Like many consumers today, my family has gradually been changing from incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFLs) bulbs to light emitting diode (LED) lights. For many reasons, LEDs lighting is preferable to incandescent and CFL lighting: LED’s light up very quickly achieving full brightness in milliseconds, are dimmable, radiate very little heat, use less energy, have a long life, contain no toxic materials, give off zero UV emissions, and operate in extreme hot or cold temperatures. But gone are the days when buying lightbulbs used to be a cinch. When a 60-watt incandescent bulb burnt out in by-gone days, you purchased another pack of 60-walt bulbs, reinstalled, and that was the end. Since 2012, incandescents have gradually been phased out, replaced temporarily by CFLs, and now the LEDs.
As we began the transition, we found there are more lighting choices than ever before and that we had much to learn in order to get the right bulb. A good place to start is by looking for the ENERGY STAR label and checking out the chart: ENERGY STAR Light Bulb Purchasing Guide as a guide to finding the right bulb for your light fixture. (ENERGY STAR is the government-backed symbol for energy efficiency helping consumers save money and protect the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.) Since all LED bulbs are not created equal, LED bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR have met the highest standards for quality and performance.
The next step was learning the jargon:
Lumens. For brightness, look for lumens, not watts as used by incandescent bulbs. Lumens indicate the light output whereas watts indicate energy consumed. Certified LED bulbs provide the same brightness (lumens) with less energy (watts). The Purchasing Guide provides a chart to determine how many lumens are need to match the brightness of an incandescent bulb (i.e. 800 lumens = 60 watts).
Color Temperature. LED bulbs are available in a wide range of colors matching a temperature on the Kelvin Scale (K). Lower K values mean a warmer, yellowish light while high K values equate to cooler, bluer light. There is a small illustration of this in the Purchasing Guide. For a larger, more colorful and easy-to-read chart, check out the chart provided by Westinghouse.
Color Rendering Index (CRI). This information is not always on the box but sometimes can be found in the lighting displays at the store. CRI tells how accurately colors appear under the bulb’s light, ranging from 0-100. The old incandescent bulbs have a CRI of 100. Consumer Reports recommends a CRI of 80 for interior lights.
Although there are many advantages to using LEDs, they are still a bit more expensive than alternatives. Due to their extremely low power requirements, LEDs ultimately save money over their life and will pay for themselves in energy savings. In some communities, that savings can come within six months of installation. Further, to help consumers, some power companies and city utilities offer energy savings programs or rebates for purchasing LED bulbs and/or LED light fixtures. From January 1, 2017, through December 31, 2017, participating Iowa electric utilities are helping residents make the simple switch to energy-efficient lighting by offering special pricing on ENERGY STAR® qualified LED bulb purchases of 12 or less. If you want to see the real value of switching to LED’s, visit bulbs.com and check out the Energy Savings Calculator.
A couple of other factors that entered into our replacement equation was the need to make some fixture changes or adjustments. Even though the LED bulbs are supposed to be exactly the same in size as the incandescents, we found otherwise. Therefore, it was a good idea to bring our incandescent bulb along and measure everything carefully beginning with the length of the base. The biggest surprise for me was that contrary to popular belief, LEDs do generate heat and that they need to be in a non-enclosed fixture to allow heat to dissipate from the heat sink. Without the ability to vent, they can overheat and fail early. A sales person at Lowes showed me how the new bulb-type fixtures provide for heat dissipation with a nearly inconspicuous small venting system in the glass of the fixture. Further, he advised that if the LED bulbs are put into existing, enclosed fixtures, the fixture might still be usable by lengthening the stem of the fixture so that there is a small space between the top of the glass and the fixture base. There are also bulbs specifically designed to be placed in enclosed fixtures. If you purchase a fixture that already has LED lights incorporated into it, the heat dissipation will have been taken care of by the manufacturer, but you may need to remove some insulation in your attic surrounding the location of the fixture.