Would you buy a $40 light bulb?

Maybe you should.

This week, Philips Lighting said that its AmbientLED 12.5 watt bulb — which, just to confuse you, is also sold under the Philips EnduraLED brand — has qualified for a EPA’s Energy Star rating. That means that it’s an efficient and, quite possibly  cost-effective alternative to the 60-watt bulb, even with a $39.97 list price at Home Depot.

Here’s how the math works, at least according to Philips:

A conventional 60-watt bulb lasts about 1,000 hours, uses 60 watts of electricity (duh) and costs $180 to run for 25,000 hours.

The LED equivalent lasts 25,000 hours (nearly three years if you left it on 24/7), uses 12.5 watts and costs $37.50 to run for 25,000 hours.

That assumes electricity costs of 12.5 cents/kwh, slightly higher than average across the US but a lot less that you pay in high-cost states like California.

Practically a bargain, no?

The Energy Star rating matters because it means that the bulb, which is evidently the first LED bulb in its category to qualify, can earn you a rebate from your local utility. There’s more on the rebates here from the U.S. Department of Energy. Each state has its own rebate program, forms to fill out, etc. Fun.

Better news is that for now Phillips is offering a $10 cash rebate on the bulb.

CNET’s Martin Lamonica wrote last fall:

I have been using an early production version of the Philips bulb around my house for the last few days. At first blush, I’d say this is the sort of product that could finally help nudge out the beloved, if wasteful, incandescent bulb.

Philips says that it is also the first and only  company to enter the U.S. Department of Energy’s L Prize contest, which calls for an LED equivalent to the 60-watt bulb that can produce 900 lumens using less than ten watts of electricity. The L Prize is a government-backed competition to encourage innovation in lighting.

LED light bulbs, by the way, offer significant advantages over curlicue CFLs. They contain no mercury, turn on instantly, last longer and are more efficient. GE, Osram Sylvania, Cree and EarthLED also make LED bulbs, which can range in price from $20 to $80.

If you’re balking at those price tags, you’re surely not alone. In fact, you can now understand first-hand one of the big reasons why we waste so much energy in the U.S.: It’s very hard to persuade people, even supposedly rational business people, to spent money today to save money in the future.

Maybe you’re a tenant, and you won’t be able capture the operating costs savings of the bulb. Maybe there’s a chance you’ll move soon. Maybe you don’t have $40 to spare right now. Corporate executives and the owners of commercial buildings face these kinds of obstacles, too.

Remember that next time someone talks about how easy it is to pick the low hanging fruit.

Photo by Starfish235, from Lab Daze


  1. says

    12.5W is quite high for a LED bulb, no?

    I’ve bought quite a few LED bulbs for our house – they are Exergi 3.6W spots (to replace 50W Halogens), they are rated to last 50,000 hours and they work really well.

    It’ll be interesting to see what comes as a result of the L prize – I have a feeling we are at the very early days of solid-state lighting, as yet.

  2. says

    One significant benefit of LEDs you did not mention was they work well in the cold. The dimmable versions also work better than dimmable CFLs.

    But unless these advantages (along w/ no mercury) are important to you, the king of the indoor, un-dimmed socket is still the CFL.

    Bulb Bulb Cost Life Watts Cost to run 25,000h
    Incandescent $0.25 1000h 60 $180 elec + $6 bulbs
    CFL $2 8000h 15 $45 + $6 bulbs
    LED $40 25000h 12.5 $37.50 + $40 bulbs

    I do own a couple, but only for the ability to work in cold and dimming.

    A rational person who wants to spend money today to save for the future will buy CFLs over LEDs. That won’t always be the case as LED efficiencies improve and prices fall, but for now people who compare LEDs only to incandescents are being disingenuous.

    • James says

      There is one other place where these really shine, no pun intended. Lights that are frequently switched on and off. I used CFLs in my bathroom for years, but found that they are all warmed up right about the time I’m drying my hands and switching them off. I also saw a lot of early CFL failures on frequently switched lights.

      For lights that are turned on and then run for long periods and don’t require dimming, CFL is still a clear winner.

  3. says

    Any comment on the light quality? That is a show stopper for most people (including myself). I would gladly pay $39.97 for an LED light that lasted that long with such low operating cost but only if I didn’t feel like I was in a doctor’s office.

    • James says

      It varies from one type to another, but I can speak from experience that the quality from these Philips remote phosphor “bulbs” is superb. They claim 2700K color temperature with a color rendering index of 85, and after having one for a while I believe it. It really does look like an incandescent lamp, when the bulb itself is not visible, you’d never know the difference.

  4. says

    Tom, thanks as always for bringing some solid facts and analysis to bear on the conversation. As you note, LEDs do have some performance advantages over CFLs.

    Kimberly, I think the quality of the Phillips product is good, although I haven’t tried it. Martin Lamonica of CNET liked it, as did other web reviewers. It’ll be interesting to see how it fares if/when it is sold on Amazon.

  5. says

    Kimberly raises a very valid point – one reason I was able to spend the money on the LED replacements for the halogens (€20 for LED vs around €3 for the halogens) was because the light quality from the LEDs was so good (esp when you compare to CFL’s – my wife detests the light from CFLs!)

  6. mike says

    I have purchased phillips led bug bulb and really like them. look funny but put out 60 watt equilvalent.

  7. says

    I tried the CFL’s because they were supposed to last longer than the incandescent bulb, but they were burning out quicker than the old incandescent bulbs. So why would I want to buy a bulb for $4o dollars that will most likely be the same lie that the CFL’s were.

    • eric says

      I am using LED and CFLs mixed in my house right now. My electricity bill is so low! WOooHOOooo.

      Garell: We are talking about LEDs here. CFLs don’t cost $40. If you are using a CFL or LED bulb on a dimming switch, but the CFL or LED is not dimming compatible, it will burn out and die on you. I have been using my LEDs for a while now and they have not burned out, but you have to buy the right ones.

  8. Joe Gonzalez says

    I’m a building Engineer for Redpeak Properties and i’m trying to find rebates on LED’s. I am currently using CFL’s in my common area’s which are on 24/7 but they burn out to quick. Does anyone know of a supplier that is giving a rebate? and how much?


  1. […] in homes — not yet, anyway — because they’re pricey. (See my blogpost, Would you buy a $40 light bulb?) But energy-efficient white LEDs like the one below are increasingly replacing HID (high intensity […]

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