Light Bulb Review, Test & Buying Guide for your Can Lighting

Are you curious about the claims that LED and CFL light manufacturers make about their energy consumption and light output?  Are you unsure which bulb type is the best investment?  I was, so I bought four different types of bulbs from the local Home Depot and put them through their paces.

This test included popular off the shelf bulb types; incandescent, CFL (compact fluorescent light) and two LED configurations.  Here is the overview of the bulbs tested.

14_05_14 Overview SM

Details about the test:  The test was conducted in a kitchen with ten foot ceilings.  Six can lights were configured in a rectangle centered over the kitchen area.  Using a LUX Meter  and a Multimeter I installed each of the four different light bulb sets and tested the total light emitted to the work surface (in lumen) and the total draw on the circuit (in amps).  I took light and power samples at the 0, 5 and 10 minute intervals to check power and light variances over time.  Here are the results.

Incandescent – Phillips Duramax BR40

14_05_14 Incan Bulb Test SMThe Good:  Light quality, light output & dim-ability are all exceptional.  Dim-ability is fantastic ranging from full lumen output to almost zero.  The light output remained constant at about 177 lumens when tested at the 0, 5 and 10 minute marks.  Other bulbs, as you will see later in this article, see light degradation as the bulb gets warmer.  The cost per bulb at $4.49 is at the low end of the spectrum.

The Bad:  Yearly energy consumption is $7.83** per light bulb which is dramatically higher than the other bulbs tested.  The expected lifespan for this bulb is only 2.3 years which is poor.

The NET NET:  If you absolutely need/want the pure light of an incandescent bulb and the best dim range possible (especially at the low settings) this is the bulb for you.  However, these features don’t come cheap.  Despite the per bulb cost being low you will replace these bulbs more frequently.  Additionally, you can expect your energy bill from this lighting option to be 4x higher than CFL or LED!

CFL (Compact Florescent Lighting) – Feit Electric Ecobulb Soft White

14_05_14 CFL Bulb Test SMThe Good:  Yearly energy consumption is only $1.81** per light bulb which is comparable with the LED’s tested.  The light output and quality were good but there was some fairly dramatic degradation in light output over time (see The Bad).  This bulb has a lifespan of 7 years which is remarkably better than the incandescent light bulb but much worse than the LED’s.

The Bad:  This CFL simply doesn’t dim although you can find some CFL bulbs that list dimming as a feature.  Secondly, I noticed a dramatic degradation of light output over time, the worst tested.  At the ten minutes mark the lumen output had dropped from a very good 199 lumens to a below average 140 lumens.  This bulb produced the lowest lumen output at the 10 minute mark.

The NET NET:  Although they are energy efficient I am very disappointed with these bulbs.  Dimming these light bulbs ranges from very poor to not at all and the light output dropped off the map after ten minutes.  Lastly, they contain mercury which is very hazardous.  I’d only recommend these bulbs if your budget won’t allow for LED and you don’t need to dim your lighting.  For excellent information on CFL and safety read  Scientific American article on CFL’s.

LED Bulbs – Cree EcoSmart Soft White BR30

14_05_14 LED Bulb Test SMThe Good:  First, this bulb has the lowest yearly energy consumption tested at $1.39**.  Second, it has the highest lumen output of any bulb tested ranging from a peak of 242 lumens and finally stabilizing at 214 lumens at the ten minute mark.  Third, it is the most energy efficient drawing a measly 0.35 amps (and recall this was 6 bulbs!!).  This bulb dims fairly well dropping down to 5% of the total lumen output.

The Bad:  There are only two weak points to this bulb and the first is the price.  At $19.97 per bulb, outfitting an entire room or house can really add up.  Second, the dim feature was not as refined as the incandescent bulbs.  I list it as okay plus (being really nit picky here).

The NET NET:  Fantastic bulb and the best tested!  I was happily surprised to see these bulbs beat out even the Cree bulb with the integrated trim assembly.

LED Bulb w/ Integrated Trim – Cree EcoSmart Soft White 6″ Flood

14_05_14 LED w Housing Test SMThe Good:  This bulb found itself squarely in second place just behind the Cree bulb without the integrated trim.  First, a yearly energy consumption of $1.51** is still fantastic.  Second, it outperformed the CFL and incandescent  with 212 lumen and 201 lumen at the 0 and 10 minute mark.

The Bad:  These are the same two points as the Cree bulb above.  The price of this bulb is $26.97  which can make a multi-bulb project very expensive.  Also, the dimming is not excellent but okay plus (again, nit picky).

The NET NET:  Fantastic bulb with integrated trim.  If you like the look of the integrated trim (which I do), it’s a great way to update the entire look of your can lighting.  I have bought over 80 of these lights for several projects and I absolutely love them.  I strongly recommend these lights for any room in the house.