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When to upgrade to new LED bulbs

PC Magazine asks when it’s worth upgrading to the new Philips L Prize-winning LED bulb, lamenting its high price and long payback time. I can only say what I plan to do, based on my experience with high-efficiency bulbs. I was one of those guys paying $9 for CFL bulbs nearly a decade ago.

It doesn’t make sense to run out and replace every bulb in your house with these, unless you have a lot of disposable income and a keen desire to drop your energy consumption as rapidly as possible. There probably aren’t a lot of people who fit that description.

If your utility company subsidizes them, they make more sense. Some companies are willing to do that, because it’s cheaper to coax people to buy energy efficient light bulbs than it is to build additional power plants.

Then again, nothing says you have to buy this new bulb. The predecessor to the L Prize bulb costs half as much and consumes about 2.5 watts more. So the payoff over its 20-year life expectancy isn’t as large, but it pays for itself much faster. I’d be better off replacing two 60W equivalent CFLs with the 12.5-watt bulb than I would replacing one 60W equivalent CFL with the state-of-the-art 10-watt bulb.

In fact, I think the 12.5-watt bulb is a much easier sell. Consider the 12.5-watt bulb sells for $24 and the 10-watt bulb sells for $50. The 10-watt bulb saves you $160 over its expected lifespan; the 12.5-watt bulb saves you $125. That’s only a $35 difference. I’d rather save my $26 now.

As the bulbs I have burn out, I’ll replace them. The longer I wait, the cheaper these will get.

That was the approach I took with CFL bulbs. The payoff wasn’t immediate, but since electricity gets more expensive every year, the payoff happens faster than it first appears. In fact, by replacing bulbs with better technology as they burn out, I’ve been able to cut my electrical consumption every year by a greater percentage than the utility company raises its rates. That’s no small feat.

I paid $20 for my first 40w-equivalent LED bulb, so I can probably live with paying $24 for my first 60W equivalent. But the sooner I can pay $15 or less for them, the happier I’ll be.

I’ve also noticed that non-dimmable LED bulbs tend to give you a few more lumens per watt–and dollar–than dimmable bulbs do. So if you buy bulbs from makers other than Philips, and don’t need to use them with a dimmer switch, you can save a little money by buying non-dimmable bulbs.

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