A brighter day for LED bulbs

  • Article by: JOHN EWOLDT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 3, 2013 - 8:23 PM

Lower prices for the energy-efficient light bulbs are making them a more attractive option for consumers.


Cree’s new LED bulb wa made to look like an incandescent. The 40 and 60 watt bulbs are dimmable and can be used in enclosed fixtures. They’re sold at Home Depot for $9.97 to $13.97.


If consumers are willing to spend $5 for a cup of coffee, how about $25 for a light bulb?

Ned Kantar of Minneapolis recently forked over that much to replace one reflector floodlight with an energy-efficient LED bulb. For the extra $10 to $15, he doesn’t have to get the ladder out nearly as often.

The LED bulb has a 20-year life span, and he’s happy with the instant-on and the warm color. “If they were $8 instead of $25, I’d have replaced all of them,” he said.

Kantar and other consumers will have to wait a couple of years for that, but an LED version of the 60-watt bulb just broke $13.

The price of LEDs is finally following the lead of HDTVs, said Mike Connors, CEO of Bulbs.com in Massachusetts. “They’re getting to a point where more people are willing to splurge,” he said.

Thanks to subsidies from utilities such as Xcel Energy, improved quality and lower manufacturing costs, sales are expected to rise significantly this year, Connors said.

Part of shift is by default. Since last year, incandescent bulbs are being phased out. The 75-watt and 100-watt bulbs are no longer being manufactured, and the 40- and 60-watters will be eliminated next year.

Although retailers can still sell the bulbs if they have supplies, most retailers are now stocking halogens, compact fluorescents and LEDs, with only a few incandescent choices.

Although some might say LEDs are selling for lack of a better option, Connors thinks demand for LED will double this year for a different reason — the availability of cheaper, better bulbs.

Early adopters who were initially disappointed can now find mercury-free bulbs that do what incandescents do well — reach maximum brightness immediately and have the capability to be used with dimmers, motion detectors and enclosed fixtures.

While today’s prices are a big plunge from $70 for a bulb in 2009, it still seems exorbitant for people used to paying 50 cents for an incandescent.

But a 60-watt LED bulb for $13 pays for itself in about two years. Assuming use of three hours a day, an incandescent burns about $7 in electricity per year, an LED $1 per year, said Mike Watson, vice president of marketing at Cree Inc., an LED manufacturer in North Carolina.

And most LEDs will last 10 to 20 years.

Watson sees $10 a bulb as the tipping point where many consumers will try LED as a replacement for 40- or 60-watt incandescents, which make up 80 percent of North America’s residential bulbs.

Alison Klunick of Minneapolis got interested when prices came down recently. In March Home Depot started a promotion with Cree and local utilities in which a 40-watt equivalent LED bulb is $9.97, and 60-watt bulbs are $12.97 and $13.97.

“As long as the new bulb gives off light like a traditional one, I’m fine with it,” Klunick said.

The new bulbs from Cree look and light more like an incandescent than LEDs of old. And unlike nearly every other LED bulb, they can be placed in enclosed fixtures.

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  • The TorchStar LED bulb

  • The Philips Hue LED bulb.

  • The GreenWave Reality LED bulb.

  • Choosing an LED bulb

    Light color: A warm light that looks like an incandescent will be about 2,700 to 3,000 kelvins. A light with 4,000 to 5,000 kelvins will appear cooler and bluer.

    Brightness: Instead of wattage equivalents, look at lumens. One 60-watt LED bulb equivalent may have a brightness of 800 lumens, while another 60-watt LED bulb may be 940 lumens, which is brighter.

    Dimmability: Most LEDS are dimmable and are labeled “dimmable with standard dimmers.” But not all LEDs work with older dimmers. Save your receipt and test it.

    Indoor/outdoor: Most LEDs can be used outdoors if not directly exposed to the elements.

    Life span: Some less expensive LED bulbs have a shorter life span. Better bulbs last 20,000 hours or longer.


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