Buying LEDs Light Bulbs

Buying LED light bulb

LEDs are becoming more popular than ever.  Personally I think the cost verses energy saving has the most to do with it.  We first saw the LED that looked like a regular bulb selling for $25.00 a piece.  We bought one a year later for $15.00 now you see that same one for under $10.00.  Another reason could be acceptance of the digital light, over the resistive reddish glow of the past.  We hear a lot less complaining over the CFL , which means people are starting to adjust to the different light.  “LEDs are cool, modern, have a great dimming range.”  You can inject any idea here.

So now you want to be hip and save energy as well.  You’re ready to part with your old Edison invention that changed the world as we know it. And no matter how pretty they try to make CFLs, they are still ugly and take too long to get bright. Your going to spend the extra coin and go LED.  Then you get to the store and realize there are a lot more options than you thought.  ‘Who are all these companies?  They all say CREE LED?  Why are some more expensive than others?  Why does a company make two LEDs that are the same, but different price? What is this “energy nutrition label” on the side of the boxes?  What is CRI, CCT, lumens, warm white, cool white, daylight? How in the hell do they know how much it will cost me to run per year?  Do they know my teenage kid who never turns lights off?’  I know what you are thinking now.  I am going back to my ol’ faithful incandescent.  My only choice is soft or clear light, and how bright ( in watts).  As you’re looking for your old staple of lighting with Thomas Edison smiling up above.  Your see there are no more 60W basic bulbs.  There are 56W or halogens incandescences, and the same labeling.  So you head back to LED aisle, and ask for help.  To find out the store clerk knows just as much as you do on the LEDs.  Or maybe you’re lucky enough and run into someone like me.  With a good working knowledge of the LEDs.  Why would I be at your local store browsing LEDs?  I like to buy random LEDs and other electrical products and test them out at home.  We use them like any normal family would, but I keep track of the results.  I know most of you will buy your bulbs from the store or on-line.  So I like to make sure you’re not going to get ripped off.  Plus I would rather have my own test results than what a sale person is going to tell me.    Then I can benefit my other local citizens if our experience, and they do not have to waste their money.

Let me try to ease your mind on some of these LED choices.  First, I rarely suggest magazines etc, but Consumer Reports Oct 2013 issue did a great job tackling a lot of light bulb questions, and I highly recommend you pick one up.  I am not getting any kick backs from CR, but if I do I will start “plug-ing” them more.  Ok so with any product you have your name brands and your knock offs.  Like cereal for example you have the name brands and the store brands.  LEDs are the same way. I did not know this until I got a recall notice on an LED and it listed four different company’s bulb.  Of course I am sure they will all tell you they use the same 3-party supplier and that their products are different.  Not really too sure about that one, but it does bring up the next questions. CREE as I know it, is the best LED manufacture and one of the only.  A lot of different companies buy their LEDs from CREE and put them in their bulbs. ‘So they are all the same?’ No,  the LED is only part of the system. You have two other major parts: the driver and the heat sinks.  Most will jump and ride the CREE name, but beware the drivers they use are not alway good.  ‘Drivers? I am more confused? What does Uber have to do with LED?’  A driver is what changes the electricity to a stable workable voltage for the LED.  The driver is the heart of an LED bulb, and lets compare it to a car.  You go buy a bad ass Tesla Model S.  Now lets take that car and put an RC car motor in it.  Is it still an electric car? Yes.  Is it still the Best electric car on the market? Yes.  Yet with that little electric motor you are not going to go very far or very fast.  Same with the LED driver,  you might have a nice LED built by the best (CREE).  Yet if your power that is delivered to the LED is no good, what is the point. ‘How do I know who uses good drivers?‘ Stick with the name brands or do an on-line search of unknown brands.  I am not saying all the no name brands are bad, just double check.  When LEDs are cheaper  than the rest, they are cutting corners somewhere.  Either on the driver or the heat sinks.  Heat is the number one enemy of LEDs.  A side note here,  LED drivers do produce heat, not in the same way and incandescent does but it still heat.  I have heard “so called” lighting professionals tell a customer that they do not need to worry about the insulation around fixtures because they will retro to LED.  That is wrong. Anytime you manipulate voltage you will have heat.  Unless your driver is located somewhere else. Then you need to be just as cautious as you would an incandescent.  For a retro fit application this should not be a problem. Since the boxes or insulation is already set up for it.  Sorry for getting off on that tangent, back to business. ‘Why do some manufactures make the same LED at a different price?’ Check to make sure they are the exact same.  They could be a different color of light or most of the time, one is dimmable and the other is not.  The “energy label” on the packages are there to help inform you of the light.  Just the same as on your food packages.  I wish they would have used more layman terms, but on the other hand keeps us in business.  Let me start with the CCT.  That is basically the color of light the bulb will put off.  The incandescent is a 2700K and outside is around 5-8000K depending on who you ask.  If you work in an office building and your light is a little yellowish, that is a 3500K and if it is a little whiter then its 4100k .  If you want to know more about how they came up with these numbers, feel free to email or ask in the comment section.  Now we get complains  because we will install a 2700K LED and it will not look like a 2700K incandescent.  That is because they are two different light sources.  Just like an analog sound and a digital sound, or a record player and MP3.  No matter how well you master and tweak an MP3 it will never have that deep rich sound of a record player.  The same goes with lighting.  The CRI is basically how well the light is balanced across the bulb and is measured in a percentage.  The incandescent is always 100% CFL are 80% at best and LEDs are in the 90% range.  As far as cost per year, this is a number made up by some government official.  I am sure our tax dollars were spent appropriately on his salary to come up with this figure. I could only hope he did deep extensive research and not just throw darts at a board or roll dices.  Yet in all the audits I have done, I do not think I have ever come close to what their usage a year should be.  I take that back. I think we audited an abandon basement closet with a light in it once.

So now you found some LEDs that you like, you install them, they are working great and you’re saving money.  The family is happy because you’re not yelling about leaving lights on.  Hell if they are on all day it only cost $0.03.  Your neighbors start asking for advice and you think ‘Thanks for your blog, but I am an LED professional now’.  Your buddy at work asks for help changing his lights to LEDs.  ‘Sure, buy a case of beer and I will be over.’  You change out his lights just as you did yours but there is a problem.  (No, you have not even started drinking the beer yet.)  Some of his lights start flashing/blinking. You scold him for buying cheap LEDs and go with him to return them and buy good ones.  The same thing happens?  Welcome back to the blog……When retro fitting be sure you update your dimmers as well.  The old style dimmers will not work very well if at all with new electronic lighting (LED).  You have new dimmers? Modern dimmers could have a minimum wattage rating on them.  Basically they need a certain amount of wattage in order to work.  We had a service call the other day that was this same problem.  The second we replaced one of the LEDs with an incandescent all the other LEDs dimmed perfect.  We ordered them a different dimmer  and presto it worked just fine.  Also the way the dimmers are set up will have an effect on the LEDs as well.  It is good. Find a dimmer you like, then check for their approved list of dimmable LEDs.  e-mail or comment if you need help with this.

I hope this helps in your selection of LEDs.  As we tell everyone, let us know if you have question or want recommendations.