LEDs: Bright Idea or Dimmed Failure?

by Cody Farmer

When I was in junior high school, I played some competitive soccer and we had a really cool English coach named Scott.  We called him scooter which he didn't like at first, but he later adored. Well, Scooter told us on the field one day, that when we didn't like what the referee called, we should turn around and blame one of our defensive players named Trey instead. So quite often we'd be on the field in the middle of an intense game and you would hear one us turn around and say Trey you're a *$%! (big meany) which was code for the referee could NOT see that day!!

My point for this is I'm about ready to do a rog. Yes, a ranting blog called the problem with LEDs and instead of calling LEDs by name we're going to call them Ellie Ds instead so that people might not stop buying them altogether.


The problem with LEDs (Ellie D’s) is not that they're too expensive, or you have to be an electrician to wire them, or that they don't have standard mounting assemblies; it's that they actually don't last the 20 years they say they will if you average in all of the failures that happen in the marketplace. See, what was great about Ellie Ds is that it opened the door to multiple manufacturers, not just 2 or 3 which was sort of the case back in the Thomas Edison days. Back in those days, a good light bulb would last a year and a half to two years.

I mean this is pretty ironic that I'm actually in a field that studies energy and I'm actually old enough to have seen the Thomas Edison lightbulb go away because it's too energy inefficient and yet I design and build buildings that can heat themselves with 100 Watt light bulbs.  I can get a Thomas Edison socket for $0.99 and I can get a 100 Watt light bulb for $0.99 and I assure you I only need 16-20 of them to heat a Passive House. Equally, we can use a little window A/C unit to cool one.  Did I mention Thomas Edison Bulbs, once compacted, take up much less room and contain much fewer components and toxins? I still like my Ellie D’s!

What's even worse about ELLIE D’s is the color over the past 5 years they've gone from one color to the other as they come and go from different brands and manufacturers off the shelves of the big box stores. So if you once bought say 20 ELLIE D’s one year at a box store and that predictably 25% of the ELLIE D’s would fail within one year’s time, a person is at risk during every renovation or new construction of not only having a different color of ELLIE D’S but also a different finish of the fixture when they need to be replaced.  And let’s not overlook the fact of when you take it back to the big box store you'll quickly realize that they no longer offer the same brand, style, or type of ELLIE D’s. This is primarily because companies fund large production runs of ELLIE D’S fixtures and retool and change or rebrand and re-manufacture large lots ELLIE D’s, often changing company names and abandoning their fixture altogether. That’s why if you've noticed in big box stores you'll never see just the common brand of ELLIE D’S can-light fixtures like GE.  They seem to rotate sometimes every 6 months. So although the ELLIE D’S lighting breakthrough in technology and capability especially dimming and color changing is fantastic and it saves a lot of energy it's producing gobs of plastic waste and failed LED chips, ultimately becoming another landfill nightmare similar to the Mercury leaching out of the ‘transitional technology bulb known as the fluorescent bulb. Which made every lamp look kind of like it had a pigtail in it making every fixture look just terrible.

They saved more energy than the Thomas Edison bulbs, but they also were supposed to last an extremely long time.  In general, they do/did. BUT they have similar life spans of the Ellie D’s, as different companies come and go dimming was a challenge, flickering was a challenge and buzzing was a challenge.  The LED lighting technology has also had similar hurdles but at the end of the day, this is not more sustainable if our buildings are wasting energy and the Ellie D technology is not dependable nor are the companies and manufacturers that dump the products into the marketplace through the big box stores.  I love it when Technology Marries Mother Nature. We’ll continue to keep our fingers crossed for the lighting industry. 

Next time we’ll talk about air sealing LEDs to lid air barriers and creating airtight light boxes, which MainStream did at the asthma and allergy friendly performance building built in 2018.