US Govt: Not all LEDs are created equal. Take it from a zombie

It doesn't do the fledgling LED industry much good when, amid all of its claims that bulbs will last decades, users report failures after some hopelessly short amount of time. The truth hurts.

With prices still ranging from around $10 to $25, who is going to reach for his or her wallet when in some areas of the US you can still buy a good old incandescent bulb for under a buck?

Setting aside that we won't really know for sure that an LED bulb will live for 25 years until 25 years are up (perhaps around 2035) reputable LED makers face an old bugaboo that challenges any industry: There are good products, and there are bad ones. And it's the bad ones that can unfairly tarnish an industry's reputation.

No one is currently broadcasting that message more than the US government's Environmental Protection Agency, a group that looks after the health and cleanliness of the country's air, land and water and that keeps an eye on climate change.

The EPA likes LED bulbs as much as anyone does, for all of their environmental benefits. Mainly, they use a lot less energy than incandescent bulbs and they should last those decades, thus cutting down on manufacturing and on resource depletion.

But it hasn't escaped Washington's notice that inferior quality products are infiltrating the market.

So the EPA has released a series of three lighthearted videos called Gallery of Dim Bulbs that could well fall under the title Not All LED Bulbs Are Created Equal. The videos don't address bulb longevity – only time will provide the answer there – but they expose other matters of lighting inequality, such as brightness, light direction and colour rendering.

Gallery doesn't break any comedy ground. Forgiving its clichéd cornball humour and its stereotypes (slouchy dumb-looking man in front of TV, woman dolling up, eastern European fortune teller) it makes an effective point: There are LED bulbs, and then there are LED bulbs.

The fun starts with a putrid-faced woman in front of a mirror, applying goodness knows what to her physiognomy.

'Margaret spends hours diligently putting on her makeup everyday by the drab light coming from the LED bulbs her husband recently installed,' says the on-camera narrator (who, for you American readers, has a disturbing Pee-wee Herman look about him).

'Drab light'? Ouch! So much for all those LED vendors boasting about light quality!

But there's Margaret, who thanks to bad LED lighting has managed unwittingly to transform her glamorous self into a zombie, applying the finishing touches of the wrong lipstick or mascara or whatever it is to the wrong place. Soon she will step out into the night, evoking horrified screams rather than lustful catcalls.

Her husband Floyd doesn't fare much better.

Slumped in his armchair, he manages to blow up his television by accidentally pushing a detonator device that he mistakes for a TV remote control in the gloomy LED-lit living room (let that be a lesson for all us not to leave our detonators near our other wireless gadgets). Floyd naturally seeks help from a palm reader, Madame Helga, who guess what - also struggles under inferior LED bulbs as the contrived 'plot' unfolds in her parlour with unlikely combinations of large intestines and catalytic converters.

You will be pleased to know that life takes a happy smiley turn for each of the heroes when they replace their rubbish LEDs with quality models.

The Edinburgh Comedy Festival is safe from this chuckle newcomer.

Nevertheless, it's impressive to see the EPA branch out in its effort to spread the message that could help preserve a good name for LEDs.

The agency uses it as a way of promoting its LED bulb certification program, in which the EPA gives its stamp of approval to LEDs that meet certain standards for energy savings (75 percent less than an incandescent), color rendering, light output and manufacturer's warranty (a minimum of three years).

It's part of the general Energy Star programme that the EPA started 22 years ago to establish voluntary energy performance standards for consumer products – a programme now ensconced internationally in among other places, the EU, Japan, Australia and New Zealand and Taiwan.

We look forward to the sequel video, about bulb longevity. It stands a good chance of outshining the original. After all, the EPA has a couple of decades to make it.

Heeeeere's Margaret! -

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Video is from the EPA via YouTube

Top photo is a screen grab from the video