Best of the Bulbs: 2013 LED Light Bulb Buyers Guide

Apartment Therapy's Annual Guide

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Replacing an incandescent or compact fluorescent bulb for a new LED unit is the way to go: they're extremely energy efficient, operate cool, contain no mercury, cast pleasant warm light, and are now finally within the realm of "affordable". The current batch of LED bulb offerings can provide comparable brightness to previous lighting options, but unlike compact fluorescents, LEDs provide instant light without needing to warm up, with even lower energy requirements. But which one to choose?

The first visible spectrum LED (light emitting diode) was produced in 1962, and these small light emitting diodes were often used as indicator lamps for personal electronics like calculators and in TVs. We take these indicator lamps for granted, but they are in many of the electronics we use, like the power light on your computer. 

Since its inception, LED technology has increasingly evolved, and has now reached a point in brightness and temperature (color or hue) where a variety of bulbs are available for many lighting applications around the home at reasonable prices. Just remember to look closely at the LED bulb specifications, usually listed on the packaging, as some models don't work well with dimmers.

LED Lighting Basics:
A quick primer about LED lighting technology. Despite the various shapes available, these bulbs all share the same three basic components within: optical LED components, electrical LED components, and mechanical/thermal LED components*. The heart of the LED is the diode, the component which allows current to flow only in one direction. Light is created when electricity is passed through the diode, exciting atoms within a semi-conductor chip with a specific mixture of materials unique to each manufacturer, illuminating what we see as warm or cool light.

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The human eye tends to prefer light in the lower half of the temperature spectrum, expressed in units called kelvins (K).

An Overview of 10 Good LED Bulb Choices:

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Cree 9.5 Watts LED Bulb
Price: $12.97
Energy: 9.5 watt
Temperature: 2,700K
Lumens: 800
Life: 25,000 hours

Cree made a big splash this year by landing in the aisles of home improvement retail giant, Home Depot. At just under $13, the 60-watt warm white equivalent might be the gateway LED bulb, thanks to both the price and an illumination output very near an incandescent bulb. Cree models also don't look too "weird", with a design very recognizably light bulb-ish, are dimmable, cast a very even glow, and come with a 10 year warranty.

Good for: Nearly anywhere you'd use a CFL or incandescent bulb; table lamps, overhead lighting, floor lamps. 

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IKEA LEDARE
Price: $13.99
Energy: 10.0 watt
Temperature: 2,700K
Lumens: 600
Life: 25,000 hours

This affordable LED bulb offering is available alongside the various lighting options at your nearest IKEA. The LEDARE produces 600 lumens, with a dimmable design, and a warm color temperture of 2,700k. While it only consumes 10 watts, this LED bulb may prove to be too dim and white for some, so it may be ideal for secondary lighting sources. An IKEA spokesperson states the LEDARE are not covered by a warranty.

Good For: General lighting to mood lighting.

The LED Light Bulb Buyer's GuideBest Buy Insignia
Price: $11.99 (sale price)
Energy: 13 watt
Temperature: 3,000K
Lumens: 800
Life: 22 years (about 25,000 hrs)

The Best Buy Insignia is one of the best deals we've seen so far for anyone not wanting to break the bank purchasing a first LED bulb. This A19 size 60 watt equivalent uses 13 watts of power, producing a bright 800 lumens of light output. One reviewer pointed out this bulb outputs an even cast light without any visible hotspots. The bulb's rated 22 year lifespan is backed up with a 10 year warranty.

Good For: fixtures with weight limitations.

The LED Light Bulb Buyer's GuidePhilips A19 LED
Price: $27.50
Energy: 11.0 watt
Temperature: 2,700K
Lumens: 830
Life: 25,000 hours

A pricier model which one Amazon reviewer reports produces buzzing and flickering, but still casts a pleasing "crisp bright light". The bulb's distinguishing design factor is a streamlined shape reminiscent of a sleek floodlight bulb. Otherwise, very similar to other A19 2,700K LED bulbs, with instant-on light and no mercury. A 6 year warranty comes standard with this bulb.

Good For: Areas where the bulb is visible, exposed.

The 2013 LED Light Bulb Buyer's GuideLighting EVER
Price: $11.88
Energy: 10 watt
Temperature: 6,000K
Lumens: 830
Life: 30,000 hours

This model works well for those looking for a spectrum closer to average daylight. With a low price point, low energy consumption, and notably high listed lifespan, the Lighting Ever LED equates to an economical purchase. One reviewer on Amazon commended the light cast as being similar to natural daylight. This model is non-dimmable, but comes with a shorter 3 year warranty compared to many of the other options.

Great For: Vanity mirror or anywhere natural light is needed.

The 2013 LED Light Bulb Buyer's Guide3M LED Advanced Warm Light 
Price: $24.88
Energy: 13.5 watt
Temperature: 4,000k
Lumens: 850
Life: 27,500 hours

3M has also come to the table with a bulb using 9 LEDs to produce a bright 850 lumens. The unique design uses 3Ms expertise in plastics, creating a light pipe for the LEDs to reflect off; a good video demonstrating this design can be seen here. It is also available in a 3000k cool white light version for a softer white hue. While this bulb stays cool, like many LEd bulbs, it is not recommended for enclosed fixtures. To top it off, this LED is able to be used with a dimmer and has a 5 year warranty.

Great For: Exposed bulb fixtures where even bright light is desired.

The 2013 LED Light Bulb Buyer's GuideSunSun Lighting A19
Price: $9.88
Energy: 9.5 watt
Temperature: 3,000K or 5,000K
Lumens: 800
Life: 25,000 hours

The Sun Sun Lighting bulb works as a standard replacement for a 60 watt incandescent and is dimmable. It is also one of the most affordable models I encountered with 2 color temperature available. You can get crisp white daylight (5,000K), or warmer softer light (3,000K) depending on the model you choose. This light is directional, so light emits more from the top than the side. Includes a 3 year warranty.

Great For: Places where directional lighting is needed, like a reading light.

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GE Lighting 68017
Price: $31.69
Energy: 11 watt
Temperature: 2,700K
Lumens: 800
Life: 15,000 hours

Compared to the other bulbs on this list, the GE bulb has a shorter life expectancy at just 15,000 hours. But when it comes to design, this advanced LED bulb looks the closest to a traditional incandescent. In terms of lighting effect, the GE produces a soft glow similar to early morning daylight. This bulb has more of a yellow hue than a pure white light. And while this light is dimmable, it is also one of the heavier LED bulbs out there, so it may not be ideal more delicate fixture with supported-weight limitations. The GE is covered by a 3 year warranty.

Great For: For applications where a traditional incandescent bulb look is desired.

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Kobi Light
Price: $18.00
Energy: 15 watt
Temperature: 5,000K
Lumens: 1100
Life: 25,000 hrs

The Kobi A19 style LED bulb outputs a very bright 1,100 lumens while retaining a warmer color temperature  One Amazon reviewer pointed out the level of brightness and pure white light make it an ideal choice for illuminating a basement. Additionally, these powerful LED bulbs are also compatible with dimmers, with a 5 year warranty against defects.

Good For: Areas that need bright true daylight spectrum.


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LIFX Edison Screw 
Price: $79.00
Energy: 15 watt
Temperature: 2,700-8,000K
Lumens: 900+
Life: 20+ years

Lastly, the LIFX smart LED is our priciest and most hi-tech LED pick. The LIFX is designed to work with smartphones and Wi-Fi networks to provide remote controlled, dimmable lighting. While it may seem expensive, this LED provides features not found with any of the other LED models above. This LED bulb's light output colors can be adjusted, and a dimming sleep timer function allows the LIFX to help sleep cycles. And if you're looking to enhance a party, the LIFX even provides dance club style strobe effects. All these options can be viewed here in this product video. LIFX claims a 2 year warranty is being added.

Great For: For rooms where a app controllable and customizable multi-color light is desired.


Our Choice for the Best LED of 2013:

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Cree 9.5 Watts LED Bulb: With its combination of modest price, wide availability, impressive 10 year warranty, recognizable light bulb shape, even cast soft-warm light, and bright 800 lumens output, the Cree hits all the marks of being the first mainstream consumer LED bulb option worth serious consideration the next time a replacement bulb is needed, especially when compared to the subjectively unpleasant color cast of CFL bulbs. 

* from Philips Basic of LED Lighting

(Images: linked to manufacturer; Infographic: Gregory Han/Reshavskyi for Shutterstock)

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