about CFLs. They belong in a museum right next to eight-track tapes.
But wait for LEDs to come down in price and go up in reliability before you make the switch.