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LED light bulbs are a smart upgrade whether or not they’re ‘smart’

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Lighting my home is something I only ever think about fleetingly — usually while replacing a blown-out halogen bulb — but this past week I discovered LED light bulbs and, well, I’m sorry I’m so late to this cool party.

Unfortunately, LED lights have been swept up into the whole “smart home” mess, with app-controlled dimming and hue adjustments and whatnot, making them both costlier and more complex than they need to be. So, in my mind, they’ve always been filed away alongside things like ZigBee, SmartThings, and AllJoyn — stuff that I’m aware exists and probably / maybe serves someone’s purposes, but I don’t need to be too concerned with yet.

But what about the simple LED light bulb, the one that just plugs into the place of ye olde incandescents and does only one job? That’s the stuff I got curious to try recently and, honestly, I don’t know why everyone isn’t using them for everything. LEDs are better in almost every respect:

  • Energy efficiency: A 6W LED bulb can put out as much light as a 50W halogen bulb. A 45W LED bulb can match a 160W incandescent. I’m not sure that swapping all the lights in my small apartment will make a huge dent in my annual bill or our shared dependency on electricity, but every little bit helps. And hey, if you join me, those little bits can and do add up.
  • Heat: LEDs don’t give off anywhere near as much heat as incandescents, which is a nice side effect of their efficiency; they don’t emit invisible infrared or ultraviolet light, which would express themselves as just wasted heat, and their output is only useful light.
  • Color: With regular bulbs, you can have any color so long as it’s a shade of yellow. With LEDs, you get access to the full spectrum, should you want to get fancy, but I’m most excited about simply cooler shades of white. My kitchen and bathroom are now bathed in a 6000K LED light that makes them look exactly as they would under direct daylight. Cool white light isn’t the sort of soothing illumination that will gently put you to sleep, but it’s pretty terrific for at-home photographers that don’t want to deal with the usual yellow tinge derived from conventional bulbs.
  • Flexibility: You can choose how wide a beam of light your LEDs will produce. Some are intended to be spotlights and are thus more narrow and focused, whereas others broaden out to a 120-degree arc that gives a softer, more diffuse illumination. I opted for the latter and their light is much more evenly distributed than the halogens I’d previously used.
  • Price: For a long time, LED bulbs were significantly more expensive than the mass-produced incandescent alternatives, but that gap has been well and truly bridged now. You can grab a 16-pack of 60W-equivalent Philips LEDs for less than $33 right now. That’s just over two bucks per bulb. Given the extra long life (measured either in tens of thousands of hours of operation, or years of ownership) of LED lights, you’ll be saving money both on the purchase of new bulbs and on the lower energy cost of using them. Plus, there are many government rebates available to make the transition to LEDs easier.

Looking at all of that, I can’t imagine myself buying anything other than LED lights again. It’s funny to think how they’ve always been something to scorn with PC design, and “smart bulbs” are the first thing that comes to mind when I think of superfluous smart home scenarios — but narrow it down to just lights doing the work of lighting, and LEDs are the clear winner.

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