2017-11-23

Buying the right LED bulbs

With so many LED bulbs on the market, it's hard to choose a good one.  And sadly, no retail web sites that focus on selling bulbs help.

Faceted bulb selection

The sellers of light bulbs should offer a faceted selection tool, allowing the customer to locate the best bulbs they can find.  With over 1000 bulbs on the market, not offering such a selection tool makes it nearly impossible for a customer to find the right bulb.

Here are the facets that all adequate retailer should offer:
  1. Socket Style (traditional E26 Edison, etc)
  2. Bulb Shape (Traditional, Globe, Spot, Candle, etc)
  3. Average Life Minimum  (25k hours, 50k hours, ...)
  4. Light color (warm white, daylight, blue, etc)
  5. Special Features (wet, smart, etc)
  6.  User-specified Lumen Range (350..600, 150..1000, 150..350, etc)
Just a note about numbers.  It is STUPID to offer discrete facets for things like bulb life or lumens.  There are thousands of different possibilities. RANGES are the only non-stupid way to allow such a selection.

From there, once a customer selects one or more facets, a list of products could be produced, sortable by either energy consumption or price tag.

With that, I can say "show me all the bulbs, sorted by energy consumption, that use an e26 base and that outputs at least 225 Lumens".  Pretty simple, eh?  Shockingly, NO RETAILER OFFERS SUCH A SIMPLE TOOL.

My Facets for Selecting Bulbs
 
Here is what I generally care about:
  1. QUALITY.  Buy only highly rated bulbs.  No-name bulbs without a track record are not worth the investment.  They might be great... or they might look awful and last 6 months.  Only buy bulbs that have a real warranty and a good reputation to lose. If in doubt, stick with the hugely popular name brands.
  2. COLOR.  Stick with the same light color, and buy in lots.  LEDs have many different color options, such as "warm white" and "cool blue" and many others.  It looks a bit silly to have many different colored lamps in proximity to one another, and so if you're outfitting a room, stick with the same color bulb and preferably use bulbs from the same package.  My personal choice is to use warm white bulbs with a color between 2600K and 3000K.
  3. LIFESPAN.  Buy bulbs with a long life.  Buy bulbs that are have have an estimated life of at least 22 years or 25,000 hours. Anything less suggests that the bulbs are poorly designed.  Of course, being an average, some bulbs will not last as long as promised, and some bulbs will last considerably longer.  I write the date on all of the bulbs I install so that I can determine if a bulb fails prematurely.
  4. CONSUMPTION.  Go with the lowest actual wattage that is adequate for your needs.  I find that 3 watt bulbs offer plenty of light for many uses around my home.  In hallways and bedrooms I go with the 3 watt bulbs that produce about 225 lumens.  In the kitchen, living room and bathroom, I use 5 watt bulbs that output about 500 lumens. Strangely, many LED retailers focus on bulb brightness, and leave wattage as an afterthought.
  5. QUANTITY.  Minimize bulb count.  Some fixtures can use two or three or more bulbs.  Do you need them all?  Generally, more bulbs means less efficiency.  If a fixture can accept two bulbs, can you instead go with one?
And there you have my criteria for buying LED lightbulbs.  Now that I've outfitted my house with bulbs that are supposed to last 50,000 hours, I won't have to buy too many more bulbs in my lifetime.  After all, at 3 hours per day, that's more than 45 years.

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