The Right Way to Spend Up to $60 on a Light Bulb

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Are $60 LED lightbulbs a bright idea for your home?

"I think LED lights are worth it in the end -- but at the price the bulbs cost, consumers are going to have to be a little bit discerning about which places in a home that they put them in," says Celia Lehrman of Consumer Reports, which analyzed the high-tech bulbs for its October edition and gave them a thumbs up.

LED bulbs -- which employ a 21st century version of the light-emitting diodes first used on the red numeric displays of 1970s-era calculators and digital clocks -- cost $25 to $60 apiece. But they can last 20 years or more and produce light using a fraction of the energy a traditional incandescent lightbulb consumes.

For instance, a 12.5-watt LED bulb will typically produce as much light as a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb does and will last around 25 times as long before burning out.

"We've had some LEDs burning in our test labs for nearly 17,000 hours nonstop, and when we pulled them out a few months ago and tested them, they were as bright as when we first put them in," Lehrman says.

Consumer Reports also found LEDs use slightly less electricity than high-efficiency compact fluorescent lights consume -- and last years longer.

LEDs also lack the small amounts of toxic mercury CFLs contain, and -- unlike most fluorescent lights -- can work well with dimmer switches or outdoors in cold weather. LED bulbs also come on instantly, whereas CFLs need anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes to warm up and reach full brightness.

But LEDs aren't without their critics.

The bulbs have become a lightning rod for opponents of a 2007 federal law that will phase out most incandescent bulbs by 2014 and force consumers to switch in many cases to LEDs, CFLs or halogen lights.

"What's the matter with leaving the choice to the consumer?" asks Ron Arnold of the Center for the Defense of Free Enterprise, which opposes the law. "It's fine if somebody wants to come out with something new in the marketplace, but let's not mandate that something has to go away because you showed up."

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