Engineers working on energy efficiency projects are probably more likely than the average consumer to appreciate products that make a joule of work go farther. So when it comes to evaluating the performance of LED lightbulbs, one might suppose a technical audience is good at evaluating specifications but perhaps biased about how well average consumers are likely to accept these pricey replacements for incandescent lighting. The distinction is important for judging whether or not predictions of mushrooming demand for LED lighting will come true.
Perhaps the best source of unbiased opinions about LEDs from users of these devices is Consumer Reports. CR encourages its readers to review products they’ve used, and LED lightbulbs are no exception. Unfortunately, you’ll find fewer people chiming in about lightbulbs than about more contentious products such as washing machines that don’t wash or lawn mowers that can’t cut evenly on hills. But the comments on CR are useful nevertheless as a window on whether average users think as highly of these efficient devices as engineers who appreciate the elegance of their operation.
The reviews on CR paint a picture of the average LED bulb user as someone who wants efficient lighting but who doesn’t like compact fluorescent bulbs. “I’ve wanted to convert to higher efficiency bulbs for years, but my wife has hated every CFL bulb I’ve purchased, even the ones supposed to look like natural light,” writes one reviewer. “My wife is VERY picky about bulbs, and she likes these!”
The other impression that comes from CR reviewers is that LED buyers are starting to appreciate color temperature. “If you want that warm look of your existing bulbs, this is not the one,” comments one reviewer about a bulb sold in major home improvement stores. “I have bought 15 or so of the 2,700k version ... and they are fantastic. Some people like the whiter light, but to me it is cold like a department store not warm like a home.”
It also becomes clear that the look of the bulb itself is as important to some users as the kind of light it produces. One liked a particular model of LED bulb because “it doesn’t look like a bug light.” Another chose one brand of LED bulb because “they look nice behind the glass of the fixture.” A third related that, “My kids said they are ‘futurist’ looking, were excited to use them in their table lamps.”
And consumers seem to appreciate the longevity of LED bulbs. One said he “bought two of these for my mom’s ceiling fixture in her retirement apartment. .... I am not nearby, cannot change bulbs for her, and she freaks out if a bulb is burnt out. This is a hard fixture for my short sister to get to. .... Very pleased that my sister shouldn’t have to bring her ladder over and change bulbs for a long time.”
Perhaps most important for LED makers is that consumers seem to have no major gripes with how LEDs perform. The closest thing to a complaint I could find came from a guy who couldn’t fathom the packaging holding the bulb. “I am having great difficulty removing them from the plastic inner package without getting cut,” he laments. “I have box-cutters, scissors, large serrated knives, and a bandsaw. None seem to be able to do the job…. I always end up prying back sharp shards of plastic. Is there a trick to it? Are the bulbs extremely fragile, so they need far more packaging protection than incandescent bulbs?”
Notably, he gave the bulb a “would not recommend” rating just on the basis of his problems with the packaging.