Indulge me a VENT! Holy lightbulb shopping!

maggiepie11February 24, 2014

We've gone through our builder's preferred vendors for absolutely everything except lighting. We got some stuff at his lighting vendor, namely the ceiling fans because they provide the balancing service that the installing electrician won't.

So, I took on the burden of organizing all our light fixture requirements, which alone isn't trivial, but I gladly took it on for the opportunity to save by purchasing during sales or by purchasing at stores where coupons were available etc. And truth be told, I saved a ton of money, and got some fixtures that I wouldn't either have access to at the lighting vendor or wouldn't be able to afford.

What I didn't consider is that by purchasing all my own light fixtures I'd also be taking on the responsibility of purchasing all the bulbs as well. It doesn't seem like a big deal, and if we were just throwing incandescents up everywhere it probably wouldn't be a big deal. But we're building green, and as such, every bulb has to be energy star, which means CFL or LED.

With CFL and LED comes the constant translation of the wattage from the incandescent equivalent. i.e. my fixture requires 10 - 40watt candelabra bulbs, but that's really only 7W in CFL. Some packages and sites make the translation very simple and others you have to hunt for it.

It also means the bulbs are far uglier than their energy hog predecessors. So I was hunting for more attractive bulb shapes, like a flame tip candelabra bulb for all the exposed bulbs in our dining room chandy... in wattages I'm unfamiliar with, and then had to get the right color temperature which was a VERY tricky debate in my head. :) I don't like yellow incandescent light, but I also don't like blue toned operating room lighting. Both those colors (usually called "soft white" or 2700 kelvin and "cool white" or 4100 kelvin are readily available at almost every bulb site and the box stores. However, the middle ground, usually called "Bright white" or 3500 kelvin are very spotty in their availability.

To make matters worse, I got 6 days notice when they needed all the bulbs and got all my questions answered in terms of what size can lights they're installing etc to the point where I could actually shop for bulbs. So that ruled out most online shopping as it would be cutting it too close even with rush delivery which costs an arm and a leg.

So I spent about 6 hours auditing all the fixtures I bought making sure we're covered and then documenting the quantity and types of bulbs I need for all our fixtures. I spent about 4 hours shopping online trying to find a single source where I could get every bulb I need that also offers rush service. That was an epic fail.

Then I spent another few hours documenting from the HD and Lowes websites, which bulbs I'd get at which store locally, with Ikea thrown in there for some specialty LED lights I needed. I went with a 2 page color coded list in hand.

I spent a half hour at Ikea, and was feeling victorious. Then 1 hour at the first Home Depot trip, almost 2 hours at the first Lowes trip because I needed a large quantity of can bulbs and they didn't have them on the shelf but randomly merchandised throughout the store on endcaps for extra fun. Then I've been back to a different HD and to 2 more Lowes to get the last of our bulbs. Was very much over lightbulb shopping by the end of the shopping day.

If I charged myself hourly, any savings on lighting would be long gone for the effort the bulb shopping has taken. That said, his lighting vendor has not made the energy switch yet and they don't offer a selection of bulbs. They would have gladly provided us with COOL white (blue tone) bulbs for all our fixtures and that would have been that, so even if we bought our fixtures there, getting the bulbs from them wasn't an option, but still sucks how much effort has gone into something as unsexy as lightbulbs.

Did I mention the cost of these things? We have over $800 worth of lightbulbs going in this house!!! If I knew then what I know now, my 3 year old wouldn't have a sputnik style 12-led-bulb chandelier in his room. $100 in bulbs for that one fixture, and that was the bargain I found!

And now I have a few days to put big idiot-proof labels with my crayola markers on each package with the coordinating bulbs, according to my builder, else the licensed professional electrician would try to jam a medium size bulb into a candelabra base. :)

ok, i feel better after this vent. thank you!!

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I too have been shocked at what I spend on lightbulbs, just doing replacements for bulbs that burn out. For awhile I bought the CFL bulbs, but I don't like how they look and I hate the thought of a mercury-filled bulb breaking in my house. So that leaves LED now that incandescents aren't being sold anymore. And finding an LED without the bluish color has been tough, and expensive!

I kept a document with screen shots of the descriptions of all my new lights; the descriptions show the max wattage and type of bulb for each. That way I have a quick reference if I need to replace some bulbs and can't remember what wattage/bulb type each light needs. (I usually peel off those ugly stickers with the wattage info that are stuck on the the light fixtures themselves.)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 4:00PM
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The joke should change from 'how many does it take to change a light bulb' to 'how much does it COST to change a light bulb'!

Just to give you something else to keep you up at night- I bought some of the recessed LED fixtures for my can lights some months ago, and when I went back to get more, they no longer carry them! Needless to say, every other manufacturer makes a slightly different fixture, and they don't match. I relegated the first ones purchased to smaller rooms, and bought more for the kitchen, which uses 8 of them. Not only do they look different, but at night, when lit, they are much different. So make sure you have spares in case of a premature failure. The LED market is changing so fast, I don't know what people are going to do if one unit fails 5 years down the road. Chances are, you won't be able to get a match.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 4:19PM
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thanks chicagoans - glad i'm not alone! also glad to know that the stickers peel off. that's been one of my issues in trying to find a "pretty" bulb. The LEDs look mostly better than CFLs but half the bulb is clear and the other half is the plastic case with print all over it!

and mushcreek - funny you phrased it like that about another thing to keep me up at night. all kidding aside, i woke up around 3am the night of my shopping adventure tense as can be with swirls of lightbulbs in my dreams. it never ends!

i didn't even entertain the idea of going LED for the can lights because we need 27 of them and i want to be able to send my kids to college someday. :)

for what it's worth, i found these CFL flame tip bulbs that are entirely frosted so you don't see the funky spiral stuff inside and there's no writing on the base. these are what i chose for the chandeliers. fingers crossed.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 4:37PM
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Maggie, I totally understand your frustration.
I have yet to get the light bulbs needed for the fixtures. But this weekend I shopped for led recessed lights and had to go to three homedepots to get amount of quantity I needed. We have 50 recessed lights.(Yes that's a lot of recessed lights but DH would was adamant). These lights are expensive.

Mush creek, I hope they standardize the led's soon or you are right we will be in trouble when it comes to changing the Led's out.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 4:38PM
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We had to buy about 50 bulbs for the light fixtures in our new house. We wanted to do everything LED, but couldn't afford to do that. So we got *one* LED, put it in a difficult to reach fixture on the front of our garage. LED prices have got to come down in the future; as they do, we'll gradually replace the CFLs.

I'm not crazy about the look of the CFLs, except I see it as something we'll get used to. Just as people got accustomed to the look of the incandescents following the "original" light bulbs.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 4:46PM
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Just an fyi post. Lowe's has basic trim kits for cans from$4-7, and costco sells dimable led for can lights for 13.99 in soft white . The cheapest we found them before costco were at home depot or Lowe's for $34 I believe and those came as one piece. We did the trim and lights as their own piece to be able to change the bulb only if it burnt out. Hopefully this is some helpful information:)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 5:04PM
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You can get filter films to change the tint of light; pretty sure that's the only difference in your LED colors anyway.

I didn't like my super blue/white LED's, so I brushed some Garnett Shellac on them and that gave them a nice warmer tone. I haven't had the shellac melt off.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 5:48PM
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Whoa on the costs. I feel your pain. Ended up at the local Dollarama: 3 packs of 7 watt small base CFL chandelier shaped lights for $2. We needed the large base ones, 9 watt CFL - and those were only $2 each. The identical bulb was selling for $9 each at local big-box stores. Just think outside the box. :)

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 5:55PM
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I don't know if it's a conspiracy, or just my imagination, but recent incandescent bulb purchases haven't been holding up well at all. I've had two 60 watt GE's burn out in a couple months.

We bought twenty LED can fixtures. Lowe's has them for $27.98 at the moment. I hope the power savings, and long-lasting attributes pay off before I'm in the ground.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 6:50PM
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maggie-add me to the list. I was just shopping for bulbs earlier this week. Eyes glazed over...finally said, I'll send dh. I don't have time to stand here and try to figure this all out right now. I about choked when I saw the cost of LED's. When you are doing a whole house build it is a LOT to swallow. :(

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 7:54PM
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You can still buy existing stock incandescent and they aren't priced as if the supply has already dwindled. (When that happens, they will be much more expensive.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Incandescent bulbs

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 9:22PM
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maggie, since you're so good at this now, will you please be my bulb buyer? I'm so not looking forward to this task.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2014 at 11:50PM
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We were owner-builders, and with all the ups and downs of building the ONLY meltdown I had was over the lightbulbs. I'm sure the poor guy at Home Depot wished he hadn't come to work that day! DH is an energy-efficient fanatic and for years had made a bee-line to the lightbulbs EVERY time we'd enter HD or Lowes. I had totally expected him to choose every bulb, but . . . he was very sick when the electrician was finishing up with the fixtures, so all of a sudden I had to spend all of that money with NO knowledge of the various bulbs. So I feel your frustration!!!

BTW everyone, don't forget that the different lightbulbs will affect how your paint color looks.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 7:54AM
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I'm just curious but how do CFL bulbs qualify as green when they contain mercury?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 8:13AM
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DestinyVP - have you installed and used them yet? Quality control of the products at HD and Lowes aren't perfect, so I would imagine you get a lot more duds in the bunch at a store like that, but based on what you paid it's still probably a net win! good for you!

Jujubean - once i learn a new skill i'm usually happy to share it, but in this case if i never see another lightbulb it'll be too soon. :) Basically, decide what color you want first as the same kelvin scale applies to all types of lights whether you get all CFL, all LED or mix and match. If you want soft white like incandescent, your shopping will be a lot easier! and if you're not in a time crunch that will make it easier too as you can order from lots of different places to get exactly what you want.

Seww - "green built" homes in our area refer only to using materials and systems that are energy-saving. it doesn't factor in, unfortunately, anything else like wasteful use of materials on site, and we are not restricted to renewable resources or anything like that. Nonetheless, I'm so grateful we found a builder that's so keen on energy efficiency here.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 9:40AM
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Lori (loribug26_gw) Wagerman_Walker

amazing isn't it??
I was pretty excited about the CFLs coming with my fan light kits, but several of them didn't work when we put them in, or popped after a few flips of the switch. I've already replaced them all with the "good" ones I bought. I cleared out the floods too...

Here is a link that might be useful: This makes it even better...are you kidding me?

This post was edited by loribug26 on Tue, Feb 25, 14 at 11:09

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 10:59AM
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lori-you have GOT to be kidding me. Thanks for the link - I had no idea. Grr...

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 11:16AM
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I think that LEDs have come a long way and look superior to the old incandescents. We have a chandelier that should be fitted with candle flame tip bulbs and Lowes sells a perfect bulb for this purpose (I like the look better than the incandescent versions).

I'm concerned that the life estimates for LEDs are too optimistic (time will tell) especially because there's a small fortune in LED bulbs in my house (the one that I use the most is a $29/piece bulb).

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 11:31AM
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Circus Peanut

We inherited a house full of older fixtures (like, 1910 older) with new twisty CFL bulbs in them. Only after having a few near-misses with stinky melting bulb sockets did we figure out one thing the packages state that is seldom emphasized: do not install these bulbs upside-down!!

Modern fixtures and newer CFLs may or may not be OK for upside-down positioning, but please do be careful.

We're in a state that's far from energy-efficient and incandescents are still plentiful here, so we're back to those until LEDs get cheaper.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 11:55AM
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"they didn't have them on the shelf but randomly merchandised throughout the store on endcaps for extra fun."

I think we must shop in the same store! Seriously, are lightbulbs supposed to be impulse buys like junk food, or what?

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 1:36PM
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lori_inthenw: LOL!! right? if you're looking for an impulse snack, stay away from the CFLs. i hear they're high in mercury. ;)

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 2:09PM
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Your electrician might -or might not- be an expert on "bulbs". But no way was he going to do the study and take into account all the considerations regarding your preferences that you did. So you probably did save some money and probably do have closer to your preferences.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2014 at 2:41PM
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LEDs might feel like they cost alot, but if you are paying for them out of your financing over 15 years then you are coming out ahead.

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 1:18AM
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Suggestion: If you're still planning your house, try to choose light fixtures that use standard light bulbs. This means you only need keep on hand one type of bulb.

Right now in my light-bulb cabinet I have standard bulbs, small flame-looking bulbs, big fat bulbs for over my penninsula, and small appliance bulbs. I also have long flor. bulbs in my closets and an oddball florescent circle-type bulb in another spot. It's too much!

I'm working now on collecting light fixtures for the house we're going to build, and I'm trying very hard to stick to STANDARD. I've even chosen a lovely chandalier with "upturned" sconces that takes standard bulbs.

I know I won't succeed 100% in this goal -- I mean, I don't know how to work around appliance bulbs -- but it's one small way of making your house lower-maintenance, and I don't know anyone who doesn't want that!

    Bookmark   February 26, 2014 at 1:21PM
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