Eco-Saturday: LED lightbulbs

Install LED bulbs in light fixtures to save energy. (The ambient light I used to shoot this photo came from the LED bulb in the overhead fixture, incidentally.)

Today is the first-ever Eco-Saturday here on the blog. Throughout 2014, I’ll be offering tips and ideas to help you reduce your environmental impact — and in many cases, your expenses, too.

Let’s kick things off with something good and cost-effective: LED lightbulbs.

I bought my first LED bulb from Thinkgeek in 2007. I’ve bought a lot of cool things from Thinkgeek, but that bulb wasn’t one of them. I think I gave $36 for it, which was the early-adopter fee for an intriguing bit of technology that clearly was not yet ready for primetime:

Good for a reading lamp, but worthless for most other purposes.

Like most technology, however, LED bulbs improved. The problem with the early ones, aside from the ridiculous price tag, was that LEDs produce an intense but highly directional light, and the manufacturers hadn’t quite figured out how to diffuse that light. My expensive bulb worked fine in my desk lamp, where I could point it directly at whatever I was reading, but it wasn’t so great in overhead fixtures, as it lit only one spot instead of illuminating the whole room.

The developers have sorted out that problem, and seven years later, LED bulbs are easy to find (most big-box lumberyards carry them); reasonably priced (if you catch a sale, they’re comparable in price to the CFL spirals we all know and love); and illuminate a room as well as an incandescent.

Better diffusion lets the new bulbs throw more light. This is the one we have over the kitchen sink.

A 4.5-watt LED bulb will produce more light than a 13-watt CFL or a 40-watt incandescent, and during cold weather, LEDs work better than CFLs in outdoor fixtures. They also last longer, tend to cooperate better with dimmer switches, don’t contain mercury, are nearly impossible to break, and pay for themselves over time. That last bit pretty much makes them a no-brainer.

If you can’t afford to replace all your bulbs at once, start with the fixture you use most and go from there, swapping out a bulb or two at a time as you have the funds.

One caveat: Some LED bulbs come in weird shapes or sizes, so if you have a multi-bulb fixture with a globe on it, it’s a good idea to buy just one bulb to make sure it will fit before you try to replace all of ’em.