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How to get your money's worth when buying an LED

To maximize savings, don't mix lightbulb types

Published: January 28, 2015 01:00 PM

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The guy standing in the lightbulb aisle at the home center was helpful this time. He knew plenty about LEDs, even which dimmers worked with them. But it turns out he didn’t work there. He was an electrical engineer just passing by. That’s too bad, because there are a few things you need to know before you choose an LED.

In “How to find an LED lightbulb that fits your fixture” we offered ways to make shopping easier. But our user reviews tell us that some readers had other concerns so we asked the experts at Cree, GE, and Philips for advice on properly using their LEDs. Here’s how to get the most from your LEDs.

Don't mix bulb types

A combination of bulbs—CFLs, halogen, incandescents, and LEDs—should not be used in a multi-bulb lighting fixture, especially if it’s an enclosed fixture. Halogen and incandescent bulbs generate heat and that can affect the LED’s performance and shorten its life. And then there’s dimming. Silvie Casanova of Philips says that different electrical technologies are used in CFLs and LEDs and mixing these bulbs can interfere or disrupt the interaction between the lightbulbs and dimmer, and cause flickering or flashing. So no mixing, just matching.

Pick the right dimmer

This is when you might start to miss incandescents, but most were phased out and are no longer available. We’ve seen good LEDs flicker when they’re used with an old dimmer meant for incandescents. So choose a dimmer that’s compatible with your dimmable LEDs and recommended by the manufacturer.  You’ll find this information on the manufacturer’s website, including the sites for Cree, GE, and Philips.

Use as intended

If an LED is put in an enclosed fixture but wasn’t designed for that, the bulb can overheat and over time it can give off less light, change light color, or fail earlier than expected. And if you’re planning on using the LEDs in exposed locations outside, check that the LEDs are intended for that. You’ll usually see this information stated on the package and our lightbulb Ratings tell you too.

What’s good about LEDs?

Replacing your halogen or old incandescent bulbs with LEDs will save you energy and trim your electricity bill; LEDs use about 80 to 85 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs and are better, but more expensive, than compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). LEDs are claimed to last 20 to nearly 50 years, depending on the bulb, when used three hours a day. Their long life makes them even more appealing if you have to get up on a ladder to change the BR30 bulbs in your recessed lighting fixtures.

Some recommended LEDs to consider

In addition to 60-watt replacements, our lightbulb Ratings include LEDs and CFLs that replace 40-watt, 75-watt, and 100-watt general purpose bulbs. You’ll also see LEDs and CFLs that replace BR30 bulbs and PAR38 bulbs. Whatever you need, look for utility rebates online before you shop. 

Kimberly Janeway

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