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Home » Hardware

Tuesday Night Rant: LED Light Bulbs

Submitted by on September 1, 2015 – 9:51 pm

An off-topic for sure, but after a brief conversation about LED bulbs with a friend – a Contract Electrical – I found I had more arguments then I was willing to spill on Facebook. I am not a fan of LED bulbs. Or CFL bulbs. In fact, you would have to rub my face into facts long and hard before I would accept any innovation. The quality of LED bulbs is substandard and savings they offer are grossly overstated. Let me elaborate a bit. When you’re buying an LED bulb, the profit margin for the manufacturer is about ten times higher than for an incandescent bulb. That’s understandable, considering the initial investment in technology and production line. Still, ten times. Ho does that make you feel?

If you look at the LED bulb packaging, you’re likely to see a claim that the bulb will last up to 50,000 hours (5.7 years). An average incandescent bulb will shine for about 5,000 hours, or roughly seven months, if you’re lucky. At this point, various excitable kids take out their calculators and start counting the savings: hundreds here and thousands there. The advantage of LED seems obvious and anyone who disagrees is worse than the global warming denier.

If you look at the fine print, you will discover that the awesome 50,000-hour lifespan only applies to the LED chip itself and only in relation to the total number of LEDs in the bulb. That is if the bulb has twelve LEDs, and a few fail, the bulb is still considered “operational”. In addition to the highly-reliable LED chips, the bulb includes various electronic components, including the highly-unreliable transformer – the Achilles heel of the LED bulb tech. While the LED chips are built to the highest spec by reputable manufacturers, the transformers are made by the second-lowest bidder.

Also, most savings calculations you will find online vis-à-vis LED bulbs are only applicable if you keep them on constantly. They say the average house has fifty light bulbs and if you keep them on all the time… Let me tell you, if you keep all the lights in your house on all the time, the money spent on the electric bill are the least of your problems. If your house actually needs that much light, LED is not the right choice for your buds.

The plastic casing of an LED bulb is unlikely to match the longevity of the LED chips it houses, especially when exposed to the elements. Thus, you’re unlikely to get those five-and-a-half years of brilliance, even if all the electronics holds up. The metal base of the bulb will corrode with time – just like in it’s incandescent cousin – and will likely fall apart long before the LED chips fail. Add to that the cost of replacing the light fixtures, since LED bulbs often have a hard time fitting into fixtures designed for incandescent bulbs, and your actual savings may not cover the cost of gas to drive to Home Depot.

So, what’s the alternative? Low-voltage incandescent bulbs. Not cheap, but pretty and long-lasting. And as you already know, the best things in life are certainly not free or even on sale. Also, nobody will accuse you of being a tech junkie.


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