LED buying guide

Posted on: May 29, 2018, by :

LED buying guide

At any rate, if youre purchasing new light bulbs to use with dimmer switches, hang on to the receipts until youve had a chance to test them out.

You can set this Insteon LED Bulb to turn on and off automatically, or control it remotely, from your smartphone.

So far, weve covered the light bulb basics (and then some), but if you really want to get picky about your home lighting, or if you just want to delve a little deeper into the subject, theres a lot more to take into consideration.

Hubs like those are your best bet at building your own, elaborate smart home setup with different kinds of products from different brands all working together. However, if that sounds like too much of a headache, or if all you want are lights that come on automatically at sunset, then one of those starter kits that comes with its own gateway is probably worth the cash.

This is where understanding lumens really comes in handy. With lumens listed on each and every bulb, youll always have a concrete comparison of how bright any two bulbs actually are. The bigger the lumen count, the brighter the bulb — easy enough, right?

This Insteon LED promises to last for a whopping 52,000 hours.

Over the last century, weve been trained to think about light purely in terms of wattages, so it isnt surprising that most people really have no idea of how many lumens they actually need in a bulb. Until you form an idea of how bright is bright enough for your tastes, stick with these figures:

The amount of mercury vapor in a standard CFL bulb is about one-hundredth of what youd find in an old-fashioned thermometer. Even in such a small amount, mercury merits a degree of caution, as direct exposure can cause damage to the brain, lungs and kidneys. That said, if a CFL shatters on your kitchen floor,you dont need to panic or evacuate your home. Just be sure to open a window and let the room air out for 10 minutes, then carefully transfer the glass and dust into a sealable container (anddontuse a vacuum cleaner — you dont want to kick those chemicals up into the air). If you can take the broken bulb to a recycling center for proper disposal, great. If not, theres a good chance you can dispose of the bulb at your local hardware store. (For more info on CFLs and mercury,click here.)

Now heres the rub: the CRI is highly imperfect and not always useful (the reasons why are mind-numbing, but you canread more hereif youre curious/masochistic). The important takeaway is that CRI scores are most helpful if youre talking about bulbs that sit in themiddleof the color temperature spectrum, in between those yellow and blue extremes. Youll probably see references to white or natural light on bulbs like these. In these cases, the CRI score can be a great way to tell a good bulb from a great bulb.

If youre buying a bulb these days, youll be left in the dark if you dont know what a lumen is. The actual definition gets a bit complicated, involving things like steradians and candela, but dont worry, because all that you really need to know is that lumens are units of brightness. The more lumens a bulb boasts, the brighter it will be. So, how does this information help you?

The most obvious way to get started with smart lighting is with the bulbs themselves. Youve got plenty of intelligent options from brands both big and small, and to find the one thats best for you, youre going to need to understand what sets them apart.

Youll find plenty of dimmable LEDs these days, but some will dim better than others.

Theres even more experimentation with design coming from smaller names looking for a way to stand out from the crowd. Green Creative recently introduced its own take on the flattened-down BR30 floodlight. Called theCloud LED, this light suspends a flat disk of diodes up above the base of the bulb, with a big, hollow area in the middle. Like the SlimStyle BR30, this design helps it manage heat a whole lot better (and looks pretty darned cool, too.)

If youre truly focused on lights that dim well, then you may want to consider a smart LED kit. With an LED-specific dimming mechanism built right into each bulb, theres no need for a dimmer switch. Instead, youll dim the bulb using a smartphone app, a physical remote accessory or even a voice command if it works with Siri, Alexa or Google Assistant. Best of all, you shouldnt encounter any buzzing or flickering. And hey, while were on the subject…

Before LEDs exploded into the lighting scene, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs to you and me) were seen by many as the heir apparent to incandescent lighting. Despite the fact that CFLs use between one-fifth and one-third the energy of incandescents, and typically save one to five times their purchase price over the course of their lifetime, many people werent thrilled at the idea of switching over.

In general, anything over 80 is probably decent enough for your home, but were starting to see CRI scores creeping up into the nineties on some very affordable bulbs. TheGE Reveal BR30 floodlight LEDwon our Editors Choice distinction for its emphasis on color rendering. Theres even a$5 LED from Ikeathat scores in the upper 80s. If accurate color rendering is important to you, look for lights like these. And if youre buying bulbs on the high (blue) or low (yellow) end of the spectrum, take any and all CRI claims with a grain of salt.

In other words, relying on these wattage equivalencies on the front of the box can lead you to buy a bulb that ends up being far too dim or too bright for your needs.

Sylvania often color codes its packaging. Blue indicates a hot, bluish color temperature, while the lighter shade indicates a white, more neutral light.

EISA didnt ban incandescents outright, but its true that bulbs unable to keep up with the rising standards will be phased out (the majority of incandescents have already met this fate). However, the door is still wide open fornon-traditional incandescents to take their place, and were already seeing some manufacturers rise to the challenge with high-efficiency incandescent bulbs that manage to meet the new standards. Key among these high-efficiency bulbs is yet another lighting option youll want to consider.

Lets start with the base of the bulb, the part that screws in. In the US, the most common shape by far is E26, with the E standing for Edison and the 26 referring to the diameter of the base in millimeters. You might also see E27 bulbs from time to time, which is the European standard. Those should still fit into common American fixtures, but keep in mind that voltage ratings are different in the two regions, with American bulbs rated for 120 volts compared to 220-240 volts in Europe. For smaller sockets, like you might find with a candelabra, youll want to look for an E12 base.

That said, some bulbs will dim down better than others — and your mileage may vary depending on what switch youre using, too. Most basic switches dim the light by flashing the power on and off faster than the eye can detect. In many cases, this can cause electromagnetic interference in the bulbs, which can lead to flickering light or a faint buzz from within the bulb.

While some LEDs go out of their way to mimic the familiar look of incandescent lighting, others take a different approach. After all, those classic bulb shapes were designed to optimize incandescent light output, just like the twisty shape of CFL light bulbs is designed to optimize fluorescent light output. Why shouldnt we do the same for LEDs?

Some lights have hardware built into the bulb itself that can block the downward projection of light (BR and PAR bulbs do it intentionally, reflecting that light back upward). These bulbs are fine for something like a recessed light fixture, where they hang upside down and shine straight out, but if youre buying one for a bedside reading lamp, where downward light is key, it might be disappointingly dim. If you arent sure exactly what youll need from your bulb in terms of light direction, the safe bet might be to go with a bulb that shines in all directions. The term that youll want to look for is omnidirectional.

Well, fear not, because weve got you covered with a handy guide thats chock-full of all the information youll need to make sure that your next light bulb is the right bulb.

That said, youll want to look for a system that gives you as much scheduling control as possible. Setting a light bulb to turn on automatically in the evening is good — setting it to turn on automatically when the sun sets is even better. Some systems will even let you tell the lights to slowly fade on or off over a specified period of time, which can make for a cozy way to fall asleep at night (or a nice alternative to that blaring alarm clock in the morning).

In other words, the age of the LED is here, and you only need travel so far as your local lighting aisle to see the change. With all of the new options out there (not to mention the disappearance of some important old ones), finding the perfect bulb can seem pretty daunting. New lights that promise to last 20 years and save you hundreds of dollars might sound good in theory, but how do you know which one is the right one for you? How do you know the bulb youre buying is going to be bright enough? What about color temperature? Color… rendering?

When I tell you to picture a light bulb, chances are good that youre envisioning an incandescent. This is the classic bulb of Thomas Edison: a tungsten filament trapped within a glass enclosure. Electricity heats the filament to a point where it glows, and voila, you have light.

If that kind of ostentatious approach to design puts you off, dont worry. Plenty of LEDs tack in the exact opposite direction, and feature builds designed not to stand out, but to blend in.Saffrons 40W replacement LEDis a good example — the design crams LED tech into a classic glass bulb, making it more or less indistinguishable from an incandescent. Or course, with traditional heat sinks left out out of the design, performance suffers a bit, but if you appreciate simple aesthetics, perhaps you can live with that.

Unless you live in a disco, you probably want the colors in your home to look somewhat traditional. This is where the color rendering index, or CRI, comes in. The CRI is a score from 1 to 100 that rates a bulbs ability to accurately illuminate colors. You can think of the CRI as a light bulbs GPA for colors, as it actually averages multiple scores for multiple shades. Manufacturers arent required to list the bulbs CRI number on the packaging, but many of them choose to do so anyway, so youll want to know what it means.

Let me give you an example. If you look at CFL or LED bulbs, youll see that most all of them are marketed as replacements for incandescent bulbs of specific wattages. Youll probably see the word equivalent used, too, as in 60-watt equivalent. This can be frustratingly misleading, because watts measure energy usage, not brightness, and equivalent often means something closer to equivalent… ish.

One last note: dont forget to consider smartening things up at the switch, instead. Its an especially smart solution if you have several bulbs wired to one switch, and the bonus upside is that, unlike with smart bulbs, your automations will work even when the switch is turned off. And if you need help figuring out which switch to go with, well, wouldnt you know it,weve got a buying guide for that, too.

After lumens, the next concept youll want to understand is color temperature. Measured on the Kelvin scale, color temperature isnt really a measure of heat. Instead, its a measure of the color that a light source produces, ranging from yellow on the low end of the scale to bluish on the high end, with whitish light in the middle.

An easy way to keep track of color temperature is to think of a flame: it starts out yellow and orange, but when it getsreallyhot, it turns blue. You could also think of color temperature in terms of the sun — low, yellowy color temperatures mimic the tone of light at sunrise or sunset, while hotter, more bluish-white color temperatures are more akin to daylight (sure enough, bulbs with color temperatures like these are commonly called daylight bulbs). This is also why a lot of people prefer high color temperatures during the day and lower color temperatures in the morning and evening. Some smart bulbs can even shift back and forth throughout the day.

In the LM80 test, engineers run the bulb for 9 months straight in order to get an accurate read of the lights rate of decay. Using those figures, they can calculate the point at which the light will have faded to 70 percent of its original brightness — the point where youll start to notice that things arent quite as bright as they used to be. This point, known as L70, is the current standard in LED longevity. If an LED says itll last 25,000 hours, its really saying that it will take the bulb 25,000 hours to fade down to 70 percent brightness.

A majority of modern lighting options now include compatibility with in-wall dimmer switches, and thats a good thing for anyone who likes the light down low. If this sounds like you, then youll want to double check that your bulbs packaging says the word dimmable before you make a purchase.

Of course, if youre considering a bulb that doesnt come with its own gateway, then youll need to look at your various hub options to see what scheduling features their apps offer.

Can you tell which of these bulbs is an incandescent and which one is the Saffron LED?

CNET tambin est disponible en español.

These days, bulb shoppers will find so many color temperature options that some lighting companies have cleverly begun color-coding their packaging: blue for high-color-temperature bulbs, yellow for low-color-temperature ones and white for bulbs that fall in between. With so many choices available, the notion that the phase-out of incandescents is taking warm, cozy lighting with it is a complete myth at this point.

With LEDs and CFLs, the bulbs still convert electricity into light, but the methodology is totally different. Light output isnt fixed to the temperature of a filament, which means theres more wiggle room for differences in efficiency. With good engineering, a bulb can put out more light from the same amount of electricity. Simply put, unlike incandescents, LED and CFL bulbs are decidedlynotcreated equal.

Well, some manufacturers are doing exactly that. The most notable example is probably Philips, which introduced a flattened down, ping-pong-paddle-esque light called thePhilips SlimStyleback in 2013. In 2014, Philips extended the SlimStyle line to include aflattened BR30 floodlight LED, too. Meanwhile, GE introduced us tostick-shaped Bright Stik LED bulbsback in 2015.

Like all fluorescents, CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury — typically 3 to 5 milligrams (mg), although some contain less. This creates the potential for pollution when CFL bulbs are improperly disposed of, something that led to a uniqueenvironmental argumentagainstthe phasing out of incandescents (although, to be fair, this was before LEDs were seen as such a viable option).

Yes, really — at least, according toEnergy Starand theIlluminating Engineering Society(IES), the independent organization that created the testing procedures manufacturers use to rate LED lights. Lets go ahead and dig a little deeper into those longevity claims.

Your days are numbered, pal (or are they?).

Weve all gotten to know incandescents quite well over the past 135 years or so, but times are changing. These days, youve got more options than ever before, and familiarizing yourself with them is the first step toward finding the right bulb.

As for the bulb itself, the typical shape that youre probably used to is an A19 bulb. Increase that number to A21 or A23, and youve got the same shape, but bigger. Bulbs made to resemble flames are F-shaped, which is easy enough to remember, as are globes, which go by the letter G. If its a floodlight you want, youll want to look for BR (bulging reflector) or PAR (parabolic aluminized reflector). Those bulbs are designed to throw all their light in one direction only, which makes them useful for spot lighting, overhead lighting and the headlights in your car.

At about 13 lumens per watt, you could definitely do a lot better than this halogen.

Its been more than 10 years since Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). In doing so, they put the age of inefficient incandescent lighting on notice. The law mandated strict new energy standards designed to kick-start a new era of greener, longer-lasting, more cost-efficient light bulbs — and that meant kicking outdated, inefficient bulbs to the curb.

Some smart bulbs come with their own gateway. Others, like the Cree Connected LED, require a third-party control device, like the Wink Hub.

The first thing to look at is how the bulbs communicate with you. Some offer direct connections with your smart phone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which makes setup as simple as screwing the thing in and following the in-app pairing instructions.

A yellow, low-color-temperature bulb compared with one with a bluish, high color temperature.

Some LEDs focus almost exclusively on that cool factor, aiming to provide light sources that double as conversation starters. Take theNanoleaf Bloom, for instance, which features a 3D-printed jigsaw assembly with the diodes dotted all over theoutsideof the bulb. Youll find a lot of these design-centric light bulbs on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

This process uses a fraction of the wattage required to power an old-fashioned incandescent bulb, and this makes LEDs dramatically more cost-effective over the long run.

First, its important to understand that LED lights typically dont burn out, the way that incandescents do. Instead, they undergo lumen depreciation, which just means that they gradually grow dimmer and dimmer over a very long period of time. The test that the IES uses to determine a bulbs longevity is known as the LM80, and it calculates how long it will take for an LED to fade enough for you to notice it.

For instance, a single 10-watt LED that puts out 800 lumens of light (lumens are units of brightness for a light source — more on that in just a bit) will add about $1.20 per year to your power bill if used for 3 hours a day at an average energy rate of 11 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh). Under those same parameters, a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb that puts out the same 800 lumens will cost about$7.20per year. Thats more than the cost of replacing it with a basic LED like the one described above. Multiply that by the total number of bulbs in your home, and youre looking at the potential for some pretty significant long-term savings, especially if you live in area with above-average energy rates.

Others transmit using a distinct frequency like ZigBee or Z-Wave. Bulbs like those might be a better fit for bigger, more elaborate smart home setups, as its typically a little easier to sync them up with things like motion detectors and smart locks. Setup can be slightly more advanced, as youll need a separate hub or gateway device capable of translating that distinct frequency into a Wi-Fi signal your router can comprehend.

CFLs like this one are great energy-savers.

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are the new rock stars of the bulb world. When an LED is switched on, electrons and electron holes come together (and dont worry, Im not completely sure I fully understand what aholeis in this context, either). At any rate, the result of this process is a release of energy in the form of photons — or light, to you and me.

If youre confused, just remember to check that Lighting Facts label. For warm, yellowy light, look for 2,700 K. For hotter, bluish-white light, go with anything above 5,000 K. Anything in between will likely be more neutral and closer to pure white.

Whether you want an elaborate network of fully automated lights, smart color control or just a simple bulb that you can program over your phone via Bluetooth, youll find a growing number of choices available from a variety of different sources.

In simple terms, a light bulb is just a device that converts electricity into light. The more lumens of light you get per watt of electricity, the more efficient the bulb is. With incandescent bulbs, efficiency is easy to understand because a specific wattage of electricity will always heat a tungsten filament to a specific temperature, which in turn will yield a specific level of light. This means that, generally speaking, one incandescent will be more or less as efficient (or by todays standards, inefficient) as another.

In addition, some non-omnidirectional lights will offer you an idea of just how close to omnidirectional they actually are. 360 degrees of light output is the obvious ideal, but a bulb that offered 330 degrees would probably be close enough.

It used to be that if you wanted your lights to turn on and off automatically, then you had to rely on a cheap wall socket timer, the kind you might use to control a Christmas tree. These days, its easier than ever to dive into the sort of advanced automation controls that can make any home feel modern and futuristic. Use the right devices, and youll be able to control your lights in all sorts of creative ways, and make your life a little bit easier in the process.

The Philips Hue Tap is a n

LEDs are also rated to last for tens of thousands of hours, which can translate to decades of use. Compare that with the year or so you typically get out of an incandescent, and you can begin to see why so many people find these bulbs appealing. With some options now as cheap as $3 per bulb, that 10W LED would pay for itself in energy savings within a few months, then keep on saving you money for years if not decades to come.

Halogens are just incandescent bulbs with a bit of halogen gas surrounding the filament. This gas helps recycle the burned-up tungsten back onto the filament, making for a slightly more efficient light. And, unlike the mercury in CFLs, this gas isnt anything that could be classified as hazardous waste.

Some find the whitish light output of CFL bulbs less aesthetically pleasing than the naturally warm tone of most incandescents. Others are quick to point out that CFL bulbs that regularly get powered on and off for short periods of time tend to see a significant decrease in life expectancy. Theres also the common complaint that most CFLs arent dimmable, and that they often take a second or two after being switched on to fully light up.

There are a few basic features that youll definitely want to keep an eye out for as youre shopping around. The first is smart scheduling, which lets you use an app to set your lights to turn on or off at specific times. With smart scheduling, you can program your lights to wake you up in the morning, or maybe to simulate occupancy while youre away on vacation. Its really a core part of connected lightings appeal, so just about anything you consider should offer it.

Now lets imagine that same basketball game — except now its being played inside that disco I mentioned earlier. Were indoors, its dim and were stuck with multicolored spotlights as the only light source. A purple one shines down on a very confused point guard as he takes a shot. Can you tell if hes on the green team or the red one? I wouldnt be surprised if you couldnt, because the CRI score of lights like those is abysmal.

Crees 4Flow LEDis another incandescent imitator that strikes more of a middle ground between performance and design. Its plastic-bodied build has the same silhouette as a traditional A19-shaped incandescent, thanks to cleverly designed convection vents that eliminate the need for bulky heat sinks.

The rising standards have already long rendered 100W and 75W incandescents obsolete, and in 2014, their 60W and 40W cousins met the same ngressional budget wafflingbriefly seemed to put the new standards on hold, but it was largely too late — the industry had already moved on, and wasnt interested in reversing course.

Some LEDs stand out for their space-age looks.

We also test out the dimmable range of each bulb we review — some can dim down lower than others before cutting out to black, and some wont quite shine at full brightness with the switch dialed all the way back up. Youre probably nitpicking at that point, but hey, sometimes mood lighting matters.

Replacing a 100W bulb:look for at least 1,600 lumens

This UtiliTech Pro LED bulb is just 30 degrees shy of omnidirectional.

Average life expectancy:10,000 hours

The Green Creative BR30 Cloud LED has an eyebrow-raising, hollowed-out design.

Generally speaking, incandescents sit at the bottom of the scale with their yellow light, while CFLs and LEDs have long been thought to tend toward the high, bluish end of the spectrum. This has been a steady complaint about new lighting alternatives, as many people prefer the warm, familiar, low color temperature of incandescents. Manufacturers are listening, though, and in this case they heard consumers loud and clear, with more and more low-color-temperature CFL and LED options hitting the shelves. Dont believe me? Take another look at those two paper lamps in the picture above, because theyrebothCFL bulbs — from the same manufacturer, no less.

Replacing a 75W bulb:look for at least 1,100 lumens

This isnt to say that LEDs dont fail. They definitely do. As with any device relying on tiny, delicate electrical components, things can go wrong. Fortunately, more and more LED bulbs come with multiyear warranties for cases of mechanical failure. Some manufacturers, like GE and Cree, offer affordable LED bulbs with 10-year warranties. Consumers with a healthy dose of skepticism regarding LED longevity claims should look for bulbs like these, made by manufacturers willing to put their money where their mouth is.

Some of these kinds of bulbs, includingPhilips Hue White LEDsandOsram Lightify LEDs, have their own gateway devices, but their starter kits can get expensive. Other smart bulbs, like theCree Connected LEDand theGE Link LED, cost a lot less up front, but dont come with their own gateways — that means youll need a compatible third-party hub in order to control them.

Replacing a 60W bulb:look for at least 800 lumens

Replacing a 40W bulb:look for at least 450 lumens

This halogen bulb glows with a warm, incandescent-like light.

This is another place where its essential to understand lumens. A 10-watt LED can easily outshine a 12-watt competitor if it converts watts into lumens more efficiently. All the wattage tells you is how much power the bulb uses. The lumens tell you how much light the bulb puts out. The ratio between the two tells you how efficient the bulb is. The more lumens youre getting per watt, the better the bulb is at converting electricity into light.

Testing for these kinds of dimmability concerns is tricky business due to the many variables involved, but we do our best to determinewhich bulbs are most susceptible. This standard60W equivalent LED from Philips, for instance, did extremely well on all of the switches we tested it out on, while thePhilips SlimStyle LEDwas noticeably worse.

Due to their relative similarity to classic incandescents — both in light quality and in cost — halogens can work as a good compromise bulb for consumers who need to replace their incandescents, but who also arent ready to switch over to CFLs or LEDs quite yet.

To understand CRI a little better, lets imagine a basketball game played outdoors on a sunny day between a team in red jerseys and a team in green jerseys. Daylight is the ideal for making colors look the way they should, so it gets a CRI score of 100. Most people watching this game would have no problem telling the teams apart, because red would appear clearly red, and green would look green.

Id argue that LEDs are just about always worth the extra upfront cash (especially now that you can get good ones for just a few bucks per bulb). Still, if you arent ready to make the jump, or if you just want something cheaper at the register, then youll be happy to know that there are still alternatives, starting with:

Average life expectancy:20,000 hours

With well over 800 lumens, this 11W Philips LED bulb would make a good replacement for a 60W incandescents brightness.

The dimmable ranges of these four LED floodlights varied — the GE Reveal was able to hit 100% at maximum and a satisfying 5 percent at minimum.

By this point, the bulk of the lighting aisle is LEDs, so lets focus on those for now:

As youre probably aware, light bulbs come in a fairly wide variety of shapes. Sure, its easy enough to tell a hardware store clerk that you want one of those flamey-looking lights, or just a normal ol bulby light bulb, but knowing the actual nomenclature might save you some time.

If youre buying new bulbs, then it absolutely makes sense to stop and ask yourself if its worth upgrading to smart lights. Thanks to the popularity of AI assistants like Alexa, its a particularly good time to buy in. With millions of people adding dedicated voice controls into their home, upgrading to smart lights has become an increasingly attractive next step. That level of demand has led to a boom in options — many of them more affordable than you might think.

Leave a Reply