LED Lights: Bright New World

LED light bulb on the right
The past, present and future of household lighting.

At our house, the light has finally gone on. The LED light, that is.

A practical, affordable LED light (light emitting diode) is one of those things has been just around the corner for a long, long time. The chief factors holding the technology back were the a) the fact that LED’s are naturally directional, and b) the manufacturing cost is significantly higher than for other types of bulbs.

The fact that LED’s are directional is actually an advantage in some applications. Spot lights and accent lighting are much more effective when the light is directional. For general use, however, a bulb must be able to throw light in every direction. This problem seems to have been solved completely. My new LED light shines brightly in every direction, and in this respect, is indistinguishable from any other type of bulb.

In terms of cost, as is often the case, as manufacturers gain experience with a technology, they get better and more efficient at producing that technology. LED’s are no exception. Prices have come down from upwards of $50 for a single bulb a few years ago to around $10 for a 60 watt equivalent today, which is what I recently paid for my bulb at Costco.

In terms of performance, so far I am impressed. The light is indeed omnidirectional. The bulb also turns on (almost) instantly, and is at full power right away, which is an improvement over the CFL bulb it replaced. The package says that the bulb draws 12 watts, which is obviously much lower than the 23 watts of the previous CFL bulb, or the 60 watts of the incandescent bulb I was using before that. The bulb is a different shape, but the same size as an incandescent bulb; it looks like it will fit wherever a 60 watt incandescent bulb fit; something that wasn’t always true with CFL’s.

So, in terms of performance, so far, so good. What about other factors?

The environment

As I have alluded to before, I am what might be termed a “coincidental environmentalist“. That is to say, my primary motivation for certain behaviours is often financial, but I feel extra special if there is an environmental benefit as well. The reduction in power needed for and LED bulb is great, both in terms of cost and environmental impact. When CFL’s were the most efficient bulbs available, I got into the habit of buying those. There were two factors that led me back to incandescent bulbs, though. The first was that the bloody things didn’t last. CFL manufacturers claimed on their packaging that they were in fact cheaper over the long run because they needed to be replaced less often than incandescent bulbs. There was only one problem with this: It wasn’t true. The CFL’s I bought seemed to last about 18 months at best. Many of them gave up the ghost a lot sooner that that. Obviously, if a product’s benefit can only be derived though long use, then long use has to be a possibility, right? Secondly, when CFL’s burn out, they need special disposal because they contain mercury. While taking a bulb to the Eco-Centre isn’t going to upset my life terribly, it is one more thing to store until I go the Eco-Centre (normally 2-3 times per year), and then one more thing to remember to take with me. The idea of manufacturing an item as common as a light bulb with something as toxic as mercury just never sat well with me. That having been said, LED light bulbs apparently have nickel, lead, and even some arsenic in them, so disposing of an LED light bulb should be done with care, as well. Hopefully, the LED light bulbs will last as long as advertised. If they do, they’ll be a big improvement over CFL’s in that respect.

Money

In terms of cost, the purchase price an LED light bulb is still a bit of a shock, I have to admit. Bought in a four-pack, 60 watt incandescent bulbs cost $0.40 each at Rona. Compared to that, $10 does seem a lot to pay for a single bulb. As with CFL’s, the manufacturer claims that through long use and lower electricity costs, I will save money over the long term. In this case, the package the LED light bulb came in says I’ll save $192 over the life of the bulb. As I’ve already mentioned, 12 watts as opposed to 23 (CFL) or 60 (incandescent) is obviously a lot lower. But it’s important to read the fine print, too.

The manufacturer has done its math based on a cost per kilowatt hour that is significantly higher that what I’m actually paying. Obviously, this works in favour of the LED light bulb. Thanks for the initial bad taste in my mouth, guys.

Will LED’s help me basically eliminate my electricity bill?

No.

Obviously, lowering the amount of electricity is a good thing, but the utility will still get its – your! – pound of flesh one way or another. It would be nice to think it would be possible to almost eliminate your power bill by almost eliminating your power usage, but alas, it doesn’t work that way. Slightly more that a third of my most recent power bill is unrelated to my actual usage. There are separate distribution and transmission charges (I’m no electrician, but don’t those words mean the same thing in this context?), as well as three separate riders, and a “Local Access Fee”. (I get charged $7.42 to “access” my electricity, AFTER I have already paid to have it both transmitted and distributed.) I’m fighting the urge to turn this into a rant about the evils of utility companies. Breathe. Breathe. Breeeeaaaathe.

An LED light in every pot(light)?

Yes.

Eventually.

My family visits Costco 4-5 times per year, so the plan is to buy one bulb per trip. As our existing CFL and incandescent lights burn out, they will be replaced. Why the staggered approach? Because of the staggering cost. If we were to replace all of our bulbs simultaneously, at $10 per bulb, it would cost us upwards of $350. That number does not count the basement, where we installed T8 fluorescent lights seven years ago, or the garage.

As with many things, the best way to convert to LED lights is on an as-needed basis, rather than all at once. The office was changed over first, because it gets the most use. The kitchen and bedrooms will be next to get an LED light. I suspect that it could be the better part of a decade until the last closet gets changed over.

 

Just so you know, this post was typed by the warm glow of an LED light. You couldn’t tell the difference, could you? I can. In the hour it took me to type this post, I saved close to one tenth of a penny with my LED light, as opposed what I would have paid with my previous CFL bulb. Multiply that out over a whole house, over a several years, and there is indeed a sizable difference.

The worst thing about losing incandescent bulbs? This brain teaser won’t work. (I’ve just given you a HUGE hint. Good luck!)

 

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