I have been waiting to write these words for nearly a decade: The LED is now ready for general lighting purposes in residential applications.
I say this with no equivocation after spending more than a week ducking in and out of the light shed by a Cree CR6 downlight, a one-piece, screw-in replacement for 65-watt or equivalent incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs and trim in a standing 6-inch residential can light. I have, so to speak, seen the light, and it is not the harsh, artificial white LED light one sees on those ubiquitous solar landscape lights.
You may ask yourself why I would have been waiting, or wanting, to write these words for so long. You may tell yourself this: Because enviro-nuts have been agitating for a ban on incandescent lightbulbs for at least that long. They have succeeded in convincing politicos and bureaucrats to do away with the lightbulb as we know it in less than two years.
Cree, Inc., based in Durham, N.C., has been selling white-light LEDs for commercial applications for several years. Its LR6, which was developed for commercial use, even found its way into some residential construction. That was the case with builder Hank Wall, president of the Eco Building Group in Raleigh. A custom new-home builder started from Wall's parallel remodeling business, Eco recently finished a high-efficiency home in Raleigh that uses the LR6s in recessed can lights in the kitchen, dining room, and living room.
He chose the LED downlights because of the high-efficiency nature of the house. At 3,700 square feet and priced at $799,000, it features Icynene sprayed-in foam insulation; a 16 SEER HVAC system; sealed, conditioned, and insulated crawl space and attic (for ductwork); and the LED lighting. “The quality of the light is preferable to the compact fluorescent,” says Wall. “And it holds up well when compared with incandescent.”
Naturally, this technology comes at a cost to the builder. The LR6s ran Wall about $70 each, plus the cost of the cans. The light is designed to simply screw into an existing 6-inch fixture, so the bezel and trim kits for the cans are unnecessary.
“It's a huge up-front cost,” Wall admits, “but the appeal is you don't generate any heat [with these lights]. They're way more energy efficient.”
Cree just recently began shipping the CR6, which is the residential version of the LR6. It costs about $60, according to Gary Trott, vice president of market development for Cree. It has a life expectancy exceeding 20 years at six hours per day, uses about 10 percent of the electricity of the standard 65-watt bulb it is designed to replace, and, since it doesn't generate heat, is much less susceptible to the early burnout that occurs with CFLs in confined spaces. The CR6 is also dimmable to 5 percent. They save about $1 per month per light compared with incandescents.
For the real tech-minded, the light has a color temperature of 2700 Kelvin and has a color rendering index of 90. That compares with 100 for sunlight, a 99 for your average incandescent, and 75 to 80 for CFLs.
“Back when we first started launching the LR6, we had a lot of interest from home builders,” says Trott. The housing crash has cooled much of that enthusiasm, but Cree is shipping all it can make right now (it makes its own LED chips in North Carolina, then ships them overseas to be assembled into the completed light).
He also allows that the cost could be an impediment for some production home builders. Except in California, where those politicos have mandated pin contacts on CFLs in cans, which makes them just as expensive as the Cree CR6s. In that case, there's no contest.
LED there be light.