Once again, I have grand plans for writing about something – in this case home automation and home improvements (as I write this, the Roomba is dutifully cleaning the living room and scaring the cat) – but if I’m not careful I keep trying to write books.

So let’s just talk about light bulbs.

I became a homeowner in October 2014. My house was more or less move-in ready, and while there wasn’t a lot I needed to do[0], there was a lot I wanted to do. Literally the first thing I did after getting the keys was go to Home Depot and buy a bunch of Decora light switches, and that evening I went through the house and replaced all the switches. I’ve always liked the look of Decora switches, but had never lived in an apartment which had them installed. It was a good first project, and much easier to do when the house was literally empty.

The house features recessed lighting in many places, with about 15 BR30 pot lights in various parts of the house. For example, the kitchen itself has 7 pot lights (6 spaced evenly above the kitchen, and one directly above the sink). Several of them were burned out in various places, and I wanted to replace them all with more energy efficient bulbs, as the kitchen alone would be consuming 455 watts with incandescent bulbs.

October 2014 wasn’t that long ago, but a lot has changed since then. Back then, LED bulbs were available, but were expensive and of varying quality, and LED BR30 spotlights just weren’t available. So I went with 15 watt BR30 CFL bulbs at $5 each. Good price, but the trade-off was quality. Their 2700K color temperature was consistent, but only once they warmed up. Depending on several factors, sometimes they would start out at nearly full color and brightness, but most often it would take about a minute to warm up, starting at a red hue and brightening.

The rest of the house (lamps, laundry room, etc) used my existing standard A19 CFL bulbs, which I had taken with me between apartments. The rule of thumb for CFLs were a lifetime of about 7 years, but I’d had them for well over a decade and had replaced maybe two over the years. They too had a warm-up time, but it was much less drastic than the BR30 floodlights.

The second thing I did was replace the lighting in two of the bedrooms. These bedrooms have vaulted ceilings (actually the entire house does), with alcoves a few feet high, above the closets, but had no permanent lighting. At some point in the house’s life, someone had the great idea of mounting lights up there, specifically cheap metal fluorescent tube mounts, which are meant for permanent industrial installation, but they just let them float on the bottom of the alcoves, and used bare Romex wire leading into a drilled hole.

Besides the bad idea of using buzzing 4000K fluorescent tubes in bedrooms, they were badly mounted and unsafe. I replaced them with permanently mounted outlet boxes, and for the lighting itself I used two adjustable floor lamp spotlights per bedroom, focused up at the middle of the ceiling. But since they’re now standard outlets, they can be anything.

Things stayed like that for the next two years. But about two months ago, I replaced the lights in the garage. Originally they were your standard hanging fluorescent shop lights: two ballast hoods, each with two 4 foot T8 fluorescent tubes. (I bad-mouthed fluorescent tubes in the previous paragraph, but they’re fine for a garage.) But one of the tubes had burned out, and the ballast was failing on the other (it would buzz horribly, even by fluorescent tube standards, and would flicker for minutes until it warmed up).

I replaced them with drop-in replacement LED units which are meant to replicate the look of standard fluorescent tube hoods. I actually replaced each of the original hoods with two LED hoods. And each LED hood is about twice as bright as its replacement, so the garage is now about 4 times as bright at about 35% energy savings.

While buying these hoods, I noticed they now have LED BR30 floodlights available, at decent cost too: $5 each (in quantities of 6), same as the BR30 CFLs used to be. This started a bit of a snowball effect, and within the next month, I had replaced all of the lights in my home with LEDs. The recessed lighting was the first to be replaced, obviously. Instant on and full brightness, and at 10.5 watts each versus 15 for the CFLs (or 65 for incandescents).

I found a sale on Cree A19 bulbs at $1.50 each, so most of the rest of the house got those. The hallway bathroom had 4 incandescent globe lights which were meant to look good on their own, so I found LED globes which have a very nice looking pattern in the middle.

My workbench in the garage has 2 foot fluorescent enclosure which I like, so I ended up using a retrofit LED tube. This requires rewiring the enclosure to remove the ballast and convert it to direct AC drive, but was worth it.

The security motion light on the outside of the garage was one of those dual floodlights you’ve seen everywhere, but each bulb was 100 watts each. I replaced it with an all-in-one unit which puts out much more light, is 5000K[1], and is only 25 watts total. And it looks like Geordi LaForge’s VISOR from Star Trek TNG.

I even saved the info from all of these, and compiled them in a spreadsheet (geek!): brand/model, form factor, color temperature, whether it’s dimmable (most LED bulbs are now, but compatibility with dimmers is spotty), lumens, wattage, and equivalent replacement wattage. As of today, I have 45 lights, putting out a total of 42,460 lumens and consuming 564.5 watts for an overall ratio of 75 lumens per watt. These 45 lights would consume 2,708 watts if they were not LED, resulting in a theoretical energy savings of 79%.


[0] The biggest problem with the house is it’s 25 years old, and the roof’s (original) shingles are rated for 20 years. They’re almost bare and tabs tend to break off whenever it’s windy (which in northern Nevada is all throughout spring and fall), but luckily the underlay is in great shape and water-tight. So while it’s something which was disclosed during the sale and I know it’s a problem, I’ve had a few years to put it off. Possibly I’ll get the roof replaced this year.

[1] All of my internal lighting is 2700K, the standard “warm” temperature. The garage is 4000K to replicate standard fluorescent tubes, but the security light is 5000K. Higher color temperature is better for security lights, as it’s easier to pick out features. Those typical orange street lights (sodium vapor HPS) you see everywhere are so ubiquitous because they are among the most efficient lighting available in terms of lumens per watt (even better than LED). But police officers hate them because it’s hard to make out people under that light.