Cree’s Bright Idea for Home Lighting: Rich Jaroslovsky

A light bulb? Seriously?

Well, yeah. But not just any old light bulb. A whiz-bang, low-energy, cool-to-the-touch, lives-practically-forever $10 light bulb.

Courtesy Cree

The Cree bulb’s biggest visible difference is a thick collar around the base that functions as a heat sink.

It’s from Cree, a big name in commercial and industrial lighting that uses light-emitting diodes, or LEDs — the same things that glow so comfortingly in many of our computers, smartphones and TVs. Now the company is rolling into Home Depot stores  in the U.S., Canada and Mexico with its first major foray into the consumer market. The bulbs are designed to replace 40- and 60-watt incandescent bulbs — to say nothing of those twisty compact fluorescents — in your lamps and fixtures.

The first thing you notice about the Cree bulbs is that they actually look like bulbs. That isn’t an accident, says Chuck Swoboda, the company’s chief executive officer, who points out that the traditional form factor has been deeply embedded in consumer consciousness and popular culture for generations. The Cree bulb’s biggest visible difference is a thick collar around the base that functions as a heat sink.

The second thing you’ll notice is that, unlike some compact fluorescents, the light is very comparable to what you’re used to. I replaced the bulb in the lamp on my nightstand with one of Cree’s warm-white 60-watt equivalents ($12.97), and couldn’t tell the difference. And unlike a conventional bulb, it stays cool enough to touch even when it’s been on.

The 60-watt-equivalent  bulb uses only 9.5 watts; Cree says the savings in energy costs means it will pay for itself within a year. A model that replaces 40 watts costs $9.97; there’s also a 60-watt daylight-color bulb for $13.97.

The bulb comes with a 10-year warranty, but may last much longer. The company says it’s good for 25,000 hours, or 25 times the typical lifespan of an incandescent bulb; if used on average for three hours a day, that’s — hang on a minute while I do the math — almost 23 years. (By way of comparison, a compact fluorescent may last for 10,000 hours, or nine years.)

While the consumer market is hardly insignificant — the company figures there are 5.6 billion bulbs in North American residential use, most of them incandescent — 80 percent of the market is in the commercial-industrial sector. Swoboda has an interesting theory: that gaining consumer acceptance for LED lighting will lead to greater penetration among companies too.

At first, it seems counter-intuitive. On the other hand, it’s worked that way for smartphones and tablets, with people demanding to use the same tools in the workplace they’ve enjoyed in their personal lives.

And if he’s right, it will bring a whole new meaning to the term “BYOB.”

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