Buyer Beware: Not All LEDs Are Created Equal

This post was contributed by Lara Bonn, Efficiency Vermont's Efficient Products Strategic Planning Manager.

Imagine yourself in the home improvement store. You need a light bulb. You are looking down at two different options; they are both light-emitting diodes (LEDs). One bulb has a price tag of about $3 and the other costs $4.99. The packaging is slightly different, but they are almost identical, you may wonder why they have different prices. Or you may just grab the slightly less expensive bulb and head to the register.

While they look very similar, it turns out there are many differences between the two bulbs if you take a closer look at the packaging. They have different claims of light output, bulb lifetime, and lifetime performance. Yet, the key difference is that one light bulb sports the ENERGY STAR® mark.

Many consumers recognize the ENERGY STAR mark as an important guide to buying energy saving products. It means that the product has undergone third party laboratory testing to verify energy savings and quality. That less expensive light bulb, without the ENERGY STAR label, could be an okay bulb. But, the ENERGY STAR label is essential because it guarantees quality performance and efficiency.

There are LEDs on store shelves right now that may only last a few years. Without the ENERGY STAR label you may be purchasing a poorly designed product or a product that has not been guaranteed to meet the expectations of a long lifetime that LEDs have a reputation for. The current ENERGY STAR requirement is for LED bulbs to last up to 25 years. Light bulbs that do not carry the ENERGY STAR label often come with claims that are not verified. And they fail to deliver on the quality requirements of ENERGY STAR. Among other problems, these non-certified LEDs can flicker, shift in color, lose brightness over time, look dim, offer uneven light, or continue to use power when turned off.

Knowing this, which bulb would you take to the register now?

What makes the ENERGY STAR valuable to consumers?

Each day more and more LED lighting products are in the aisles of Vermont lighting retailers. Unfortunately, some manufacturers' claims about the light quality, energy savings, and lifetime of their LEDs are not accurate. ENERGY STAR certification helps consumers, like you, differentiate among products based on these claims.

ENERGYSTAR, LED, Efficiency Vermont

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) introduced ENERGY STAR in 1992. It was and still is a voluntary labeling program. The ENERGY STAR program identifies and promotes energy-efficient products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 1996, the EPA and ENERGY STAR began a partnership with the Department of Energy (DOE). The partnership leverages DOE expertise in appliance and lighting technologies and testing.

ENERGY STAR requirements for residential lighting were introduced in 1997. Consumers were offered an efficient lighting option with no sacrifice in function and effectiveness. This was the first benchmark for energy efficiency, quality, and performance in residential lighting. They also required that all products be tested by an accredited laboratory. Now, all ENERGY STAR certified lighting products have this in common:

  • Meet minimum performance levels
  • Tested by a third party certification laboratory. Includes long-term testing to ensure accuracy of lifetime claims and verified compliance with industry standards and procedures
  • Certified by an EPA‐recognized Certification Body Subject to independent testing of products purchased off the shelf

LED bulbs that have earned the ENERGY STAR must also reflect the experience of a standard bulb. For example, if you buy a general purpose LED bulb, the packaging might promise a bulb that provides light in all directions. This means the light shines above and below the lamp shade. ENERGY STAR bulbs undergo rigorous tests to ensure the bulbs will provide light in all directions. Without the ENERGY STAR, you could find yourself with a bulb that leaves dark shadows at the bottom of your lampshade.

At Efficiency Vermont we take the role of supporting Vermonters in taking steps to save energy seriously. Efficiency Vermont has partnered with ENERGY STAR since 2000 to bring energy saving, quality products to the Vermont marketplace. Efficiency Vermont buys down the cost of select ENERGY STAR certified products, including LED bulbs, to make them affordable to Vermonters and cost competitive with the cheaper, non-certified products wherever you buy light bulbs. We communicate directly with the EPA ENERGY STAR program to advocate for the superior efficiency and performance represented in the lighting specifications. We partner with ENERGY STAR in efforts to move energy efficiency into the future. In part, through our advocacy, ENERGY STAR performance specifications remain stringent. In 2014 and 2015, Efficiency Vermont and the Vermonters we serve won the ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year Award. We make sure that Vermonters join millions of other Americans in saving $300 billion on utility bills, while reducing carbon pollution by two billion metric tons since 1992.

We know that consumers can and do save energy and money through their ENERGY STAR purchases. Don’t let similar packaging and the price difference sway you. If you buy the bulb that has a lower retail price, keep in mind the cost of replacing that bulb in a few years. A good deal on LEDs today could cost you when you need to replace the bulb in the future. Make sure that you are getting the best bulb for your money by buying the longest lasting and proven product. Always look for the ENERGY STAR mark and the Efficiency Vermont logo when you are buying LED light bulbs and other products that claim to be energy-efficient.

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