The Perfect Porchlight?

EcoSmart 40W LED Bulb

I’ve done everything I can to eliminate incandescent bulbs from my house, relying largely on CFLs.  This has helped me dramatically reduce my power bills – but with some drawbacks. One is that outdoor CFLs in the porch light fixtures really do not work too well in the depths of a cold Minnesota winter.  CFLs take a fairly long time to warm up to full brightness when it’s frigid outside.

But, I’ve found a good solution.  Home Depot recently dropped the price of their 40W equivalent LED bulb to $10.  It’s kind of a funky bulb; highly directional (top hemisphere) and not the warmest color.  It’s fine, but not fantastic.  But it’s perfect for a porchlight.  If the fixture points down, the directionality doesn’t matter; you don’t need to illuminate the sky anyway.  And light quality is not super important on a porch light.

Crummy iPhone photo of front porch light

Crummy iPhone photo of front porch light

Most importantly, it’s instant-on, even in the cold.  At 8.6W, it’s 14% of the power draw of a 60W bulb.  You could almost leave it on all night, and not feel too bad about it.

Porch lights are often left on for a long time; sometimes essentially forever.  A 60W bulb burning 24/7 uses 44kWh/month; burning 12h a day uses 22kWh/month.  I have neighbors who do this; I’m half tempted to drop off one of these bulbs on their porch some day!

Is $10 expensive for a bulb?  Sure.  But it should last essentially forever, and be honest – you were going to waste that money on something else, anyway, weren’t you!

Edit: Matthew Wilcox points out that these are “designed for indoor use only” – I guess I glossed over that part. :) I have them in mostly- and fully-enclosed fixtures. I guess we’ll see how they do!

Edit Nov 15, 2012: Over a year later, and they’re still fine, so I think as long as they’re in enclosed fixtures, outdoor use seems fine.

21 thoughts on “The Perfect Porchlight?

  1. Ten dollars? That’s two whole beers!

    I recently regressed somewhat, as the yard lights that look the best on my house require the long, thin tubular bulbs, so finding cheap omnidirectional tubular LED’s will be a challenge, I presume.

    I traded function for form. :(

  2. Thanks for posting this! I just bought three of these bulbs for an inside fixture (in which two of the old incandescent bulbs had burnt out) and it’s not terribly cold light; at 3000°K it’s noticeably warmer than some of my CFLs. Also, three 60W incandescent bulbs were too bright in that particular location, but three “40W equivalent” LEDs are quite bright enough.

    This also encouraged me to finally do the math and determine that replacing six of the most commonly-used incandescent bulbs in my house (we had previously moved many lights to CFLs, though not as aggressively as you have) with the 12W $25 Phillips Ambient “60W equivalent” would pay for itself in about 2-3 years, based on our estimates of how much we use the lights. The whole family was there and agree that the light from the new LEDs was superior — brighter and more comfortable — than the incandescent bulbs that were there before.

    I also worked out that replacing the seven 75W flood lamps that were in our kitchen when we moved in with six 13W CFLs and one 7W LED a few years ago has probably been saving us over $100 per year, as well as making the kitchen more comfortable by reducing radiant heat.

    I know that $$$ is not the only reason to do this, but it’s nice to see the LED bulbs drop to a price where the economics start to work at current electrical rates within short timeframes.

    Replacing the most-used lights in our house with LEDs wouldn’t make sense because they are already CFLs, and the marginal return would be low and the cost high. I’m hoping, though, not to buy very many more CFLs on the theory that we have a few in boxes still, and by the time we run out of those I hope that LEDs are even more obviously cost-effective…

    The last efficiency boost I did today was to install an infrared switch in a closet in which the lights are often left on. We’ll see how well that works.

    • That Philips bulb is nice, I agree! I bought one just to check it out. I’m in the same boat; replacing CFLs with LEDs isn’t really cost-effective now, but the technology is still appealing.

      The cold-CFL-on-the-porch problem was a good excuse to swap out a couple CFLs for LEDs though.

      • I didn’t understand how bad it is for florescent lights in general to turn on and off, and so installed one in a garage door opener. That died relatively quickly. I might actually get another of these Philips bulbs on the theory that it will never burn out and is nice and bright.

        • It may depend on the bulb; I have one on the garage door opener, and it’s fine. I flip the ones in the house on and off with wild abandon – I haven’t really noticed any problems.

      • Actually the prices are coming down for LEDs if you buy them the right way. Here a 3W MR16 12V bulb is like EUR 11-12, if I order the exact same in Hong Kong, it costs me around $4. There are quite a few sites worth dealing with, has been pretty reliable for me so far.

          • Yeah there’s a lot of it – what I did was to try and buy 1 of the various ones and see which ones I liked. Be careful you get the ones that are 3000K and not the 6000K ones.

            It looks like there is less choice for 120V as well. I guess with the EU banning incandescent bulbs the market serving us got a fair bit better for 230V bulbs :)

  3. Hi Eric!

    I have been using LEDs in some exterior fixtures for about 2 years with no problems. It was the perfect experiment: An electric gate 1/4 mile from the house on a separate meter. Replacing 2 flood lights and 8 Candelabra bulbs with LEDs. I used to replace the incandescent bulbs about every 4 months — I have never touched the LEDs in 2 years.

    I hated leaving lights on most of the night, but folks kept driving through the farm gate. The bulbs and electricity were cheaper than repeatedly replacing the 14 foot gate…

    Anyway, the usage went from 98 kWH per month down to 1 kWH per month. After that I started gradually replacing all bulbs with LEDs.

    I want to discuss the site with you sometime :).

    Ken Clifton

  4. We live in Minnesota and have put CFL’s outside. The newer ones seem to do much better in the cold temps. The only downside is having to evacuate the neighborhood for at least 15 minutes if we break one of them outside.

  5. I’m guessing you’re going to want to keep the kids and their soccer balls away from this bulb :-) Also, if you think neighbors with porch lights on all day are annoying, try the folks around here who run their central AC in mid to late October, when it’s 55-60 degrees out. Open a few windows for crying out loud!

    Have thought about exposing them on YouTube, actually — the Central AC police strike again :-)

  6. Please let us know how well the bulb lasts. I’ve tried LED bulbs before, and they didn’t last significantly longer than incandescents for me; certainly nowhere near the rated lifetimes.

  7. Regarding the life of LEDs, the higher lumen LEDs require more cooling, so I always look for bulbs with some form of heat sink. Also, since the bulbs are solid state, surges can take them out. At my gate, I have a Square-D surge breaker in the panel to protect the bulbs. So far 2 years and counting.

    Ken Clifton

  8. My main breaker panel is a combination unit with my incoming service, which means that I need an external box for a whole-house surge suppressor. The easiest one I can find is the Panamax SEP-200 for $250. Anyone know anything better?

    • I’ve now purchased 10 of the 800 lumen Philips Ambient bulbs, and 5 of the 470-lumen 8W Ambient for a location where the brighter bulbs were simply too bright, so my financial interest in protecting my investment in LED bulbs increased.

      In the end, I bought an “Intermatic IG1240RC3 Whole Home Type-2 Surge Protection Device” for $120 ­— and now it’s only $111.59 at Amazon.

      I had to buy a 20A dual-pole linked breaker, and I couldn’t use any of the 1/2″ knockouts in the panel to install it, so I had to buy a 22mm hole saw to put a hole in the right place. All told, it ended up costing about $160 installed.

      • Interesting idea, I may have to consider whole-house protection too. Probably good for lots of things in my house, actually.

        FWIW the 800 lumen Philips bulbs are now only $15 at Home Depot, at least in my area – that’s getting to the point where it’s fairly feasible to replace them a bit at a time, IMHO.

        Have you had any failures yet?

  9. I can’t imagine not having whole-house surge protection with the proliferation of microprocessors in virtually everything — not to mention LEDs. By the way, if you have solar PV Enphase published a new paper recommending surge protection.

    I have probably gone overboard on this, but my current protection is:
    1) At the power meter: Delta LA302R
    2) In the main load center: Square D Surge Breaker
    3) At the PV subpanel in the basement: Intermatic AG2401C3
    4) At the PV subpanel at the first array pole: Intermatic IG3240RC3
    5) At the second PV array pole: Intermatic AG2401C3

    Logic was to locate the IG3240RC3 at the main PV panel closest to the arrays because that protector has a $25,000 connected equipment warranty. That should cover a few solar panels and microinverters…

    Ken Clifton

    • Ken, was that “Lightning Surge Suppression in Residential Systems?” My installer actually put a little lightning arrestor on mine at the disconnect. Not the brand Enphase is recommending, but shrug.

  10. Hi Eric,

    Yes, that is the document. Mine is not that brand either. Here in NC we get some really wild thunderstorms. I have been considering putting another of the big Intermatic units on my second pole, but those things are pricey. I think the coverage would be in place with it on the subpanel on the pole.

    Like you, I don’t really know the brand Enphase is recommending.
    I do need something on my new array that is going in soon — I am going to have to think this over.

    I really like the looks of the PV protectors that Midnite Solar has with the clear case. Link then look at the SPD products.

    Let me know what you think.
    Ken Clifton

  11. We’re using the exact same bulb for our porch light. At first, we thought the bulb was too bright, so we did not want to blind the neighbors nor did we want to attract unwanted attention.

    The brightness and wattage strike a good balance for illuminating the front of the house without using too much energy. This IS the perfect porch light!

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