Nice Bulbs CFL and LED

ULA CFL Bulbs 23W Dimmable and 15W A19

ULA CFL Bulbs 23W Dimmable and 15W A19

Also of note, CREE Lighting has introduced a ’60W equivalent’ LED bulb that is dimmable and is claimed to have a regular bulb shape:

“This is the first no-compromise replacement for a 60-watt incandescent bulb.”


that has a nice picture of the bulb.

But all Engineering designs have compromises, the only question is “do they matter?”… The incandescent has easy choices in shape and size, works with any kind of variable power to dim it (DC, AC, pulses of any frequency or shape), and has a 100 CRI (yet to be matched with phosphors bulbs…), and is astoundingly cheap to make; but at the cost of efficiency.

The Dim Bulbs in DC have decided it’s not up to YOU to decide what matters (efficiency or CRI or shape or dimmers or initial costs or) so have issued The Bulb Prohibition. Which means that if you’ve not squirrled away a lifetime supply (as I have) of what you want, you get to deal with whatever is being sold.

And, frankly, for about 3/4 of my fixtures I have chosen CFL or LED bulbs, so I’m still ‘in the market’ for them. And that means I do care about WHICH bulbs are good and which are complete trash.

The Peoples Republic Of California Speaks

Here, in California, we have PG&E as our electricity provider and The Peoples Republic Of California has decided to take rate payer money and use it to subsidize CFL bulbs. So there are many very cheap and very crappy ones available (and I’ve bought my fair share… then again, at 50 CENTS a bulb, you can just chuck them in the trash if they are crummy ;-)

Recently I loaded up on a batch of Lights of America bulbs from Walmart at 97 CENTS each (in sizes from 100W, 75W and 60W ‘equivalents’) figuring that once the Bulb Ban is in place, the utilities will be lobbying for a removal of the subsidy as “it isn’t needed”… (guess who I suspect is behind the Bulb Ban?…) They are nice ‘curly bulbs’ of no particular distinction that work well and with normal 2700 K color temp and OK CRI.

Yesterday I was at our local grocery store (Lucky) and found they had a “ULA” or “U Light America” brand on sale for dirt cheap (notice the PG&E subsidy sticker in the pictures). It was $1.28 for the ‘4 pack’ (that’s 32 CENTS each) and $1 for the for 2 pack of 100W equiv ‘dimmables’. What the heck. Even though I’ve pretty much bought ahead my bulbs for the next decade or three… If they are trash, I can just trash them… (Beginning to see the problems you end up with when doing socially designed subsidies? The Law Of Unintended Consequences…)

The good news? It’s a great product.

The bad news? It’s not perfect.

First the good: They’ve finally got a real lightbulb shape (A-19) that will fit in one particular wall lamp I’ve got. It has a very close fitting shade and the wire hoop that holds it up pretty much follows a bulb contour. It’s my major ‘test case’ for all “just like regular” claims. If it ain’t regular, it don’t fit… This one fits.

(I note in passing that the CREE bulb would not fit due to the cooling fins… that, guys, is a ‘compromise’…)

OK, I tested these. Color is a nice near identical to incandescent 2700 K. CRI is good too (though I don’t know exactly what it is and did not do my “Apple, eggs, and ham” test as I’m out of apples and ham). It even fits in The Wall Lamp From Hell… Nice. Very nice.

I have an old ’50s style flat “flying saucer” pull down fixture over the dining table. VERY flat. Just enough room (barely) for a regular bulb. And if the weight is too high it will ‘self deploy’ to the table top. And if the weight is not the same all around, it get’s a ’tilt’ to it. I put one of these in next to 2 regular bulbs. No self deployment. It sits MOSTLY level (so the bulb is only a little heavier) and the cover fits back on (i.e. it’s the same size). My guess is that I can put three in without ‘self deployment’ issues ;-) When turned on, the lamp strikes fast (no long pause) and warms quickly to full brightness. It looks almost indistinguishable from the IC bulbs next to it in color and esthetics. Nice, very nice.

The presence of a plactic bulb shaped cover means it’s a tiny bit less efficient, but you can put it in without fear of twisting the glass off (many curly bulbs say to only turn via the base, fine if you can have your hand next to the bulb INSIDE the fixture…) and it means that if the glass tube breaks, the mercury will be more contained inside the lamp. Guess what’s going into the dinning room fixtures?…

Yes, it still has a bit of ‘warm up lag’ but for a lot of uses, I count that a feature. Yes, it will still have a limited number of ‘cycles’ so you don’t want to put one in the fridge… but this bulb solves a couple of nagging problems that the usual ‘curly bulb’ has. Oh, and it works in my lamp with the ‘clip to the bulb’ shade too… (Though an older more bulbous CFL type also works there… the ‘biggy’ here is that very narrow base that works in the ‘tight lamp shade support’ wall lamp).

Now if only it came in a ‘3 way’ as that wall lamp is a 3 way… So for now (winter) it is using an ICan bulb where the heat is a feature and I’m manufacturing a 100 W ‘regular bulb’ when the low wattage filament burns out…).

On to the dimmables:

My God, they actually dim. And on my old dimmers too!

One of them humms at low power (and especially so in one of my fixtures that’s an aluminum cone which seems to magnify the sound). The other only barely audible (though still present – so not for a lamp you will sit near in quiet times…). Also it ‘quenches’ at a modest degree of ‘dim’. I’d guess it’s about 25% of bright? So for 2 rooms where I like to have ‘near a single candle’ very dim, it’s not suited. For the office where I’ve already got computer whirrr and typically don’t have anyone sleeping in it? Just Fine.

So this effectively increases by ‘life of bulb inventory’ by about 33% as it cuts from 3 to 2 the number of ‘dimmable’ sockets that must be ICan bulbs for my purposes. (For now, I’ve put the “Good Bulb” halogen back in the office as the heat is a feature; but this summer, this CFL goes in.) The “hummer” goes into the garage where at full power it won’t hum anyway but even if it did, who cares. And at 50 Cents each on subsidy, I can buy 4 or 6 more and select out the non-hummers. Even if it’s only 1/2 that’s only $1 to $1.50 going to the landfill. So at $1 each for the ‘quiet and dimmable on my dimmers’ it’s a reasonable cost to do the QA myself.

The CREE Bulb

h/t KevinM on the Fizzy Air thread

Looks like a reasonable design. Similar in profile to the Sylvania I’ve got (that is likely a CREE repackage?) and 60W equiv instead of the just a little too dim 40W equiv. Nice, very nice. I’ve found a home for my one LED bulb as an ‘always on’ ambiance side light in the office. At 60W equiv these could go into a table lamp.

Good points:

I notice it specifically states no active cooling. Kudos! Quiet is Important.

It has a CRI of 90. Anything over about 80 ish is pretty good and by 87 I can’t find much of an issue.

It looks like it will have more omnidirectional lighting (and claims to).

It’s very efficient.

Worry points:

Click the link and look at the picture. See all those cooling fins?

This means it will need free air flow. Forget insulated recessed cans, fixtures that trap hot air with the bulb pointing down. That will just cook the ballast. IFF you can get it into the fixture. That bulb is a might wider than a typical A-19 bulb base. I’ve several fixtures where this guy just won’t go.

This also implies a bit of a light shadow downward when the bulb points up. OK if you sit to the side of your lamp a ways. Not so good for table lamps that want lighting to accent the lamp itself and illuminate the things ON the table next to it….

That, guys, is a ‘compromise’.

Probably an acceptable one for many uses, but not for all. And that is the whole point about Market Based Economics. It avoids distortions caused by things like bans and subsidies. (I’d rather have my $300 of bulbs invested in stocks and bonds than bulbs, but that choice was not open to me…) It allows for best fit of product to use. Yes, it has some inefficiencies as folks learn things. Life is like that. But it also avoids the incredibly gigantic screw ups of One Government Mandate like that MTBE screw-up…

So, my take on things is that this CREE bulb is a nice step forward, but they are up against some very hard physics. Where the CFL can dump waste heat through the hot curly glass and that’s a very heat tolerant material, their waste heat comes from semiconductors and must be dumped away from the light delivering end. That heat dumping issue limits them physically and together those limit the size (100W equivalent barrier). Those two together mean that it will be a long time coming before they have a real A-19 shaped 100W replacer with even light output for lamps that illuminate both up AND down. Then they can work on a 3 way version…

Their chart is uninspiring. Don’t know what the deal is with that plunge at the end and it’s pretty rocky along the way too.

CREE Lighting vs SPY S&P 500, TBT bond short, and XAU Gold and Silver

CREE Lighting vs SPY S&P 500, TBT bond short, and XAU Gold and Silver

Looks to me like a general “long stocks and TBT – be out of gold, Brazil, and CREE”…

In Conclusion

Progress. Very good progress. But not enough yet to “ban the bulb” for regular InCANdescents. If left to the free market, the ICan bulb will someday die out. To resort to subsidy and bans simply means it’s not time yet and you are royally pissing off someone. Probably not a good idea…

For now, for me, it’s back to the grocers to pick up another ‘4 pack and 2 pack’ for all of $2.28 and put them on the shelf for ‘someday’…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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8 Responses to Nice Bulbs CFL and LED

  1. xyzlatin says:

    The real test is do they hold their initial brightness? The answer is no. Not any of the ones we have in Australia. They dim within months. So they are not efficient of resources as we have found we have to change them more than the old incandescents.

  2. pyromancer76 says:

    I am looking at the CREE LR6V1 LED downlight module to replace kitchen lighting a la Anthony Watt’s article 2/7/10. As I read the reviews around the internet, they seem quite good. I have read a few comments like xyzlatin’s about brightness fading, but maybe not these particular LEDs?

    We are planning 10 recessed lights on dimmers (only certain dimmers will work) to replace 3-100 watt bulbs, 2 of them already replaced by the curlie godawfuls (Mercury? You got to be kidding me!). They will provide light for the present kitchen plus two new work areas. Any additional thoughts?

    For the front room I am electing to keep my incandescentants and like you, E.M., I am stockpiling. I will change when I choose to, when I am good and ready, and only when the product seems excellent. Dang, I dislike these busybody marxists. Permit them one “rule” and they want to make 100 others. I very much like the “WTF” discussions of the SOTU.

  3. pyromancer76 says:

    A thought on the CREE chart plunge. I wouldn’t do this LED replacement without a remodel; it is not inexpensive, but it seems a wise investment at this time. How many remodels are happening today given the economy?

    I also read Anthony’s post as encouragement, and not a huge number of Americans have. (He has not followed up with any downside and I expect he would if it was significant.) A number of his commenters made notice of the pricey nature of the bulbs. Initial cost is definitely a downside, but if the energy efficiency is as advertized and if the bulb longevity touted is true, then there are savings at least three years out. I hope CREE can hang on long enough to develop even better technology.

    I also imagine that some of the rockiness of the chart is about people like Anthony using the bulbs in remodels and writing about them; the affluent technology-types following his lead; and then not too many additional followers (yet) because of cost.

  4. E.M.Smith says:

    @Pyromancer76 & xyzlatin:

    The point on remodels is a great one. Not thought of that… but yeah (forehead palm)!

    I don’t know if xyzlatin is talking about curly bulb fade or LED fade. I suspect it’s curly bulb faid as there have not been all that many years of LEDs (yet)…

    The curly bulbs do darken with age. Metal gets eroded from the electrodes and eventually deposits on the inside of the glass. At some point I’ll do a ‘side by side’ of two bulbs photo so you can see it (yes, I have some from the same package, one used for ‘several years’ the other not at all…).

    By the time 10 years rolls around, you are not getting full light for the buck / Watt. That is part of why in industrial use the “long tube” fluorescents tend to get replaced ‘en mass’ at about the 5 year point ( sometimes sooner, depending on daily use) in a giant “relamping” binge.

    That’s also part of why I’m “comfy” with packratting a load of “curly bulbs on subsidy” too. Worst case is, 3 or 4 years from now, I toss the ‘dimmer’ bulbs into the ‘old bulb grab bag’ and swap to their unused partners. “Win / Win” for me ;-) as I get full brightness all the time, but also have ‘spare bulbs’ if needed and bulbs I can put in places I don’t care about as needed (outdoors / weathering; high physical risk, high ‘cycles’ so the bulb dies in a year or two anyway, recessed poorly ventilated fixtures where the ballast will ‘cook’ and it will die in a couple of years anyway, etc. etc. etc…)

    For the LED bulbs: Frankly, I’d “Go for it”. CREE is THE dominant maker and it WILL be around for a long time (or mergered into GE / Sylvania / Philips); their product is good. Chart patterns often have much much more to do with ‘fads’ at the major investment banks than with actual company actions. So one ‘whale’ like, oh, Soros, decides that the ‘green bulb’ thing is played out and starts moving to, oh, Chevy at a discount from the government; CREE can drop, and then Goldman issues an ‘uninteresting’ rating and… Yet the company will grow for years.

    The biggest “issues” with LEDs come from putting them as retrofits into fixtures that expect an ICan bulb that can cook at 400 F and be happy, when these guys don’t like it…. So with fixtures designed for the LED heat needs, they ought to be just dandy.

    Were I doing a retrofit, I’d be putting in LED Fixtures anywhere I could and LED capable dimmers. (Though I’d have a few ‘regular screw in fixtures / lamps’ too just in case my lighting needs changed a bit. Or if the LEDs dimmed just a bit and I wanted to “punch it up” for cleaning…)

    Frankly, the sooner I can get the mercury bulbs out of the house, the better (provided it doesn’t crimp my lighting style otherwise). With a 90 CRI and dimming on a dimmer sized for them, the LEDs are fine in a downlight situation – where their directional lighting is a feature. They just don’t do so well pointed up in a table lamp… (though a wall sconce ought to work dandy… hint hint ;-)

    My only suggestion would be that with that much money going into LEDs, I’d want to see them installed somewhere first so I could assess the light quality and brightness. Visit a good lighting store and they ought to be able to demo them. Then put the dimmer on 10% to 20% and ask if that is as dim as you will want at 4 am with someone snoozing in a nearby chair. Then put your ear near the lamp and check for buzz or hum…

    I was “Director of Facilities” for a while at a little high tech and got to do all the usual stuff (janitor contractors are a bit different from programming contractors ;-) and that included lighting. We had PAR 65 type in most places. Were I still running that show, I’d be doing an LED replacement in every one of those downlight locations.

    Then again, I’d also be getting a PG&E Retrofit Subsidy to pay for it ;-) If they are still doing them like they were then. At that time it was T-8 Electronic Balasts that got most of the subisdy action.

    ( T for TUBE. Those long tubular fluorescents are measured in 1/8 inch diameter increments, so the “usual” 4 foot or 8 foot lamp WAS a “T-12” and that means 1.5 inch diameter. The T-8 is one inch diameter and because that circumferance takes a lot less phosphor, you could get better color AND more efficiency. The “then new” electronic balasts completed the package of efficiency, no flicker, no hum, etc. And that is why today just about everywhere has gone to T-8 tubes with electronic balast. “in the day” you could get PG&E to pick up the tab for the retrofit here in The Peoples Republic Of California. Never mind that it might get torn out next year in a buliding re-design here in Silly Con Gultch as the next company moved in, it was ‘costed’ on a 20 year or some such ‘pay back’… such is The Way Of The Subsidy…)

    At any rate, in my professional opinion (putting on my Facilitys Guy hat again) the LED in purpose built cans for downlight with fitted dimmers is very much a “keeper”. And if it doesn’t stay full brightness for 10 years and “only” makes you happy for 5, well, in 5 years the replacement lamps will be MUCH cheaper and somewhat better too.

    If I could put the A-19 style LEDs in my “flying saucer” fixture over the kitchen table, I’d do it. Now. Unfortunately those suckers are heavy and it rapidly self-deploys into the salad bowl for a ‘visitation’ ;-)

    But I like the retro look and it reminds me of when that look was “new” when I was a kid and of my parents and… so that fixture is NOT going to be changed out. With the ULA bulbs in it, in all 3 positions now, it gives nice mood light on one bulb, and decent task light on all three. It does NOT self deploy to the table top, and I don’t have to worry about mercury from a botched bulb swap as they have the nice plastic shells. ( I had one curly bulb break there once… ‘decontaminate the dining area’ is NOT a task or thought you want to contemplate…) So it’s now “done” for about a decade (given the typical daily use levels) and maybe longer.

    Don’t know if I’m going to be around then, but the lamps will ;-)

    So, those are my thoughts. Hope that helps.

    FWIW, there are a lot of folks doing LED retrofits, even folks with lots more money on the line. So if it makes you feel more ‘warm and fuzzy’ about it, there are “case studies” posted like this one:

    Oh, and a sidebar addon: A 10,000 hour bulb, run 24 x 7, will nominally be ‘used up’ in 1.1 years. The same bulb in a rairly used place (like my outdoor yard lights, MAYBE an average of an hour a day) would last 27 years.

    So one of the “games” I indulge is that “bulbs I hate” go to one of those 24 x 7 roles and the ones that I really hate go to roles that can take a ‘10,000 cycle’ bulb and cycle it 10 to 20 times a day and that’s a 1.3 year period. You could do the same thing with “bulbs that are getting a bit dim” and “cook them out” pretty fast. That way almost all your light fixtures have decent bulbs in them that are relatively “fresh”, and the “dim bulbs” get worked off and out pretty fast. (Realize that if it takes 1/2 a lifetime to “dim”, that ‘burner” roll will use up the rest of it in about 6 months…)

    Yeah, you have to move some bulbs around every year or so. Good time to clean the dust off of them and clean the fixtures too. Get a lot more light that way.

    So I’ve take a ‘dim” 100 W equiv and put it in a 75 W equiv location that was a bit of a ‘burner’ and Out She Goes!

    FWIW, the Garage w/Laundry is my typical burner location. Those things are on/off a dozen times a day in all sorts of hot and cold. The bedroom and living room get the best lights, and the kitchen gets Special Lighting with cood CRI for the chef… (that would be me ;-)

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    BTW, a CRI Tip:

    Buy a can of Chef Boy R Dee ravioli.

    Under incandescent, the can is deep red and the tomatoes a bit lighter, but definitely red. The onion is a nice amber brown and the ravioli are a nice attractive red sauce with hints of yellow from the noodle.

    Put it under mediocre CRI bulbs, the can becomes an orange or pinker color, the tomato just dies to lifeless (the one on the right front getting hints of amber to the overtones) the onion goes to a flatter yellower color and the ravioli becomes an amber somewhat unappealing thing.

    So, while shopping for lights, take a can with you….

    Yeah, not as emtionally impactful as seeing greenish scrambled eggs in the pan, but much more acceptable than walking into the lighting store with a pan of eggs ;-)

  6. KevinM says:

    Thanks for that.

  7. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, at about 5 hours for 3 of the A-19 shaped bulbs we’ve got our first “infant mortality”. One has just failed.

    At 32 cents I’m not particularly upset. At $4 I’d be…

    We’ll have to see how the other two hold up and if it’s the fixture trapping too much heat or just the typical infant mortality of poorly burned in electronics parts…

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, the A-19 bulbs have a tendency to ‘run hot’. I suspect it’s that nice plastic shell holding in the heat. Makes them less suited to the enclosed fixtures / poor ventilation areas.

    They also start out extraordinarily dim rosy colored and take several minutes to reach a reasonable brightness, so unsuited to places where the light will be on for a minute, then off; like closets or quick trips into the grage to grab something.

    FWIW, I dropped the ‘dead bulb’ about 2 feet onto a table top. The good news is that the shell prevented breaking of the curly tube inside. The bad news is that something is now a bit loose and goes ‘click / clack’ when you shift it back and forth. I think the whole interior came lose from the base.

    Oddly, it started working again… So I’ve put it in a lamp where it will aways stand strait up an is left on 24 x 7 as a night light. (15 W to light living room, dinning area, hallway, and kitchen with night light is a low cost for security and comfort… yes, it’s a strategically placed lamp).

    UPDATE: Well, all of about 3 hours later, it’s dead again. So we’re still at “one infant mortality”…
    At any rate, I’m less enthused about these bulbs than at first. The heat issue and the very slow start up really crimps where I can use them. So they are more of a ‘special purpose where you really need a bulb shape and it will be left on a long time’ bulb.

    Then again, at 32 cents each, it’s a pretty good deal…

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