Based on my 8 hours’ experience with it to date, the latest generation of LED lamps may be ‘good but not great’ (as CFL’s have been for more than two years, now). For under $10/lamp, it appears I have my hands on a 50,000-hour lamp with good domestic-use (warm) color temperature and adequate light output from a standard, 120V, A19 lamp base. The lamp claims to be dimmable but that’s a qualified ‘sort of’ based on my initial testing (see below).
This morning, I purchased (12) of a Utilitch Pro 7.5W dimmable, 3000K, 40W-equivalent LED lamp, Model number LA19DM/LED
Utilitech seems to be an up-and-coming, economy Lowe’s store brand. I’ve had mostly good results using their incredibly low-priced products. I don’t love that they’re Chinese-made, and I am still fighting Lowe’s to get them to take the Utilitech 6-pack of 6″ IC recessed lights off the shelves: Utilitech does not make ANY trim that is compatible with the fixtures, AND they make a trim that advertises itself as compatible, but isn’t. This could get pretty costly for a contract where you have a bunch of holes in someone’s ceiling from rough installation but no listed trim to cover them with for finish!
Now, to the LED lamps…!
First impression. The LA19DM/LED’s feel well-made to the touch. It appears Utilitech achieved its low price point by using less-expensive clustered, low-power LED’s behind an integral globe diffuser/color correction lens. Expensive brand-name LED’s seem to tend toward using a single, high-power LED component with no diffuser, or, at most, a cluster of three high-power components.
In an undimmed circuit, they put out excellent light that to my eye appears more like 60W-equivalent than 40W. Like other solid-state electronic components, LED’s power output tapers off with age. It may be that to make the 50,000-hour lamp-life claim, manufacturers have to account for output-level reductions through 40,000 hours, when output may be more similar to (or below) that of a standard 40W incandescent.
The color looks right for the 3000K color temperature indicated. High output at 3000K is quite an achievement for LED technology, but I would prefer something closer to 2500K for home use, especially where my eye will be expecting incandescent-type output from luminaires (lighting fixtures) that have always had incandescent lamps in them. 3000K is a very common color-temperature of fluorescent tubes used in office ceilings, but much closer to daylight than conventional incandescent.
The LED lamp’s half-dome diffuser does an excellent job of emulating omnidirectional characteristics of a conventional incandescent lamp, at least in the fixtures where I have installed it, so far (under a ceiling fan and in a desk-lamp). Again, omnidirectionality is an achievement for an LED lamp, since LED’s like to project light in a fairly tight beam (a major advantage in many applications, but not for general-use domestic lamps).
My first test was in a 3-lamp ceiling fixture controlled by a Lutron Maestro fan/light control installed several years ago (before dimmable high-efficiency lamps were widely marketed). I installed three new LED lamps one at a time, substituting them for the incandescents previously installed as I went. The first lamp dimmed in parallel with the remaining two incandescent lamps, and put out comparable light throughout the entire dimming range from barely-lit to full-bright. The difference in brightness between the two lamp technologies became more pronounced as the dimming level dropped.
- Can you tell which is the LED, which the Incandescent?
- The second lamp behaved well, coming to full brightness as soon as it made contact with the tab at the bottom of the A19 screw-shell; there remained no indication of any complications. Even the third lamp installed initially without a hitch. All three dimmed smoothly down once, but additional operation of the dimmer revealed the limitation of these lamps’ claim to being ‘dimmable’. When the LA19DM/LED’s were the only load on the Maestro dimmer, dimming behavior became highly erratic, with a sharp jump in the low-mid dimming range as dimming level is increased, flickering in the mid-high range, and total failure at the full bright setting of the dimmer.
After some more experimenting, I found that the LED’s by themselves don’t play well with the (years-old) Lutron Maestro dimmer. But connected in parallel with at least one incandescent lamp, they dim and brighten smoothly. See the video for a thousand words’ clarity on this.
It may be that the 7.5W loads presented by the LA19DM/LED’s aren’t enough to let the Maestro dimmer operate in its normal range. Dimmer manufacturers have responded to the exploding (and soon to be mandated) market for high efficiency lamp types, with Lutron and Leviton both producing CFL/LED-friendly dimmers during the past 12 months (I would have to confirm, but I believe these are not intended for use with incandescent lamps).
The LA19DM/LED’s appear not to have been been damaged from their foray into all-LED dimming on a legacy dimmer (they still work on non-dimmed circuits, or when connected to the Lutron Maestro in parallel with at least one incandescent lamp). A note on lamp life: don’t trust it. I had a 10,000-hour CFL burn out in under 1,000 hours, and all lamp-life claims may (?) be staked on finely-controlled lab conditions that never happen in real homes (especially not old homes or homes on old utility lines). Even if your grid and your house wiring are perfect, your refrigerator and HVAC motors turning on and off create surges in your house (and your neighbor’s house) that may be orders of magnitude greater than what would be present on a well-regulated laboratory test-bench power supply. Unless tests were designed to imitate real-world surges, they can’t account for them.
Due to a few anecdotal experiences with apparently premature CFL lamp failures, I have taken to dating all high-efficiency lamps with a sharpie before initial installation. Every installed location has a different characteristic daily usage cycle, but when the failure is less than the rated lamp life in absolute terms from the date of installation, you really have to wonder what’s going on. I encourage you to follow suit and return any lamp that fails before its rated life span. A decent brand should seek this kind of feedback from early adopters, and at $10 ($40 and up for Sylvania LED’s), consumers deserve lamp life at least 1/2 of the rated life. I also encourage you to comment to this or to my CFL blog entry in the event you encounter premature lamp failure.
All that said, the lamps seemed to survive their bout of bad behavior with no long-term ill effects, and neither did the dimmer make any buzzing or whining noise that would be typical of dimmer strain prior to accelerated failure (this can be a huge problem for people installing standard CFL’s without reading the ‘no dimmers’ label, and even with so-called ‘dimmable’ CFL’s that I have tried). The absence of apparent dimmer strain operating pure LED loads (erratic as they were) makes me optimistic that a dimmer designed for low-power, efficient, electronically-ballasted lamps may do very nicely.
If that’s the case, we may be in for a cool, bright future, and I may be in for a few years’ work retrofitting legacy dimmers to allow folks to upgrade to efficient lighting that’s a pleasure to live with. At $10 for a 50,000-hour lamp, we just may be able to afford the future, too.
Subsequent testing has proven the LA19DM/LED to be a serious contender, with smooth dimming through its entire range when connected alone to simple slider type dimmers, such as the Lutron Diva S-600. Ikea-style cord-and-plug connected dimmers intended for table-top or floor lamp connections also played well. Simple rotary dimmers operate on similar principles and ought to play well with this lamp, too.
- Utilitech A19 Product Review on ElectricianTalk.com (cheap, but shows flicker and color variation lamp to lamp).
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