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LED bulbs: a bright idea?

Larger than life. The Vivid LED bulb is a mere 2 inches tall but emits a lot of light.
Larger than life. The Vivid LED bulb is a mere 2 inches tall but emits a lot of light.C Crane

Next time you screw in a cheap incandescent light bulb, ask yourself this: Do you ride a horse to work? Still churning your own butter?

Although Mr. Edison’s invention is still in use more than a century later, today there are brighter and thriftier alternatives including halogen, compact fluorescent and light emitting diode bulbs.

Many people are familiar with compact fluorescents (CFLs). Miniature versions of full-sized fluorescent bulbs, they screw into just about any standard light bulb fixture you can think of (indoors or out) and give off warm light that looks just like an old-fashioned incandescent bulb while lasting as much as 10 times longer.

When they were first introduced, CFLs were very expensive. They were so efficient, though, that in the long run they came out to be cheaper to use than incandescents. (A 22-watt compact fluorescent bulb puts out about the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent, while using about 2/3 less electricity.) Luckily, over the past 10 years they’ve come down substantially in price.

But why stop there? How about a bulb that will last ten times longer than a CFL and more than one hundred times longer than an incandescent? That’s where LEDs come in.

Light emitting diodes have also been around for awhile. They’re usually used one bulb at a time in little portable pen lights, or as an indicator in electronic devices and even outdoor holiday and Christmas lighting fixtures. LEDs are durable, energy efficient and cool running.

Now, designers are bunching LEDs together to get brighter output and using them to make highly efficient headlights, flashlights, traffic signals and even light bulbs for standard fixtures.

My friends at C Crane — the radio experts — sell a number of LED devices in their current catalog. They've been marketing battery-powered LED flashlights for years. (I use a 2-LED flashlight all the time. It's nearly indestructible and after almost five years, it's still bright and I've never needed to change the batteries.)

They’re also selling LED bulbs in a number of sizes, shapes and styles to run on household AC power. I’ve been able to play with four different models and I’m beginning to understand what all the fuss is about.

The CC Vivid LED Light Bulb is a tiny device with a standard screw-in lamp base. It has 18 bright, white LEDs, draws two watts of electricity and produces 31 lumens of blue-white colored light. That doesn’t seem like very much, but it is actually perfect for a porch, accent light or reading fixture. I’ve been using it next to my bed and it allows me to read and not disturb others while all the other lights are off.

Its big brother is called the CC Vivid +. It has 36 bright white LEDs, draws three watts and produces 60 lumens of output. I’ve been using it in a reading lamp on my computer desk and find that the white light is perfect for illuminating the keyboard while complementing the light coming from my monitor screen.

The Sun’s Dusk bulb looks like a miniature CFL but it has 18 LEDs, 26 lumen output, a translucent bulb cover to create a warmer color and draws only two watts. The Sun’s Dusk is designed to be an accent light and I’ve put it to good use in a number of different rooms.

I’ve also tried CC’s Color Changing bulb.  Inside there are 36 red, blue and green LEDs which change colors every few seconds. I had an old uplight fixture that I hadn’t used in years and had lots of fun with the mini light show I had going in my stereo listening room.

The only downside is the cost. Even though prices for LED bulbs are dropping, the bulbs I used ranged from $26.95 (Sun’s Dusk) to $34.95 (Vivid and Color Changing) to $44.95 (Vivid +). They’re where compact fluorescent bulbs were just a few years ago.

As prices continue to fall we’ll see new designs with more LEDs and higher lumen output giving CFLs a huge run for the money. In the meantime, you should think about trying a LED bulb.

Maybe one of the new spotlight bulbs (60 LEDs, $59.95) or a little night light replacement bulb (1 watt, $24.95). You will be way ahead of the curve.