LED Light Bulb Update

By Katherine Salant

SlimStyle is Philips’s fifth generation LED replacement for the 60-watt incandescent bulb. It maintains the iconic light bulb profile when viewed head on; from the side it appears thin and flat. Photo: Philips Lighting Company

Some months into the new year, you will notice a big change in the lighting aisle of your local retailer or big-box store.The supply of 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs that accounted for 80 percent of the U.S. residential lighting market and occupied the most shelf space will be nearly gone. Their production ceased on January 1, 2014, and when the existing inventory is sold out, that’s it.

These iconic bulbs, known as the A19 bulb in the lighting industry, have been fixtures in American households for more than 100 years. But, despite their long history of reliability and low cost, they are hugely inefficient. Only 10 percent of the energy consumed by an A19 incandescent is given off as light; the other 90 percent is heat. For this reason, the Energy Independence Security Act of 2007 mandated their phaseout beginning in 2012 (the 100-watt bulbs were phased out in 2011; the 75-watt bulbs in 2013).In response, the lighting industry has developed a new type of energy-efficient bulb, the light-emitting diode or LED. In the 40- and 60-watt equivalent category, every major bulb manufacturer offers several A16 LED alternatives; major retailers have their own house brands as well.

Comparing LED bulbs with each other, incandescent

What can you expect from the A19 LEDs? To find out, I home tested 13 A19 60-watt replacement LEDs from four manufacturers — GE, Sylvania, Philips, and Cree (an established LED manufacturer but a new player in the A19 LED arena) – and two house brands, Lowe’s Utilitech Pro and Home Depot’s Ecosmart. I compared these to each other and to a 60-watt incandescent bulb. By the end, much to my surprise, I came to prefer the LEDs to the old-style bulb.Though I had a few favorites, all the A19 LED bulbs that I tested produced a quality of light that most households will find highly acceptable. The manufacturers, chastened by consumers’ initial experience with another energy-efficient A19 alternative, the compact fluorescent or CFL, have worked hard to make the initial experience with an LED a positive one. (The first CFLs produced a color of light that many people found unpleasant, the bulbs took as long as 30 seconds to reach their rated wattage, and they couldn’t be used with dimmers.)
To make the transition easier, the iconic shape of the A19 bulbs has been retained, but the purchase of an LED will not be as simple as it was with the old-style bulbs. There are significant differences, but the buying public should find them easy to master. The most important one is the color temperature of the light. This has never been an issue with the incandescents because they all have the same 2700K, or 2700 degrees on the Kelvin scale.

Understanding Ks, reading packages

A19 LEDs, however, are manufactured in three different Kelvin temperatures: 2700K, which has a slight yellowish tinge; 3000K, a crisp white that appears to be brighter than the 2700K even though the actual wattage is the same; and 5000K, which is slightly bluish and often called “daylight.” In my home testing, I only looked at 2700K and 3000K LEDs because these are the closest to incandescent light.The 2700K, 3000K and 5000K color difference is a distinction that most people will notice, so it pays to make sure that you check the packaging before you buy. It may be prominently displayed on the front or buried in the “Lighting Facts” box on the back under “Light Appearance.”  The Kelvin temperature will be indicated on a lighting scale. Somewhat counterintuitively, the “warm” color temperatures at the left end of the scale are actually cooler and have a smaller number, while the “cool” color temperatures at the right end are actually hotter and have a higher number.To keep the Kelvin temperature colors straight, recall your middle-school astronomy lesson: old stars are red and cooler, new stars are blue and hotter.

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Originally Published in Katherinesalant.com

02/18/2014