Like anyone who has swapped a home's entire array of old lightbulbs for energy-efficient compact fluorescents (CFLs), the initial flush of victory for sticking it to the utility man was quickly replaced by the blues – specifically the notorious blue-green hues emitted by so many "green" bulbs. These bulbs have typically had higher than expected failure rates, contained toxic mercury, and been horrifically expensive. The promise of LED bulbs, which are more efficient, has tantalized us, but so far they have been both too weak and too pricey to consider. That all changed when bulb maker Cree introduced its 75 watt-equivalent LED bulb. With a 20-year lifespan and better quality light, it just may be the last bulb we ever buy.
LED bulbs are a dramatic technological improvement over CFLs. They flip on and off instantly without requiring warm-up time. They use less energy than CFLs – about half as much and less than a tenth of incandescents – and they don't heat up much at all. Most important for us, they emit a warm color that is virtually identical to the bulbs we grew up with.
Cree's 75-watt bulb actually produces 1100 lumens – double the output of most 75-watt incandescents – and its 2700k color temperature is warm and inviting without feeling hazy or dirty yellow. It's bright, the light thrown is omnidirectional with no major blind spots, and it has the same physical profile as a standard incandescent (again, unlike a lot of corkscrew CFLs, which are huge), and is dimmable. At just 13.5 watts, it sips power and should cost just a few bucks a year to run during the dark hours of the day. Cree backs up its bulb with a 10-year warranty but estimates a 25,000-hour lifespan, or a 20-plus-year life, if used three or so hours a day.
The only hitch, and we believe it's temporary, is the price tag. At $24 a pop (a little less when bought in bulk), it would cost several hundred or even thousands of bucks to replace a typical home's arsenal of bulbs. That price is destined to drop steeply even over the next year though – Cree's 60-watt version is half the cost already – but for now, the interested and curious might experiment using these for hard-to-reach spots such as ceiling fixtures or outdoor lighting. The future looks bright, indeed. [$24; homedepot.com]