Smart Spending

The Cost of LED Light Bulbs Continues to Drop, But Are They Reasonable Yet?

The light bulb industry is being revolutionized.  A little over 150 years ago the first incandescent bulbs started to make an appearance, and have remained a forerunner in the market until just a few years ago.  They were bright, easy to make, and came in a variety of shapes and sizes.  But they sucked up a lot of energy to cast the light that they do.  Along came the Compact Fluorescent Light which drew consumers by the millions.  These bulbs use about a quarter the energy for the same brightness.  Even with their silly design and the toxic chemicals inside, people wanted to save money.  The price on a CFL has dropped considerably, but the LED light bulb technology is progressing rapidly and offer even more benefits.

Last year you would be lucky to find an LED light bulbs for under $50.  The savings are great, but it takes years to recognize them, something many people do not have the patience for.  Even with a potential savings of up to $200 per bulb (based on electricity savings and savings by not having to buy replacement bulbs) the 20 year timeline has shunned consumers from this technology.

But the technology is there and more companies are starting to get in on them.  The price for these bulbs that last longer, are shatter resistant, do not get hot like other bulbs (the circuitry will heat up, the bulb itself remains relatively cool), and use nearly half the energy of a CFL, is going down.  Some companies have even started to produce an $8 bulb.  While this price is still considerably higher than incandescent and CFL’s, the $8 bulb uses a fraction of the amount of energy that an incandescent uses, and it will last over 20 years (assuming 3 hours per day of usage, or 25,000 hours total).  But there is a tradeoff.

The most popular light bulb is the 60 watt incandescent (or the 13 watt CFL alternative).  These bulbs cast about 800 lumens of light.  The cheapest LED lights are around 3 watts, and they cast between 250 and 300 lumens of light.  So while they are considerably more efficient, they often are not enough to light up a room as brightly as many people desire.

The LED bulbs are still ranging in price from around $8 on up to $60 each.  They come in different wattages, different functionalities, and different coloring abilities.  Even though the cheapest bulbs are now affordable, many people may find they do not like their functionality.  Instead, if the LED bulb is what you are looking for, look into the CREE brand (carried at Home Depot).  A 9 watt LED bulb will give you 800 lumens and cost about $13 or $14 (depending on if you want warm light or white light).  Until the price comes down even further, many consumers may still be better off spending $3 for a four-pack of CFL’s.