Another month, another go-to LED bulb

LED lighting seems to change constantly. I read about Cree’s LED bulbs a good 12-18 months ago and they sounded too good to be true. In a way, they were, because you couldn’t buy them anywhere. The wait is finally over–they’re finally available, though only at Home Depot. I tried out their 800-lumen (60W equivalent), 2700K, 9.5W bulb, which currently costs about $13. It’s a good bulb that lives up to the hype.

For starters, it’s a 2700K bulb for under $40. The light color is very close to a traditional soft white incandescent bulb. Six months ago, I couldn’t get an LED bulb in this color for less than $40. Now I can get three.

It’s nearly instant-on, with no delay, and it goes from zero to full brightness almost immediately. The slight delay that most inexpensive LED bulbs have doesn’t bother me too much, but it’s nice to not have to live with that.

The LEDs aren’t clustered around the top of the bulb. Depending on the application, that’s either a good or bad thing. But I couldn’t really use most LED bulbs in lamps because all the light went straight up to the ceiling. The Cree does the opposite, so it works very well in lamps.

It looks like a bulb, too. It has a big white heat sink at the base, but the globe looks a lot like a regular bulb would.

The only thing to dislike about it is the efficiency. There are some bulbs that will give you 100 lumens per watt; these weigh in at about 84 lumens per watt. I would like to see a non-dimmable version of this bulb, which probably would help the efficiency. All of the bulbs I’ve seen that get closer to 100 lumens per watt have other drawbacks as well. I think Cree did a good job of finding the mix of features most people want, and delivering it at a price that people can justify. Yes, it’s still a $13 light bulb, which will be off-putting, but there’s little question in my mind that it will outlast 13 of those $1 incandescents while using 16% as much electricity (and money). Not only that, it won’t break if you drop it, it contains no mercury, and emits no ultraviolet light.

So it’s not quite a zero compromises bulb, but it’s the best one I’ve found so far. I have two of them, and as the CFL bulbs I bought a half decade ago die off, I’ll replace them with these. One bulb that died recently was a 20W, 800-lumen CFL; what remain are 18W, 800-lumen CFLs that I bought at Costco in 2008. So these Cree LEDs are 47% more efficient than the bulbs they’re replacing. A year ago, the efficiency gap between CFLs and LEDs was smaller.

If Cree has replacements for 75W and 100W incandescent bulbs, you can’t buy them at Home Depot yet. But 60W (or equivalent) is a generally usable size; I can light up most rooms adequately with three of them. Admittedly, using 40W-equivalent bulbs everywhere felt like a sacrifice. I went there with early CFLs nearly a decade ago, and was there again in 2011-2012 with LEDs. These feel like less of one.

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