Finding LED lightbulbs that work

LED lighting that works

Since my first days of living off grid with a tiny PV system in the late 1990s, I have been somewhat obsessed with finding lighting that combines low electrical draw with a nice quality of light. In the off grid home, we moved from dim, incandescent 12-volt car lights to brighter 12-volt halogens to the first generation of 12-volt compact fluorescents (CFLs). None of these combined low electrical consumption with a good light quality. The addition of an inverter in that home opened up the potential for newer generation CFL bulbs, which over time developed a better quality of light, but never really satisfied me. The inclusion of mercury in the CFLs always made me uncomfortable, as did the flickering quality of the light.

LED lighting that works

The LED bulbs that really work!

When the first LED bulbs started to become available a decade ago, I was all over them. I bought bulbs at outrageous prices that gave ridiculously poor light, and have continued to buy examples of each new generation of LED bulb for the past ten years.

Having decided to outfit Canada’s Greenest Home with LED lighting in every fixture, I have taken the opportunity to buy just about every brand and type of LED bulb that are available through major retailers. It is exciting to find that there are, finally, LED bulbs that combine low wattage with excellent light quality!

The sampling we’ve done has been for general purpose overhead fixtures and lamps, and also spots for over the cooktop.

Here are the ones we really like:

Philips 11 watt, 830 lumen, 2700K, dimmable

This bulb has a nice warm light. The shape of the bulb seems like it would cast a fairly narrow spot of light, but it actually does a good job of spreading light in 360 degrees. We use this one as overhead lights in the kitchen and in a couple of the hallways. A really good general bulb.

Cree 9.5 watt, 800 lumen, 2700K

This round bulb has the best general light distribution of those we tried, with a shape most resembling the traditional incandescent bulb. The light is definitely at the warm end of the spectrum, but slightly less warm than the Philips. This is also a really good general use bulb. The glass is coated in a rubbery material that makes it easy to handle and twist the bulb, and should protect it well against breakage.

Sylvania 8 watt, 470 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package, dimmable

This bulb is less bright than most of the others, with a lumen output of only 470. We found it to be a very warm and pleasant light. We currently have some exposed bulbs in the house, awaiting actual fixtures, and this bulb casts a good, wide light without being too bright and glaring. The light from this bulb feels “calmer” than any other, good for background lighting.

Philips 10.5 watt, 800 lumen, 3000K

If you’re under the impression that LED bulbs can’t cast a good, bright light, this bulb will alter that perception. It is surprisingly bright, with a light that is close to daylight spectrum without feeling “cold”. In any fixture where you desire an intense, 360-degree light, this one is perfect. It also the least expensive bulb, with prices under $10 at several retailers.

Feit 2 watt, 160 lumen, no spectrum data on bulb or package

We put these bulbs in a few sconce fixtures in stairways and hallways where we wanted a low but useful amount of light in a neutral spectrum range. These little bulbs work very well in this scenario, drawing only a small amount of current while producing a surprising amount of light.

Philips 7 watt, 280 lumen, 2700K spot

We haven’t sampled as many spots as regular bulbs, but of those we’ve tried this one combines a good quantity and quality of light and does not have as narrow a focus as many of the other brands. A pair of them shine down on the stove from the hood vent.

This is far from a scientific and complete sampling of LED bulbs, and I’ll continue to be a bulb addict and buy new models as they come out. However, this range and selection of models would allow anybody to outfit a home with LEDs and feel confident that their money is being spent on quality bulbs with good light output. Prices for these bulbs range from $9-15 dollars. In Ontario right now, there are government rebates of $5 on a wide range of LED bulbs, including most of those listed here. It’s a great time to invest in energy saving bulbs that are long-lasting and do not contain mercury!

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