Swapping my lights: fantastic!

No more twisty bulbs for me! I’ve installed a new LED lighting system for my home that beats twisty bulbs in every way. It has been awhile since I discussed technology here, so this will be an interesting diversion for many readers.

I had considered solving my hallway power consumption problem with twisty bulbs, then I found this new LED solution.

I’ve always been a fan of alternate energy and improved energy efficiency, and I don’t just write about it like some people we know, I do things about it. I try out new things, I do the work. Longtime readers of my blog know that I’ve done two solar power projects, drive an electric car for my local short distance jaunts (I have two now, a really sharp new model, but that’s another story). I’ve put a 10KW solar array on my home, plus a 125 KW solar array on one of our local schools when I was a school trustee. I’ve retrofitted my home with CFL’s in some places, as well as installed timer switches on many of our most commonly used lights. I live in an an Energy Star rated home. However, I’ve not been all that pleased with the lighting that came with the house. Now I’ve changed the largest wattage draw of lighting in my house from incandescent to LED lighting.

No matter what you think about the veracity of global warming claims, there’s really not much of an argument anyone can make against improved energy efficiency as a way of reducing all emissions, not just CO2. Literally, CO2 sucks all the oxygen out of the energy efficiency issue. The goals of full spectrum pollutant reduction can also be accomplished via improved energy efficiency, and with much less rancor, in my opinion.

I’ve never liked the twisty fluorescent bulbs, even when practically given away. They are slow to illuminate, don’t live up to manufacturer’s lifetime claims, and contain toxic mercury making them a disposal hazard. Watts to like?

Up until now, I hadn’t liked the color temperature of the light that LED bulbs had put out. They were mostly a harsh blue-white. Now, that’s been solved.

So that was my weekend project, improving my energy efficiency. It was painless, fast, and the result was fantastic.

The problem: 5 recessed incandescent lighting fixtures each with a 65 watt bulb for a total draw of  325 watts. My kids leave the hallway lights on constantly as it is the most trafficked area of the house.

The solution: swap in LED recessed lighting fixtures at 12 watts each  for a total draw of 60 watts

A liberal professor friend in the bay area (who also happened to be best man at my wedding) turned me on to these new recessed incandescent fixture replacements from a company called CREE Lighting. I was impressed the first moment I saw the light they produced. It was warm, not harsh, and even better, it worked on a dimmer control.

The neatest trick with these lights is that they combine yellow and white LED’s in a matrix to get a color temperature that is 2700K or 3500K (your choice) which makes them give similar light to incandescents. Here’s what they look like inside:

Besides making less heat through lower power consumption, They also seal against the ceiling better than incandescent recessed lighting fixtures which are essentially open to the attic.

Here is what it looks like outside:

I bought one for my office immediately, to put directly over my desk, replacing a 75 watt flood in a recessed fixture. It worked out great, so I decided to do my entire house hallway of 5 fixtures.

Here’s the details on this new technology:

Product Description

The LR6 is a downlight module for new construction and retrofit that installs easily in most standard six inch recessed IC or non-IC housings. The LR6 generates white light with LED’s in a new way that enables an unprecedented combination of light output, high efficacy, beautiful color, and affordability. U.S. Patent # 7,213,940 issued. Numerous patents pending.

Performance Summary

• Utilizes Cree TrueWhite™ technology

• Nominal delivered light output = 650 lumens

• Nominal input power = 10.5 Watts

• CRI = 90

• CCT = 2700K or 3500K

• Dimmable to 20%

• Three Year Warranty

Cree TrueWhite™ Technology

• A better way to generate white light that utilizes a patented mixture of unsaturated yellow and saturated red LEDs.

• Tuned to optimal color point before shipment.

• Color management system maintains color consistency over time and temperature.

• Designed to last 50,000 hours and maintain at least 70%

of initial lumen output.

Construction

• Durable die-cast aluminum upper housing, lower housing, and upper cover.

• Integrated thermal management system conducts heat away from LED’s and transfers it to the surrounding environment. LED junction temperatures stay below specified maximums even when installed in attic insulation with temperatures exceeding 60 degrees Celsius.

Optical System

• Proprietary optical system utilizes a unique combination of reflective and refractive optical components to achieve a uniform, comfortable appearance. Pixelation and direct view of unshielded LED’s is eliminated.

• White Lower Reflector balances brightness of refractor with the ceiling to create comfortable high-angle appearance. Works with refractor to deliver an optimized distribution that illuminates walls and vertical surfaces increasing the perception of spaciousness.

Electrical System

• Integral, high efficiency driver and power supply. Power factor > 0.9 Input voltage = 120V, 60Hz

• Dimmable to 20% with certain incandescent dimmers (reference www.CreeLEDLighting.com for recommended dimmers)

Regulatory and Voluntary Qualifications

• Tested and certified to UL standards. Suitable for damp locations.

• Utilize GU-24 base for new construction projects in California or other areas where high efficacy line voltage sockets are required.

• Exceeds California Title-24 high efficacy luminaire requirements.

• ENERGY STAR® qualified Solid-State Lighting Luminaire.

Full Spec sheet here

The company has a savings calculator here

Installation was easy. I’ve photo documented it below. If you are interested in reading how, here is the installation manual in PDF form, and more info here.

FIRST and most importantly: turn off your a/c circuit breaker that supplies power to the lights.

The box:

The contents:

The top with special socket:

One of the five incandescent flood lights to be replaced:

Beginning disassembly, take out the bulb, pull down the trim ring:

Squeeze the spring clips and pop them off:

Cut the wires off the existing socket:

Install the wire splice block:

Add the new socket and crimp the splice block:

Socket installed:

Final step, all it takes is two twists. I couldn’t hold the camera and do this so I’m relying on diagrams. Twist the socket onto the fixture, push the fixture into the hole and twist until it locks into place:

New LED fixture installed:

Can you tell which ones are the incandescent floods and which one is the LED light?

The one in the foreground is the LED lighting. It puts out more light than the floods it replaced, and uses 1/5th the energy.

All done, three in the main hall, one in each side hallway are not shown:

Want one? Get them here from a company that operates in my town, called Lighting Direct:

CREE LED Light fixture

UPDATE: I got called away before I could finish this post, so here’s a few more points on why I’ve done this swap.

1) I’m usually an early adopter of technology, this is something I’ve been looking forward to. But it is not for everybody yet.

2) I bought a 5 pack, so I got 20% off. You can call the company at the link listed above and ask for similar discounts. There’s also other sources online: here, here. Some commenters have asked about screw in LED models, here’s one also based on CREE’s patented LED illumination engine.

3) In California, I won’t be able to buy incandescent bulbs soon. This was my way of beating the state mandate on my own terms.

4) These have an advertised life of 50,000 hours. I figure if they log 8 hours per day, I’ll get 17 years out of them. They’ll pay back long before that.

5) CFL floods aren’t that cheap either, and from experience I only get 2 years out of them. For example I can buy a CFL flood at my local ACE Hardware for $14.99 plus tax. If I have to replace it every 2 years, I’m into some significant cash and significant disposal issues in a few years. Even with the higher cost of the LED units, I see myself as still being ahead in the long run and I’m not generating mercury toxic waste.

6) These lights are sealed, so there’s no air leakage to/from the attic. This should help on heating/cooling issues since when the wind blew above 15mph I could feel air being blown into the old recessed lighting fixtures. Not anymore. It will keep dust and attic insulation fibers out of the house also.

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Al Gore's Holy Ghost

I walk five miles to work and fives miles back in the evening. I do all my shopping on foot too.
And I don’t want my carbons counted by anyone in any position of authority unless they want me to keep an eye on their privileged offspring.

Anthony,
Great post. Very informative.
Mike

Bill Jamison

LED lighting is the future and it’s great to see the new technology getting better and more affordable. I agree that regardless of your beliefs regarding AGW improving energy efficiency and conserving energy are ALWAYS a good thing.

Al Gore's Holy Ghost

Bear in mind that in the future, without any intervention or cries from green activists and environmental campaigners, we’ll have better and better solutions for home, office and outdoor lighting. One of these solutions is simply wallpaper made up of pixels. Your wall will not only be an interactive display but will also use sensors to allow it to give variable lighting to a room at different times of the day. You won’t need wall or ceiling lighting in the future unless you need a spotlight. You won’t need a TV. You won’t need a computer monitor. Your walls will do the job cheaply and intelligently, using fewer parts and less energy.

Very Cool…. but I’ll wait a year or so. The Sonic-mate and are of the anti-first-adapter school of technology. Let some other bloke pay the price for product development and production increase. Then when those production increases bring down the cost to general affordability, then we’ll buy.
Translation – Those are Soooo Cooool and we’d love to have them NOW. But we’re too damned poor, so it’s up to you guys to buy them first to make it cheaper for us later! 🙂

Invariant

In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.
🙂
Well done Anthony!

Perry

Thanks for a very useful and informative article. I’ve been looking at these in the UK.
http://www.ecotechlighting.co.uk/lamp-gu101x1-p-27.html

AlexB

Watts on watts

B. Smith

Awesome post, Anthony! We’ve been waiting for LED lighting to evolve into a form that is actually useful inside a home or office.
As you pointed out, the extremely harsh quality of the intense blue-white light of LEDs makes them great for use as security lighting, but an awful choice for in-home lighting. They are indoor lighting’s equivalent to fingernails dragging on a chalkboard.
I have long maintained that energy conservation through applied technologies like this one is the most prudent, cost-effective and certainly a market-driven solution to much of our energy needs and certainly a powerful way to immediately reduce overall pollution. There are so many ways we could reduce our consumption of fossil fuels (and their inherent pollution issues) without our losing quality of life or taxing ourselves back into cave dwelling.
OT: I’m still fuming over the Supremes affirming C02 as a pollutant. Does my ire over this increase my carbon footprint?? I certainly hope so!

The A380 cabin illumination also is a nice example what one can do with LEDs. After the ban of incandescent light bulbs it has to be LEDs or gas lighting 😉

Tom in Florida

It’s so great that you walk the walk unlike others we know about.

Bernie

Anthony:
What is the actual payback given the expense of the new fixture? You can assume zero cost for installation.
REPLY: see the link in the article for the payback calculator. -A

Now we’re talking! I’ve had CFL’s in my house for the past 10 years and I have come to hate them for the reasons that you gave. They did reduce our energy consumption considerably but lately I’ve been replacing them with incandescents due to the color issue.
I’ve made a couple of LED lights in the day, but didn’t like the fussiness they entailed.
Antony, this is without a doubt the best site on the web, and my day’s not complete without reading Watts new! Thanks!

Jim Carson

Cost?
I’m in the middle of replacing my attic insulation, and part of the job is replacing my non-IC (insulation contact) cans with IC cans. Will the lower temps of this LED solution allow me to use my original cans WITH insulation contact?

Hi,
Thank you for the very detailed post about this. At $98 each it seems like a long-term payback that unfortunately many people in USA won’t be able to enjoy the benefit of. Like many innovations, this will probably benefit greatly from scale and price reduction.
They look great and the light is definitely acceptable.

Van Grungy

LED street lights don’t have the heat needed to melt snow…
Halifax spends more cleaning streetlights with LED lights than the savings of electricity to run them….
File under ‘Stupid green ideas’…

One thing to watch with lighting is that for our health it needs to match daylighting as close as possible and full spectrum as much as possible for optimum health. That’s why a lot of fluorescent tubes are bad for your health because they have spectrum deficiencies they cause health issues.
There are reports out that people who work in fluorescent lit offices have a higher rate of cancer than those that lie on the beach.
http://motls.blogspot.com/2007/02/incandescent-vs-fluorescent-light-bulbs_6073.html
Have solar LED’s in my cabin in the country – work great!

Mark

Looks interesting. Are these them? Looks like Amazon has them for $80

Van Grungy
Andy Scrase

Thanks Anthony, this is great information. I am still wondering why we don’t insulate our houses in NZ and get subsidies to do it (we have extremely poor house insulation here) yet we seen destined to a stupid Emissions Trading Scheme.
Let’s hope for an era where common sense will prevail.

Eric

At $98 each, only the very very rich are going to use this alternative green-ness solution!

Tim Pointer

I use CREE LEDs for mountain biking in the woods at night – they are very good: powerful, long lasting batteries, good spectrum.
I had not considered them for ordinary lighting in the house.
Thanks

tim c

I’m impressed and as soon as you buy enough to cut the price in 1/2 I’m in. I’ve been using CFL for at least 15 years, I think I paid 12 dollars for phillips earth lights. CFLs are not great but in some locations they’re fine.

Mike86

May be a bit personal, but approximately how much did the five lights cost?
REPLY: the 5 pack was 20% off, so with tax about $85 each – A

MrLynn

Are there LED bulbs in the offing that can be used in existing fixtures, as the silly CFLs are today? I’m really too lazy to start replacing ceiling fixtures (some of our are pretty high up) and I prefer floor and desk lamps for most lighting, anyway.
And can we now get our idiotic Congress to repeal the law telling us what kind of lights to buy?
/Mr Lynn

Atomic Hairdryer

Colour me suprised if they get a patent for mixing light, but look far more practical than ‘compact’ flourescents. The heat sink looks rather hefty, do they really run that hot?
I still think if governments were serious about reducing energy consumption they should mandate changes to building regs/wiring codes to make lighting circuits low voltage in new builds mandatory. Would save on the transformers per fixture, unit costs and increase overall efficiency. While they’re at it, look at grey water. Initially it would benefit new builds and major refurbs, but long term seems to make greater savings.

Here in Europe, EU commission simply phased out classic bulbs, forcing us to buy more expensive, worse lightning and mercury-containing “saving” bulbs. I have one in the kitchen, but its performance is rather poor. Recently I bought a heap of classic bulbs so I will survive few years until something better will be developed.

Cree is one of the manufacturers in the forefront of high-intensity, high-efficiency LED development, and the field in general is one where US companies are either dominant or highly competitive. Another is Lumex, whose “Sunbright” line is at or near the top of the industry. Here is a listing (courtesy IC manufacturer Maxim) of LED manufacturers.
There are several manufacturers whose white or near-white LEDs are beginning to approach 200 lumens per watt. For perspective, a high-quality incandescent gives 70 to 90 lumens per watt.
I don’t expect our walls will glow any time soon — it would simply be too expensive. Replacement fixtures like this are coming along very nicely, though. It will be longer before there are really good light bulb replacements; LEDs inherently produce directed light, and the “beehive” structures necessary to approximate omnidirectional light output are expensive to make and not very satisfactory.
Regards,
Ric

rbateman

Are the made in America for American, NZ for New Zealanders, etc.?
Part of the hidden cost in globalization is in fuel expended shipping the kitchen sink halfway around the world to save a dime.

crosspatch

I am interested to see how the color holds out over time. Junctions that emit different colors tend to degrade in their output at different rates. Junctions emitting blue degrade the fastest so over time the LED output “yellows”.
This can be compensated for somewhat by measuring the emitted color temperature and changing the drive to various color elements. If it has fixed drive, the color will “drift” over time. I am very interested in how they hold up after several weeks of “on” time.

DJ Meredith

I’ve been getting from 1/3 to 1/10 the advertised life out of the CFLs I’ve installed in the last 3 years.
The LEDs I’ve played with, on the other hand, have never died.
Isn’t it amazing what happens when you let a free market do what it does?

MrLynn

BTW, don’t trip over them!
(The “lights fantastic” of course.)
/Mr Lynn

Only one question: How are they on producing RFI/EMI?
From 100 kHz up through at least 2 Meters (148 MHz)?
This includes LW (Longwave: 100 – 500 kHz), the AM Broadcast Band (535 – 1705 kHz), SW (Shortwave: 1.8 – 30 MHz, Low-VHF (30 – 54 MHz) into High VHF (150 MHz) frequencies …
.
.
REPLY: They are encased in a metal, grounded enclosure. EMI is pretty low as a result. – Anthony

Alec

Nice write up, and with out a doubt LEDs will have a place in the future. However, right now the LED fixtures need to come down in price before it makes sense to me. WIth a ROI of a little over 12 years vs a 65 watt bulb, I will wait. *Assumed $0.10 per KWh with 4 hours usage a day.”

PaulH from Scotland

@Andy Scrase
I lived in Auckland from 1995 to 2005 and I couldn’t believe how cold most houses got in the winter.
I had thought that moving from chilly Scotland to the warmer North Island of New Zealand would be a temperate blessing.
Wooden houses + minimal insulation + no central heating. Brrrrr!
Perhaps that’s the reason Ugg boots came about?

Norm Milliard

We spend 7 months of the year in our trailer traveling about North America and have replaced our incandescents with LEDs, a tremendous load reduction on our solar powered battery. By the way RVing has a very low carbon footprint for us retired types, though not my goal. Norm

Speaking of light bulbs… this is a very funny animation. algore.
http://thecoffeeshopblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/if-you-dont-change-that-lightbulb-polar.html

gdfernan

I am shocked. A liberal professor was the bestman at your wedding?
REPLY: Yup, we share an interest in science, tech, and amateur radio, but we learned not to talk politics. – A

I’ve had the Cree LR6 recessed downlight for a couple years and they have been excellent. I’m glad you came to the same conclusion. Yours look shorter than mine were, though. Also mine uses the edison socket instead of the new GU24.

chemman

Thanks Anthony. I live off grid (3.5Kw Solar System and 1Kw wind system) and have been drooling about using LEDs once they dropped in price. Hopefully we will see more variety in the near future.

Oldseadog

Remember that in G.B. only a qualified Electrician is authorised to carry out this work – Brussels has banned all electrical DIY.
REPLY: Well I’d hook them up just to spite them 😉

onlyme

There are LED fixtures for aquarium hobbyists, but prices range from 80 dollars up. Since they don’t actually reduce operating costs by much over fluorescents and cost 2 to 3 times as much, my aquaria will stay fluorescent lighted.
The heat lamp for the turtle is a twisty fluorescent, she can bask directly underneath it with no risk of overheating and dying from that.

A liberal professor friend in the bay area…
Ahem…reminds me of the old line, “Why, some of my best friends are Jews [or fill in your own favorite.]
No need to show how open minded you are, we know that Anthony.
Nice post!

Dodgy Geezer

I’m not so sure about the whole ‘saving energy’ concept.
Of course if you are comparing two similar products, it’s an advantage to use less energy, and that generally means that the design is better – more efficient. But this whole ‘save energy’ push is an activist argument, NOT an economic one.
For some reason that it is difficult to fathom, green activists hate energy use. Perhaps they are trying to stave off the thermodynamic heat-death of the universe? And yet as civilisation progresses, energy use per capita has continued to rise. As we invent new machines we need more energy to run them, and that means we must have an adequate energy transport and delivery system. If we do not use energy, the economic pressures for investing and improving that system will not be there.
This is why privatised energy suppliers are so supportive of saving – energy, gas, water, you name it. They make money whatever they supply – where they lose money is in forced infrastructure provision. The do not want to invest in new sub-stations and pylons or new generating plant as demand increases. Far better to get your customers to use less, and charge them more per head, giving the excuse of ‘green taxes’.
In the 1950s and 60s we looked forward to an era of cheap abundant energy. It would be a shame to buy into the activists’ peak-oil stories and charge ourselves over the odds for energy, maintaining that economic imbalance by government taxes which go to pay for state-run environmental police and fat-cats…

geo

2700k LEDs? Sign me up!

ShrNfr

If you go with LED lighting go with the SMD versions. The other versions that use a gazillion little leds mounted on printed circuit boards and then enclosed in a plastic capsule have some serious thermal problems. Granted a LED does not create a lot of heat. But the cycle on off is enough to fatigue the solder joints at the wafers and start to knock whole wafers off line. It the LEDs are open air its a different matter.
For 30W the 4 LED spotlights in the ceiling fan in my kitchen more than equal the amount of illumination I would get from about 200W of incandescent. A 7.5W LED spotlight makes an excellent reading lamp.
Put it down to my Yankee instincts. Use it up, wear it out, do without. Besides I am a cheapskate. Up front costs on a bulb are a bit high, but amortized over the life of the bulb, you save money and energy. I am not one of the global warming CO2 dim bulbs, but my objective is to get the heck of the grid all together or as a maximum have the grid as a backup.

keith in hastings UK

CFL spectrum is so awful and old ones so slow to brighten up that I’ve had to go back to some incandescent ones, albeit halogen so a bit more efficient (28 W =40W; 42 W =60W). Older eyes like mine need a good white light. LED lights for ordinary UK fittings (pendant, table light, etc) aren’t easily available yet.
Energy efficiency is clearly the way to go. And simple fixes like solar panels to preheat domestic hot water.
My experience, “sceptics” are as environmentally conscious, if not more so, than AGW alarmists, who tend to be single issue (?)

What a great post, Anthony.
The photo series on how to replace the old fixture is splendid.
You do walk the walk.
Damned inspirational.

MikeF

Those will set you back around $80-$100. They are good, but efficiency wise they are only about 10%-30% better then CFL. Until price goes down to some reasonable number this is not going to be very useful for majority of population.
Just a side note – the LR6 are the single best LED downligths that are available. Everything else is going to be about as efficient as decent CFL or less, so no energy saving for those guys at all.

I installed some 7-watt bulbs in my external light fixtures, these are replacements for normal bulbs. Originally I tried tying them into a light sensors but they flickered a lot during the dawn and dusk cycles, I am not sure what that would have done to their life but it was kinda of annoying. These were not dimming bulbs which is probably the issue. I started out with some cheap ($8) 3-watt bulbs that were blue, but they did not have enough light for the porch. I switched the porch to 7 (or maybe 8, catalog said 7-watt but boxes were marked 8) watt bulbs ($30) (advertised as 40 watt equivalents). These had plenty of light but were of the yellowish variety, so my wife said get all the same same color, so the other three lights were switched to yellow 7-watt. Before I start replacing indoor lights the higher wattage bulbs are going to have to get well below the $60 to $80 that 60 watt equivalent dimming bulbs are at now. I have one more exterior light on the back porch but I need a lot more than 7-watts there, so am waiting for price reductions.