Is the $10 LED Light Bulb Affordable Enough For You to Turn On the Switch?

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Less than a decade ago there was really only two factors to consider when choosing a light bulb: 1) the brand, and 2) the wattage. But in the age of brownouts and blackouts, energy conservation and government initiatives have pushed citizens toward implementing more energy efficient standards, resulting in the eventual farewell to the common incandescent bulb. 

CFLs are now commonplace, but they now seem to be a stopgap when considering the benefits of LED lighting technology, which are just now becoming more readily available in retail stores in bulb form. But at what price will the general public find a little tenderness for LEDs and turn off the lights on more affordable CFL bulbs?

Last week the MIT Technology Review, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, The Verge, and a slew of others all hint the time of the LED bulb has finally arrived with the announcement of the $10 LED light bulb, North Carolina-based Cree Inc.'s 40-watt equivalent LED light bulb (currently available at Home Depot). Whether this is truly the magic number for consumers to migrate from what feels like a fairly new standard (CFL) over to a lighting technology superior in just about every other way except price is yet to be determined.


But what every consumer should know are some of the basic characteristics of the LED light bulb, including how they work, the light they produce, and even the reasoning behind their unconventional shapes (if you'd like to see how past LED bulbs measured up to CFLs, check out our Light Bulb Wars series).

So let's start off with why LED bulbs look so different from either CFL or incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs often sport a vented science fiction industrial design which appears more befitting of aeronautical use than inside your IKEA lamp. But there's a reason for the grilled design, as explained by Martin LaMonica of the MIT Technology Review

To wick away heat from the LEDs themselves—the pinhole-size semiconductors that produce light—bulbs need to have heat sinks. Many have metal fins on the bottom half of the bulbs, which can make for an odd-looking light. That’s something to consider in certain fixtures where it could be obvious. 

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As of March 2012, manufacturers will have the option of including lumen maintenance and warranty on the LED Lighting Facts label. The original five metrics, lumens, watts, efficacy, color rendering index and correlated color temperature, are still required. However, manufacturers can now choose to list one, both or neither of the lumen maintenance and warranty metrics.


The big news about Cree's LED bulb besides price is the fairly conventional and recognizable "light bulb" shape we all already know. With a reported lifespan of 25,000 hours (hopefully more of exact figure than the Russian roulette nature of CFL bulb life), the 84% more energy efficient $10 bulb may also endear itself to switchers due to its warmer incandscent-like light (color rendering index) and 9.5W sipping requirement. The shatterproof exterior is mercury-free (a big knock against CFL bulbs) and the new design positions the LEDs in a center array for wider, more even lighting dispersal, making it a better choice when the bulb is visible when used in an overhead lamp, sconce, or even exposed.

Does the $9.97 hit a sweet spot? Or does this feel too much like the 2nd coming of CFL bulbs for you at this point to make the switch over?

(Images: Gregory Han, US DOE; Video: Cree Inc)