My adventures in LED home lighting

I have a 5000+ square foot house. It was originally built around 1918 and was last renovated in 1999. The designer of that renovation had a lumen fetish. The house has well over 300 light bulbs, mostly recessed can lights. All the bulbs are on Lutron Diva dimmers. The power to the house tends to run rather high. Even 130V bulbs don't last long. I literally have a closet devoted to just light bulbs.

A rundown of the most common bulbs I have:

50W PAR20 500 lumen halogens

50W PAR16 400 lumen halogens (mostly illuminating artwork)

50W MR16 900 lumen, 12 volt halogens (more artwork and the livingroom)

75W BR38 reflector flood lights

Misc candelabra bulbs in chandeliers and the front porch

The front porch gates have 6 candelabra bulbs. The original owners used 60W bulbs. They are on at least 10 hours a night. Lets see... that's 150+ bucks a year for the electrons. I replaced those with some 3W LED bulbs which cost around 10 bucks a pop. After over three years, I have never had to replace any of them. Payback on electricity alone was less than 6 months.

My kitchen has 16 PAR20, 50 watt, 500 lumen halogen bulbs plus 6 MR16, 50 watt, 900 lumen 12 volt bulbs plus 6 small under-counter 14W halogen bulbs. I was replacing PAR20 bulbs at least once a week. And when one one bulb went, quite often it took a few others with it. Plus it often killed the $36 dimmer. Enough of that crap, I decided to try LED bulbs.

After a lot of looking around, the best cost/performance PAR20 dimable bulbs at the time were some Chinese made 6W, 380 lumen, warm white bulbs sold/supported/shipped in the US. I ordered a few at $20 ea to test. They seemed OK so I did the whole kitchen and part of my office... 400 bucks.

Then I started looking into what it would take to LED the whole house. CFL bulbs were out of the question. Crappy light, mercury, 3 zillion years to warm up, bogus lifetime when used in the real world. A little math said it would be over $16,000 to go LED if I bought the bulbs at places like Home Depot! Uhh, no thanks.

Then one day while trolling Ebay, I found a place that looks like they resell items returned to stores. They we listing lots of 8-12 LED bulbs in 8 watt PAR20, 15 watt PAR30, and 15/18/25W PAR38 sizes. The bulbs were mostly very high quality LSG/Sylvania/Ecosmart made in the USA. At the time, few people had noticed this seller and I snagged lots for $20-$60... many wound up less than the cost of the halogens/floods! It took about 6 months to snag enough bulbs to do the whole house. I think that I wound up spending around $1400 there.

Now I had all my PAR20/PAR30/PAR38 needs covered. What about those MR16/900 lumen bulbs. The brightest MR16 bulbs were around 300 lumens... that would just not do. It would take a 200 lumen/watt LED to be able to do 900 lumens in a MR16 form factor. You are limited to around 6 watts. The best home lighting LED bulbs are less than 60 lumens/watt. So I did what anybody would do... designed and built my own fixtures. I used some 1200 lumen Bridgelux arrays mounted on Nuventix heat sinks. They use a simple resistor ballast (which wound up being more efficient than an active driver. The cost wound up around $40 dollars a fixture. I built 36 fixtures. They hang down from the old recessed MR16 "eyeball" cans (the mod is totally reversible)

The PAR16 dimmable bulbs that shine on some artwork were a real problem. The best I could do were some more Chinese bulbs from the same supplier as the PAR20's in the kitchen. The light quality is not the best, but is accepible 40 bulbs at $20 ea... OUCH!

So, I wound up spending around $4000 dollars. I figure I can sell my old incandescents/halogens for a zillion bucks when they are banned. The light quality of the LED bulbs is VERY good. All were warm white in the 2700K-3000K range. I have had two bulbs fail. One Chinese PAR20 and one PAR38 Sylvania (popped internal fuse). I probably would have replaced 100 incandescent bulbs and 5 dimmers.

After replacing all my incandescent/halogen bulbs with LEDs, I am VERY satisfied with the results. I have only had a two bulbs fail, versus over 100 incandescent bulbs/several blown dimmers.

Not everything is perfect in LED land though. The PAR30/PAR38 bulbs that I got have about a half second delay before they come on. The light switches in my house tend to be grouped in large panels of like 20 switches. After 10 years, I still wind up switching switches on and off until I hit the right one. That half second delay is a tad annoying.

LED bulbs (at least the downlights) produce a rather more defined light that incandescents. The shadows that they cast can be more distinct. Not a real problem, especially if you have proper coverage of fixtures. I can't say much about LED replacements for normal globe type bulbs. All the main bulbs in my house are recessed downlights.

You have to be mindful of your dimmers. Many dimmers barf at the low loads produced by LED bulbs and can cause flickering, buzzing, flashing, pukeing. I think this is why that Ebay seller has a nice supply of returned LED bulbs. All the dimmers in my house are Lutron Diva's. They seem to be the gold standard for LED bulb compatibility. Even with the Lutrons, dont expect to be able to dim to 0. I can dim my bulbs to around 20% output (that most people perceive as around 50%)

LED lights burn much cooler. My hottest LED bulbs run around 75C, halogens can run 800C! They don't burn off cobwebs or discourage insects like incandescents. Actually, cobwebs are good for you! They are great at trapping scuzz and filtering the air.

Avoid Chinese bulbs. I have yet to see one that meets its published specs. The cheap ones are VERY bad. Poor color (I hope you like puke green overtones and funky fringes), poor quality, buzzy, just plain poor. I really like the bulbs by Lighting Science Group (aka Definity, Sylvania, Ecosmart). I've found nothing cheap/sleazy about them.

I wound up replacing those Chinese PAR20's in my kitchen/office with some KILLER Sylvania bulbs (10 watt, 550 lumens (more than a halogen!), 95CRI) that cost 40 bucks a pop... and damn well worth it.

In my search for good LED bulbs on Ebay, I came across a seller that seems to resell stuff returned to stores. They test everything, bundle them up in lots, and list them with low starting prices and let them go for whatever they bring. When I started buying bulbs from them, I could snag lots of 8-12 bulbs for maybe $50 (same bulbs new from Home Depot were $500-$1000 at the time. Since then Home Depot's prices have come down some, and more people seem to be bidding on the lots of bulbs so the final prices have gone up some. Still, they are probably less than 1/4 the retail price.

Anyway, I can recommend Ebay seller new_life_electronics I have given them a few grand of my money and have never had any problems. I'm not affiliated with them in any way, just a very satisfied customer (their shipping charges could be a bit less, but they pack stuff very well).

Their lots of LED bulbs seem to change regularly. A couple of months ago, all they listed were PAR20's. Lately they are doing PAR30/PAR38's and some 5000 lumen industrial fixtures (which I have a few of). They have even had LED streetlights.

Thanks for the heads-up. I have just started to change-over my residential lighting.

Thanks for the post & rich detail and link to seller.
In your experience, has any bulb/light ever come with a fan? Some of them I’ve looked at look like there might be a fan inside, but I can’t tell. I know sometimes a cheap fan is cheaper than a thick or well-made heatsink. I would never buy a bulb with a fan in it. For LED’s, a lot of the game is just about heat management.
Have you noticed any pattern in what kind of LED’s go into these? Ever see any Cree bulbs, like XM-L’s? Or are they the lesser known variety, like the ones which look like sunny-side-up eggs?
Do you use any bulbs for non-directional lighting, such as not in a can/tracklight/recessed? I’m thinking that LED bulbs in a regular lamp act more like a torchiere, or basically doing a cieling bounce, which is not extremely efficient. For bases already installed overhead, it does make a lot more sense though.
Interesting perspective on cobwebs. Maybe that’s just the excuse I need to procrastinate cleaning/dusting!

I recall seeing (on a web page) one with a fan built in. Don't know if it was actual hardware.

Yes, there are a couple of MR16 bulbs with tiny internal fans. Still, the highest wattage MR16 bulbs is still around 8 watts. You just can't dissipate any more heat in that form factor. I believe that Phillips sells a version in Europe. Apparently UL did not like them and are not available in the US. For recessed lighting you are limited to around 6 watts. The best LED MR16 bulbs are still under 400 lumens.

Something worth looking into are the Nuventix "Synjet" coolers/heatsinks. They are basically a sorta-no-moving-parts fan coupled to a heatsink. They can move a lot of heat. I used Nuventix heat sinks (without the cooler) in my MR16 replacement fixtures.

All the US made bulbs that I have use those egg-yolk colored LED array chips in them. I believe that most were made by Citizen. I used Bridgelux arrays in the 1200+ lumen replacement fixtures for my 900 lumen/50 watt MR16 halogens.

The 6-watt Chinese PAR20 bulbs (and the PAR16's) use three CREE chips. I have since replaced these bulbs with much better Sylvania bulbs. It is hard to get the very even beam/color quality required by good home lighting out of high-efficency point source LEDs like the XML's, etc

Virtually all the lights in my house are directional bulbs. I do have a couple of omni-directional globe bulbs in the basement and attic. The best omnidirectional bulbs are those funky looking Phillips bulbs that look like yellow bug lights until you turn them on. I saw one today that was over 1100 lumens (and $40)

I was at my local bulb/battery dealer today and saw a soon to be released Sylvania 10 watt dimmable PAR16 bulb (85 CRI)... looks like my 800 bucks worth of Chinese PAR16 bulbs are not long for this world.

I was there picking up some parts to mod a couple of under-counter 48" fluorescent fixtures for LED bulbs. Without the mod, the bulbs would not be able to shine downwards. Turns out it looks like the best thing to do is to mod the bulbs so end caps/pins are rotated 90 degrees.

I also recently snagged ten 500 lumen/3 foot long LED fixtures that are going into some closets that have fluorescents. They run on 20-24 VDC/0.5A and are dimmable.

I like to see photos of it..

Damn good reading and a regular cornucopia of tips & information. Missed it the first time.

I've put in a number of the 'egg yolk' style cheap budget Chinese LED light bulbs in my house and have been extremely pleased with them! The tint isn't perfect, but it is still very useable. I have had three failures, but in each case, it has just been a single LED that has died. I suspect it was due to the poor contact between the LED base and the heat-sink. I was able to purchase a pack of the bare emitters cheap from eBay, so I now have enough spare LEDs to keep these lights running for a very long time.

Have a recommendation for some GU10 lights? I'd like to replace some 50W halogens in a track light in our bathroom. Needs good CRI for my wife to do her makeup.

Manafont no longer has the same SKU lights as I originally purchased, but these look exactly like the ones I have, and have been very happy with:

Manafont's listing states that these bulbs are rated for 220V. I'm not certain if they would run from a 110V US power source, but many of these types of bulbs will operate at both voltages. You might be able to get a clarification from Manafont if interested. (

This type of light does have a much more focused 'spotlight' type of beam than the high-wattage Halogen bulbs. These work well enough in the kitchen, but I'm not certain if the CRI is good enough for makeup application. One of the four I have experienced a bad LED as I mentioned above, but replacing the LED was easy. I have been using these lights for a year now with no additional issues. These are heavily used as well, with several hours of runtime every day.

Thanks. I put in an overhead light for room lighting as needed and so that we don't use the halogens much . . so a tight focus shouldn't be a problem unless 2 in the face end up creating shadows.

We're using an electronic dimmer on the track lights which is flat to the wall to encourage use of the overhead. And 1 tap only brings them up to about 35% for those who don't get the message. :)

Basically impossible to find local LED replacements in GU10 with anything beyond about a 20W equivalence.

Looks like some possibilities on eBay . . but, it's eBay . .

I had to build my own fixtures to replace the 50 watt/900 lumen MR16 bulbs. I used some 85 CRI bridgelux arrays that output around 1200 lumens. My driver is a schotky diode bridge, 105C 1000 uF cap, and a ballast resistor mounted on a custom PC board. The fixture is built around a Nuventix heat sink, Ledil reflector, 56mm coated UV camera lens filter, plumbing o-ring to hold the filter/reflector in. I stainless steel lamp swivel suspends the fixture from the ceiling can.

The brightest bulbs that you can find in the MR16/GU10 form factors is maybe 300 lumens. Beware of the Chinese bulbs. They are vastly overspec'd and the have really poor CRI (unless you like zombie corpse puke coloring).

Bridgelux has some new very high (98+) CRI led arrays (500-5000 lumens) in their Decor line. I think they are all in the 24-36V range.

High CRI bulbs are highly recommended for use in the kitchen... nothing sucks like cooking good meat under a crappy CRI bulb. I replaced all those Chinese PAR20's in my kitchen with some awesome Sylvania 10W/550 real lumens/95 CRI bulbs. They were $40 each (and damn well worth it). They put out more light than the 50W halogens.

I just got those 48 inch fluorescent replacement LED tubes installed under the guest house counters. It turned into a real pain in the ass! I removed the old ballasts and installed new T8 tombstone lamp holders. They have to be wired with 18 gauge solid wire. Pretty much unobtainium off the shelf these days. My local bulb/battery supply store ( in Richardson, TX) came through with an old, dead 8 foot tube ballast that had long enough wires.

I was going to do some hacking on the pins on the ends of the tubes to rotate them 90 degrees so they would shine downwards, but didn't need to. They throw enough light mounted sideways to beat the old fluorescent tubes.

I forgot to mention another benefit of LED bulbs... they don't seem to attract flying bugs nearly as much as incandescents.

It looks like Sylvania is coming out with some 10 watt, 500+ lumen PAR16 dimable bulbs (85+ CRI). Probably at least 40 bucks a pop... those 800 dollars worth of crappy Chinese bulbs may not be long for the Technoshack.

This thread is lacking pics. Thanks tho, interesting post, shame we have totally different fixings over here.

Texas, do you know if the $20-40 led bulbs at sams and costco are any good?

Im looking for something that can be used in a regular lamp stand. Those par20s look like theyre for recessed lighting.

the par38s from costco i have are OK. it has a tan/rose hue roughly around 4000k and is a fairly narrow flood like it says. it has limited applications because of its large size and spotlight