LED Recessed Light Retrofits – Pros and cons

A reader, Adam, recently asked about the pros and cons of using LED retrofits vs. sealing recessed lights from the attic. It’s such a good question that I had to write up a quick post detailing my thoughts on this important topic.

I’ll start by saying that I have upgraded all of the recessed lights in my home with LED retrofits. This has numerous benefits over attic sealing. Prior to good LED retrofits being available, I had constructed airtight/fireproof boxes installed from the attic, so I can comment on both methods from first-hand experience.

The retrofits were easy to do, taking maybe 10 minutes each, at most. These days, high quality retrofits are inexpensive, typically less than $30.

Benefits:

  • Totally air-tight when installed properly with a good gasket
  • Energy efficient – depending on your electric cost, the light will pay for itself, especially if it’s in a high-use location, like the kitchen. Usually less than a year.
  • Energy efficient part 2 – you can insulate the attic properly above the fixtures. LEDs generate much less heat than incandescents. Plus, you won’t lose the heat from air escaping through the housing.
  • Long lasting – quality LEDs are rated to last about 2-4 years running continuously. Compare this with an incandescent which has a life only one-tenth as long. This is much more convenient (less time on the ladder is safer too!). For most uses, that means you’ll never have to replace a bulb.
  • The light quality of “good” LEDs is very natural if you buy high CRI (color rendering index) fixtures. This is very personal, so compare the light from different fixtures to find one you really like. I brought home several, installed them and then my wife and I could see how they looked in our own homes which is much different than the display case in the store. You can usually return the ones you don’t like, so it’s worth trying a few.
  • The retrofit itself is quite simple usually. Most wire into your existing fixture using a screw in connector that replaces the existing bulb.
  • Air/moisture leakage through recessed lights are one of the primary sources for mold and rotten roofs. By installing air-tight LED fixtures, you will potentially prevent a very expensive roof replacement and mold remediation.

Challenges with retrofitting from the attic:

A look down into the soffit area above the grill

A picture is worth a thousand words…

  • Working in attics is not fun. It’s hot, dusty and access is often difficult. This makes contractors less likely to do a good job because they’ll be anxious to work quickly and get out of there.
  • It can be difficult to mount the air-tight enclosure in the attic given the construction of a typical recessed light fixture. This often leads to compromises that leave gaps, defeating the purpose of an air-tight enclosure.
  • Incandescent lights generate a lot of heat. Some older fixtures aren’t rated for enclosure. Usually this isn’t a problem however.
  • Covering the fixture with a housing can make insulation challenging. Most contractors are afraid of insulating around fixtures, leading to compromised insulation.

Other considerations:

  • Some LED lights are not-dimmable – so make sure to buy the right type if you need them to dim.
  • The convenience factor of not having to replace bulbs in high ceilings is worth a lot.
  • Make sure the chosen fixture is the right size (4″, 5″ or 6″) for your retrofit. There are also different mounting styles that can affect compatibility.
  • Avoid off brands or those without a good warranty. The only trouble I’ve had with LED bulbs/retrofits are with cheap “knock-off” type. My favorites have been manufactured by CREE, which were the pioneers in LED lighting. Phillips also makes quality products.
  • You still have to be careful in sealing the retrofits in order to make them air-tight. They need to have a good gasket and be firmly seated to the ceiling.
  • The thermal image, below, shows a huge amount of air leakage around a so-called air-tight recessed light fixture. As with all things in home construction, installation is key!
  • For best air-sealing, I have used foil-tape to seal the holes inside the existing fixture. Some people claim you need air flow through the fixture for cooling but the fact that these fixtures are built to be air-tight negates this argument.
Does this look like an air-tight recessed light?

Air-tight? Not unless installed right!

Advertisements

Finally! Time to Buy Small, Round Dimmable LED Bulbs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It’s about time.

Well, actually, it’s about energy conservation, saving money and light quality.

For years, I’ve been looking for a frosted, round candelabra base (G16) dimmable LED bulb that I can use in my high-use fixtures. And yesterday, I found what I’ve been looking for in my local hardware store.

Continue reading

Philips SlimStyle Dimmable LED Bulb Mini-Review

Philips 60w Dimmable LED bulb

Philips 60w Dimmable LED bulb

Woohoo, a high-quality, $10 (now $9 at Amazon), dimmable LED bulb!

Philips has been a leader in LED lighting for some time, and their new SlimStyle bulb securely places them at the front of the pack.

While there are other, sexier dimmable LED bulbs, the SlimStyle has the best price/performance that I’ve seen. If you run the numbers, for a high-usage fixture (I define that as 8-hours a day) then you’ll find that this bulb pays for itself in about half a year in saved electricity costs. In my book, that makes it a “no-brainer.” It’s inexpensive, durable, casts a lot of pleasing light and is the first LED bulb that I’d call *cute* 🙂  Really, just look at it. What’s not to like? Continue reading

G7 Power 40W Retro Light Bulb – LED lighting has never been so beautiful

 

Conventional incandescent (front) and G7 Retro (back)

Conventional incandescent (front) and G7 Retro (back)

The new A19 style bulb from G7 power may change the way you see LED lighting. No more big heat-sink fins, just a classic Edison bulb style without the power penalty.

With just 3.6 Watts, the bulb casts 400 Lumens, the same as a conventional (now phased out by law in the United States) 40W bulb. After some visual comparisons, I can’t see why anyone would need to use an old incandescent bulb (other than price). The bulb comes on instantly and glows with the familiar color that we’ve come to expect from incandescents. Its efficiency is amazing, at 138 Lumens per watt – more than twice as efficient as most compact fluorescent bulbs and greater than 10x more efficient than an incandescent.

A quick comment about cost. If the bulb gets high use, say 8 hours per day, it will consume just 10.51 kWh per year. Compare this with 116.80 kWh per year for the 40W bulb it replaces. At an electricity cost of $0.15/kWh, you save $15.94 in electricity per year – more than the $11.95 cost of the bulb. So this would be a great bulb for high-use fixtures around the house or places where the aesthetics and light quality are important.

Keep in mind that this bulb is NOT dimmable, so it’s not a complete replacement for the incandescent.

Check out G7’s website for more info.

 

Initial impressions of the CREE 60w Warm White LED Bulb

Having received the just released CREE 60w warm white LED bulb, I wanted to get you my impressions ASAP since many of you are already asking about this ground-breaking bulb.

The vital stats:

  • Manufacturer: CREE
  • Cost: 6-pack, $74.82 at Homedepot.com = $12.47 each.
  • Brightness: 60w equivalent – 800 lm
  • Consumption: 9.5 Watts
  • Efficiency: 84.2 lm/W
  • Life: 25,000 hours
  • Usage: Indoor/outdoor
  • Dimmable!
  • Assembled in the USA
  • Lead free / Mercury free

For comparison, an incandescent bulb has:

  • Cost: 4-pack, $6.00 on Amazon (Philips name-brand bulb). Sylvania are close to $0.50/bulb.
  • Brightness: 860 lm
  • Consumption: 60 Watts
  • Efficiency: 14.3 lm/W
  • Life: rated 1,000 hours

Operational costs?

Based on simple lifetime cost, the LED lasts 25x as long as the rated life of the incandescent and is roughly 25x the cost of the inexpensive Sylvania bulbs, so by that measure, these are the “same cost.” However, that doesn’t figure in inconvenience of having to replace the incandescent 25 times, going to the store, or paying for the electricity! It doesn’t take a physicist to see that the CREE LED bulb is the big winner.

For the 25,000 life of the bulb, the CREE saves 1262 kWh or electricity. That’s a LOT of energy savings! How much? That’s about a month of your home’s entire electric usage. Compare that with your electric bill and you’ll immediately estimate your cost savings. For me, this electricity costs about $200. 

Subjective comparison

The bulb feels different from any other bulb. It must have some sort of rubberized coating on the translucent housing. It almost sticks to your hands. In fact, I felt the urge to wash my hands after touching it. Very strange. The positive thing about this is that you’re not going to drop this bulb., unlike normal glass, which is slippery.

I immediately replace the bulb in my desk lamp, which is an old CFL. That works fine once it warms up, but it always seems to be a dim yellow for the first 10 minutes, by which point, I’m about to leave the room. Note however that I strongly recommend that you use this in fixtures with good reflectors on the back surfaces. Otherwise, you’ll waste a lot of light that doesn’t reflect off the back of the fixture. I learned this the hard way in my downlights (recessed light fixtures). Standard incandescent flood lights have internal mirrored surfaces to project the light forward. These LED lights are omni-directional, so you’ll waste a lot of their light output if they’re used in fixtures without good reflectors.

The CREE, being an LED light, is essentially instant-on to full brightness – very nice.

As for the color, it does appear to be a “warm white.” If you don’t tell someone that it’s an LED, they probably wouldn’t know, which is exactly the effect they’re looking for. In fact, combined with the shape of the bulb, I’m guessing that the only way one would know that this isn’t a regular bulb is when you dim it. Incandescent bulbs grow very warm at lower dimmer settings, whereas LEDs maintain their color temperature throughout the range or brightness.

The next replacement was in one of the downlights in my bathroom. These are particularly important because you want to maintain a neutral skin-tone. Nobody wants to look in the mirror and see a strange skin tone! In this case, the yellowish cast is definitely noticeable compared to the incandescent. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s quite obvious.

I then replaced the LED in my closet, which was a bright blue (my wife says it looks like s dentist’s office or something). The change in color was very apparent – definitely yellowy. I’m not sure it I like it or not. It’s definitely “warmer” but perhaps not as natural. I need to try some of the whiter versions of the CREE bulb which is supposed to be off-white. Here’s a comparison photo:

Which is which?

Which is which?

The container is very white while the counter tiles are almond. The photo was taken using the camera with manual white balance that is tuned for incandescent bulbs, so it will make the incandescent image look as white as can be. If you used a spectrophotometer, you’d get a more accurate image. However, it’s not how you’d perceive the colors.

Looking at the color spectrum, I found what would be expected, the light from the LED bulb consists of three distinct peaks – red, green and blue, whereas the incandescent is a smooth spectrum. In theory, you should be able to come up with a close color match using the three primaries, but contrary to popular opinion, you will not be able to perfectly match the color produced by a continuous spectrum source.

Perceptually, these images are a fairly close match to what I was seeing. Pretty good colors but not exactly what I’m used to. Your mileage may vary!

Here’s a striking comparison between the LED and the CFL using my desk lamp. Again, I kept the white balance on the camera set to “incandescent”, meaning a pure white would match an incandescent (which really isn’t white, but it’s what we perceive as white in our ordinary indoor experience).

Using the same camera settings, the LED is much closer to an incandescent

Using the same camera settings, the LED is much closer to an incandescent

Keep in mind that perception changes our reality. The CFL doesn’t really look that yellow, because our brain tries to color balance things. However, the camera is good at showing things without this bias. The main take-home message is that the LED bulb is a vastly better match for what we normally think of as household lighting.

As you try out different bulbs, let us know what you think. The CREE, at only around $10 has broken new ground for quality and efficiency.  It’s well worth a try.

High Efficiency Outdoor and Landscape Lighting

I’m personally not a big fan of landscape lighting, because 99% of the time you don’t need it at all. As they say in the business: “the most efficient light is the light that you don’t use.” But for many, landscape lighting is a necessity. In this post, I’ll cover several ways you can reduce the energy used for your outdoor lighting. How does a 98% saving sound? Unbelievable? Read on! Continue reading