There's a lot to like about highly efficient LED light bulbs (especially the dent they can take out of your monthly power bill). But for the last few years, too many of them have been prohibitively expensive in the eyes of consumers who've grown accustomed to 50-cent incandescents.
Times are changing, though, and LED prices are falling fast. Just this year, we've seen a number of new LED bulbs land well below $10, and a few that have fallen even further that that. In short, there's never been a better time to buy in. Click through for a look at 10 budget-friendly options, each with a full review.
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Cree 60W Replacement LED
Cree helped kick off the age of the low-cost LED with this 60W replacement bulb. Built to emphasize both light quality and value and boasting a 10-year warranty, the bulb quickly became a best-seller in the lighting aisle. You can find it at Home Depot for just under $10 a piece.
Cree's follow-up 60W replacement ditched the glass bulb in favor of a plastic-bodied build. Also gone: the bulky heat sinks around the bulb's neck, replaced with clever vents for convection cooling. Both changes helped Cree shave a couple of dollars off of the price.
General Electric has been in the light bulb business from the very start -- this is the company of Thomas Edison, after all. So, it should come as no surprise that GE has plenty of skin in the LED game. This baseline 60W replacement bulb wasn't our favorite at its initial $10 price point, but you can get it at Wal-Mart now for $5, which makes a lot more sense.
You can also find $5 LEDs at Ikea, of all places. Dubbed "Ledare LEDs," the bulbs aren't quite as bright as most 60W replacement competitors, but they boast strong dimming capabilities and a surprisingly high color rendering score. If you're picking up a few hundred dollars' worth of assemble-it-yourself furniture, why not toss in a couple of bargain-priced light bulbs, too?
GE's newest bulb isn't a bulb at all. It's a stick-shaped LED -- and you can get three of them for $10. That's about as cheap an LED as we've seen, and a great value if you're looking to switch over a whole home's worth of bulbs.
Philips has a dirt-cheap 60W replacement LED for sale now, too, -- just $5 at Home Depot. At launch, Philips is running a 90-day two-for-one special: catch it, and you're looking at an LED that costs just $2.50.
One of the top-performing bulbs from our battery of tests is the 60W replacement LED from Osram, which sells at Lowe's for just under $10 each. With above-average brightness, excellent efficiency, and impressive performance on dimmer switches, it's one of the safest LED bets out there.
For a few bucks less, Osram also sells a 40W replacement LED. Like its big brother, it's a very strong option, and a solid pick for something like an accent lamp, where you don't need a ton of brightness.
We're starting to see the price come down on other bulb shapes, too. Take this BR30 LED floodlight from Cree, for instance. A year ago, the first-gen model cost nearly $20, but the new and improved second-gen version, due in stores this summer, will cost less than $10.
Looking ahead, expect more variety to emerge at the sub-$10 price point. Manufacturers are working on new ways of boosting key light quality specs like the color rendering score, and working to introduce additional shapes, forms and skews. Cheaper smart bulbs aren't far off, either -- Zigbee-powered connected LEDs from Cree and GE each already sell for $15. Stay tuned -- the era of affordable LED lighting is just getting started.