Low-Cost LEDs May Be Last Bulbs You Ever Buy

They may look a bit weird, but LED bulbs are more efficient and versatile than ever. Best of all, they're now affordably within reach.  Photo by Geoffrey.landis at en.wikipedia
They may look a bit weird, but LED bulbs are more efficient and versatile than ever. Best of all, they’re now affordably within reach. Photo by Geoffrey.landis at en.wikipedia

Pop math quiz for you – wait, don’t click away yet – this one will be easy, promise. Which would you prefer to buy: a pair of expensive, high-quality shoes that will feel great on your feet and probably last the rest of your remaining life; or a pair of identical-looking shoes that cost one-tenth as much, but hurt your feet and have to be replaced every six months when they fall apart?

While the “correct” answer to our little quiz may seem absurdly obvious, its lesson often goes ignored in the real world. Case in point: LED light bulbs.

Poor LEDs, even being the awesome little luminaires that they are, have long suffered from the human penchant to think for the short term: most people seek to save a little bit of money if they can pocket it immediately, rather than opt to save a lot of money in the long run (because it requires more cash up front and takes a longer time to pay out). But now there’s good news for LEDs, for the environment, and for anyone who needs to buy new lights on a limited budget.

Household LEDs (which stands for Light Emitting Diodes) have nosedived in price in the past year, while becoming far more functional than their incandescent or fluorescent forebears ever were.

For anyone not familiar with the benefits of LEDs, let’s first shed a little light on the basics.

 

The Real Cost

Even when all home and commercial LEDs were ridiculously expensive (like $100 each), they were still more cost effective than incandescents in the long run. With a lifetime of about 25,000 hours on the low end, they last 25 times longer than a normal bulb. That’s 24 times you don’t have to change a bulb, let alone fumble around in a dark room because the light blew out. Nonetheless, even $20 or $30 for a single light bulb can still seem like an extravagance if you barely have enough for groceries. But with individual LED bulbs now in the $10 and below range, purchasing them seems a lot more practical.

Consider too: a traditional bulb only converts about 10 percent of the electricity it uses into light. The rest is converted into heat – it’s a pretty expensive way to warm a dwelling, when you think about it. LEDs, on the other hand, convert about 60 percent of the electricity they use into light. Environmentally speaking, that greater efficiency amounts to a couple hundred pounds fewer of carbon emissions per year, per light, according to some sources.

Hypothetically, over the lifespan of a bulb, each LED light you purchased would save you about a couple hundred dollars in replacement and electricity costs, depending on how much you kept the lights on.

The U.S. Department of Energy had the following to say about these solid-state devices:

“Widespread use of LED lighting has the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States. By 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh (compared to no LED use) of electricity: This is the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants (1,000 megawatts each), and a total savings of more than $30 billion at today’s electricity prices.”

 

Brightness and Light Quality

A common, and on occasion legitimate gripe against the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) that have been replacing standard incandescents has been their inability to match the instant brightness and visual “warmth” of traditional bulbs. LEDs, on the other hand, achieve full brightness instantly and can be tuned (sometimes by the actual end customer) to match a wide variety of colors and shades.

 

Innovation

These are not your father’s light fixtures. The next generation of LED-equipped lamps are lighting systems that permit you to control them remotely via web and mobile apps. Need to make your home appear occupied while you’re away on business or vacation? Control the lights wherever you are, with the swipe of a finger.

If you think that’s pretty cool, then hold onto your variable dimmer switch. Researchers are perfecting LED systems that function as overhead lights and single-room wireless data hubs at the same time – perfect for working online with no signal interference and foiling outside cybersnoops who try to pilfer stray transmissions.

In the meantime, you can drop into just about any home hardware store and purchase a light bulb you may never have to replace again.

Oh yeah, did we mention that they’re shatterproof?

Now that you know what a crazy awesome deal LEDs are, perhaps you’ll be facing a different kind of dilemma: should you wait until your 19th-century technology bulbs finally burn out, or should you “fire” them immediately and put a set of hard-working, money-saving LEDs on the job?