Lighting design is a pretty good job- most of the time. But when it comes to picking out a light bulb for my table lamps, everything goes wrong while costing a great deal of money.
Last week, I decided I would buy a 60-watt equivalent LED light bulb. Instead of standing in the light bulb aisle with a pained, befuddled look upon my face, I would take my clipboard, a calculator, and my decades of lighting expertise with me. I was going to find the best bulb (read that post here). After wading through eight different permutations of GE 60-watt replacement bulbs from Lowe’s, I decided that their Classic line was the best offering of the bunch. It was the cheapest, but lasted just as long as all the others (or longer), dimmed lower than any others, and had a decent color to the naked eye.
But it buzzed and hummed like a hornet’s nest, as did all the others, and when it dimmed it turned a rather sickly grey. I decided to keep shopping, as I am not a fan of grey hornets.
I went to Home Depot and bought bulbs from Cree, Philips, and Ecosmart. I was on a roll, so I went next door to Menards and bought bulbs from Sylvania, Feit, and Zilotech. With sixteen bulbs in the lineup, I needed a spreadsheet to keep them all separate.
Yes, a spreadsheet. I attached it here if you want to drown in the details. For those of you who are already questioning your sanity for reading a post on light bulbs, I’ll sum up.
None of the 18 LED bulbs, NONE, perform as well as the old fashioned incandescent or halogen bulbs. They buzz, they dim poorly and most turn grey at low levels. None of them are silent, at least with the dimmer I used in testing. Of the 18, only one shifted color as it dimmed to mimic the warm glow of incandescent. Here are a few words of advice:
The worst: GE Basic, Zilotec, and Sylvania General Purpose. These were all deceptively overpriced and performed poorly. Over ten years, the cost was up to five times higher than the winners and the quality far worse. Please, don’t waste your money.
These are set to a very low setting on the dimmer, but note that only the GE Classic appears low. I think they should replace “dimmable” on these packages with “kinda sorta dimmable sometimes but not really.”
The not-so-terrible: Cree, Ecosmart, & GE Classic. Each of these had relatively low cost. Cree features double the lamp life of most and a high CRI (color rendering, a good thing), and Ecosmart was the quietest of them all. GE Classic dimmed very low and was the least expensive of the three.
The Top Pick of a Rather Disappointing Lineup: Philips Warm Dim. Amazingly, at the time of purchase the price of these bulbs (in a four pack) was the lowest of the entire lineup, and this helped its 10-year cost be second best of all. The other feature I liked was the warm-dim feature, which slowly shifts the color to a warmer amber as you dim. There were other bulbs on sale with this feature, but for about ten times the cost with no other apparent benefits. I honestly do not know how Philips is getting the price that low, unless it is some kind of loss-leader for them or Home Depot.
Here it is, folks, the Philips winner second from left. Note that it shifts color at this low dimmer setting, a great feature at this very low price. But it should add to the dimming label: “Warm Dimming With a Persistent Buzzing Sound.”
The Conclusion: Wait ten years and shop again. I’ll hang on to the Philips Warm Dim bulbs and maybe a pack of the GE Classic for closets. They should last me another ten or fifteen years.
Maybe by then there will be a bulb worth ending my not-so-practical boycott.
PS: A few notes for the geeks like me:
- Only two of the eighteen listed CRI. The rest conveniently avoided the issue, which tells me they are not very good.
- Bulbs perform differently on different dimmers. My results could be entirely useless to you. How’s that for unhelpful?
- I went with Home Depot, Menards, and Lowe’s because that is where I normally buy bulbs. I avoided bulbs that cost more than a couple of bucks.
- I avoided smart bulbs. I have a bunch of those already and they are a pain in the neck. Ever had to restart your lightbulbs? I have. Ever had your internet go down? I have- and I cannot turn my light bulbs on (or off). It isn’t worth the hassle. I’m a fan of Lutron Caseta smart dimmers; they work even when my router is down.
- I looked online and did not see much worth buying. My brother recommended IKEA but they won’t ship me a bulb, and it was going to cost me seven bucks anyway. I’m too cheap for that.
- YES, there are better bulbs out there. I’m a fan of Ketra bulbs, for example. At the moment, they only cost around a hundred bucks each.
- Lutron (see note 4) just bought Ketra (see note 6). They have the potential for some amazing product, so start a savings account now.
This was very helpful in deciding what brand and type to possibly choose. It has been frustrating when I find one I like and the store stops stocking them.
Thanks, Michael, and good luck!!
This was very interesting and humorous. If you have time on your hands and enjoy the research maybe the next step is to find the “best” dimmer switch?
Thanks for the suggestion, MM. I love it!
Which dimmer did you use? I have some bulbs that work very well with the Lutron Maestro CL Dimmer. Even lets you set the “lowest” level the bulb can go to. LEDs seem to be very efficient when dimmed, so that may be why your dimmed LED bulbs didn’t get too dim. With the low-end adjustment setting on the CL dimmer, you could possibly get them even dimmer. With that said, other bulbs I have still buzz with the CL dimmers.
In complete agreement that the lighting situation now, with bulbs and dimmers, is very confusing, and frustrating.
About bulb prices; my (Chicago) Home Depot and CostCo have bulbs subsidized by the local power company (ComEd). Not all of the bulbs have a subsidy. I was lucky to find, likely similar to you, that many of the Warm Glow bulbs have a substantial ComEd subsidy at Home Depot. CostCo didn’t have the Warm Glow bulbs, but they did have other bulbs that were heavily discounted by ComEd. The subsidy is listed on the Home Depot and CostCo price tags.
Thanks, Ed! The subsidies help the bank account, but make it a little more complicated, eh?
If it makes the good bulbs cheap, I’m all for it!
As Ed Hayes points out, the low prices on Philips and EcoSmart are due to energy company (and others) instant rebates and furthermore this is clearly indicated on the Home Depot website.
Secondly, the noise issue you are having when dimming is most likely due to the dimmer you are using. I’ve fitted 300 LED bulbs (mostly Philips, EcoSmart and Cree) in 4 different properties so far this year and none are noisy on their dimmers.
Thirdly, you do not include your beloved incandescent bulb in your spreadsheet as a control which would highlight its very poor financial performance.
As a professional lighting engineer myself, I have a different conclusion – now is a great time to buy LEDs to save money on bills and maintenance.
Monty, thanks for the comments! I am glad you are having success with the Philips Warm Glow that I also recommended. I tried them on several dimmers in several applications, but have not found a combination that allows me to go low enough and warm enough that I am satisfied. I think both can be true: It is a great time to save money on LED bulbs and there are no LED bulbs available at the big box retailers that will dim as smoothly and consistently and warmly as an incandescent bulb.
I agree davidwarfel. There is no ultimate bulb with warm dimming, smooth consistent (flicker free) dimming, 95+ CRI, and no buzzing.
Strangely enough, was at Home Depot again the other day, warm-glow lights are now at the normal price, not subsidized by ComEd. There doesn’t appear to be many of them either, but the packaging now makes them easier to identify. Some of the Phillips bulbs now have a no-buz guarantee! Thought that was interesting.
Ed, sounds like I need to go shopping again! 🙂