Newest LED bulbs look more like familiar incandescents

  • Article by: SANDY BAUERS , Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Updated: July 11, 2013 - 9:19 AM

Incandescent lights are on their way out, but consumers want energy-efficient replacements that work the same.

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Cree Inc.’s new LED bulbs are made to look like old-fashioned incandescents. The 40- and 60-watt bulbs are dimmable and can be used in enclosed fixtures.

 

There’s good news in the lighting aisle.

LED bulbs, which have been a tough sell because they were too expensive, too blue and just too weird, are beginning to look, and act, more like that old favorite, the incandescent bulb.

Perhaps even better, the price is coming down.

Last month, bulb manufacturer Cree Inc. unveiled a 40-watt equivalent LED that costs $9.97. (Incandescents cost $4 to $8 for a six-pack; equivalent compact fluorescent lights, about $5 apiece.)

Cree’s 60-watt equivalent LED is still $13.97. For now.

Other manufacturers — Philips, 3M, Osram Sylvania — are all headed in the same direction, with LED bulbs that have better-quality light and are dimmable and less expensive.

The $10 threshold is thought to be an antidote to consumer hesitation, the point at which buyers are willing to give something a try.

Beyond price, manufacturers may be tiring of trying to arm-wrestle consumers into bulbs they don’t want. Cree decided to give them what they do want.

What Cree learned, said corporate marketing vice president Mike Watson, is that “people actually loved the shape and the light” of the old bulbs.

Partly, because it was familiar. Plus, that shape is something an entire industry of lamp-shade makers and others have based their products on.

So Cree went for the same shape. And figured out how to produce the same quality of light — a warm, omnidirectional glow. It even comes out of the center of the bulb, like the old incandescents.

Like other light-emitting diodes, this LED is 85 percent more efficient than an incandescent and will last 20-odd years (the warranty goes for 10). At this price, consumers can recover the cost of their investment in a year.

“The biggest thing since a lightbulb is a lightbulb” is Cree’s marketing slogan.

A de facto phaseout of the incandescent bulb is under way, although nearly half of Americans don’t realize it, according to an annual Socket Survey by Osram Sylvania.

As of Jan. 1, 2012, bulbs that were 100 watts had to pass hard-to-meet efficiency standards approved during the George W. Bush administration, or bite the dust. This year, 75-watters are in the same situation. And so on.

Americans may gripe, but they also go along. About 68 percent reported in the survey that they had switched lighting not because the bulb had burned out, but for increased energy efficiency.

Still, finding a better bulb has been tough. Buyers haven’t gone for the swirly CFLs. They don’t like the mercury, which requires special disposal. They don’t like the sickly quality of the light. “A failed experiment,” Cree’s Watson said.

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