When remodeling our house, one goal was to move to the highest efficacy lighting while remaining cost effective. In terms of pure lumens per watt — pure efficacy — LEDs are, by far, the winner on the commercial market and have been for the last decade.
Up until two years ago (when we remodeled the kitchen), though, the cost per lumen of LED based lighting has been prohibitive outside of things like rope lights or other installations that had tons of low power, cheap, lamps. Unfortunately, rope lights and christmas lights just don’t make for good task lighting in your typical kitchen. CFLs, though, pretty much suck. After 18 months, the lamps are starting to fail, they are sometimes noisy, and their warmup time can be annoying (contrary to reports from the energy & incandescent lamp industries, CFLs are actually not terribly toxic — the amount of mercury is tiny).
I have been watching the LED market for quite a while. In particular, Best Hong Kong has an interesting selection of relatively current and relatively reasonably priced lamps. I’m using some of their products to illuminate the hand blown glass pendant lamps at the top of this picture. Thank you to EMSL for suggesting Best Hong Kong in the first place!
In monitoring the technology, the one name that came up over and over is CREE, who seems to be one of the leaders in manufacturing LEDs and LED fixtures. At least, CREE is the name that comes up most often for products targeted to residential applications (Phillips and others seem to be big names in the commercial space).
Now, if you search Amazon for CREE lamps, you’ll find a bunch of units, but the state of the art tends to be about six months behind and, frankly, comparatively expensive (of course, if anyone happens to stumble on the above link a year or two after I wrote this, I hope the prices are reasonable and the technology current).
Since the technology existed, the issue was then a matter of figuring out where to find lamps with the latest CREE LED technology integrated into a package compatible with standard home lighting fixtures. After having found some CREE 3x 1 watt GU-10 (i.e. track light compatible 120v AC lamps) and found some 3 watt CREE LEDs with the same form factor as the 1 watt LEDS, a bit of searching revealed that, in fact, if you are willing to import lamps in lots of 10 (or more), you can buy the latest lighting technology
Through Alibaba.com, I found Ledsion Lighting Technology Co. Ledsion manufacturers a ton of LED based lamps, both for home use and in various commercial applications.
Not having ordered product from Ali Baba or — frankly — ordered anything direct from the manufacturer in this fashion gave me a bit of trepidation. But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
CFL based illumination; not as bright, no highlights.
I ordered 10 (minimum lot size) 3x3w (9w) CREE based GU-10 120VAC lamps. It took about 10 days for the company to make and ship the lamps (yes — make — a lot of the manufacturing is pretty much on-demand). It came to about $19.00 per lamp. While just about 2.5x the price of the 7w CFLs they were replacing, the LEDs generate 150% the light output and have a rated life of 50,000 hours vs. the CFL’s 8,000.
I.e. the performance and long-term cost– the efficacy — of the CREE based 3x3w LEDs completely dominates CFLs. Better still, the light quality is just stunning compared to the CFLs. The LEDs are “on” instantly and provide a very even light. Frankly, it looks better than 50 watt halogens original to the track in that the light is, for lack of a better term, more comfortable; less harsh.
The image at left was taken while the counter was illuminated by the old CFLs with considerably more light coming from other sources. No highlights on the counter, to speak of. With CFLs, the track lighting was nothing more than ambient overhead lighting. With the LEDs, it provides more ambient light and enough directed light to provide for highlighted spots.
Long term viability obviously remains to be seen, but I remain optimistic.
I returned to the Lesdion Lighting Technology to order more lamps and see if I could grab some 12vAC or DC MR-16 CREE based LEDs for other applications and, via AliBaba’s built in chat system, ended up chatting with the seller. Extremely professional, patient, and helpful. Answered a handful of technical questions and I was able to customize my order a bit to meet my needs. (And, really, I’m still a bit in shock that, through Alibaba, I can talk directly to a manufacturer to get a relative one off of a product with the custom color, lens, and wattage I desire. I feel like I just experienced a bit of Blade Runner from my living room.)
All in all, I’m extremely happy that LED technology has advanced to the state of being usable in “normal” home applications. While still slightly initially pricy, the long term costs may be significantly less and the reduced energy use is attractive. Because of the increased light output from the track lights, I’m finding that I no longer need to use the 30 to 40 watts of florescent tube under-lighting!