Do LED bulbs last a super long time?

That’s always been the claim. So far experience suggests otherwise.

A few nights ago my desk lamp started blinking. Very annoying and distracting. Acted like a bad connection, which given that I had wired it was not out of the question. But the connections were fine, so I tried a new bulb, and right away ran smack into a storage problem I had anticipated and thought I had solved.

The Secret Lair has lights in two different voltages – worse, it has standard-socket light bulbs in two different voltages. Incredibly, some of these bulbs aren’t even marked. So I put my spares in baggies, carefully marked for voltage. The desk lamp is 12VDC, so I opened the 12VDC baggie and pulled out the one unwrapped bulb, brought it into the Lair…

…and it didn’t work. Because it’s for 120VAC, unmarked, and I carelessly mis-stored it. In the same bag were two 12VDC bulbs in their original wrapping, and one of those works fine – and indeed fixed the problem, which brings me back to the original complaint. Of course I have no notion of how many hours are on that bulb but I do know I wired that lamp into the new 12V lighting circuit in November 2014. So the failed bulb lasted just shy of four years. That would be pretty good for an incandescent. But given that I’m running a scrounged off-grid electrical system, am an inveterate lightswitch nazi and do not leave lamps on for hours and hours, there’s no way that bulb clocked 50,000 hours or whatever outlandish advertising claims there may be. Okay, not surprising, good to know.

Also I’m down to a single spare and need to buy more. Which of course aren’t sold locally.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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10 Responses to Do LED bulbs last a super long time?

  1. Jim Price says:

    I’ve changed my entire house over to LEDs over a period of several years. I should have waited a little longer. Some of the early ones were expensive (about $6 each) and failed exactly as yours did. They start blinking once they’ve warmed up. Never when cold. I’ve had none of the more recently purchased bulbs fail (yet) and the prices have come WAAYYY down. They’re now available at the local dollar store for a buck apiece. Other than those early ones, I’ve been very pleased with the longevity.

    One little piece of trivia I noticed is that the ones that failed were all mounted in lamps that orient the bulb base down. Whether that’s a factor I don’t know.

  2. It would be great if the bulbs lasted forever ( for all intents and purposes ). I was using 12v bayonet bulbs in RV lighting systems and they started out back then at $12 each. Alas, Chinese manufacturing. ‘Nuff said. I just love them for their power use and leave it at that.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am underwhelmed with the longevity of LED bulbs.

    Very similar to your experience, one will get to flickering and I immediately think the shack is about to burn down in an electrical fire. No, just a “going to last for trillions and trillions of hours” LED build flaking out after a few months of use.

    With all the material that goes into building an LED bulb, kind of makes you wonder if, with their actually much shorter life then we are told, they are saving the world like we were told when they stole our ability to get actual incandescent bulbs. I suspect there is a conspiracy page out there on this… 🙂

  4. clarence says:

    the ‘d’ stands for diode. if you run a diode at low amps, low volts they last a very long time before failure. as you increase the load through them, they start to deteriorate faster. as long as we are running diodes just as something to be seen, long life. when they are being used so that we can see something with them (light emitting), the increased electrical load wears them out quicker. and the quality of the led itself determines how long it lasts.

  5. Malatrope says:

    I have a great deal of experience with LED lighting, and I can say in no uncertain terms that the brand is paramount. The only failures I’ve had are with no-name Chinese junk. The most reliable (and naturally the most expensive) are Philips. Cree seems ok, and a bit cheaper. But with the cheapest, Eco-Smart and the like, you can pretty much expect a 10% early-failure rate.

    As Clarence points out, these things run hot because they are pushing a lot of current through them. Getting rid of the heat is paramount. That takes engineering quality that the lesser brands just don’t seem to have up their sleeves.

    On many of my Philips bulbs I have recently exceeded 50,000 hours. There have been no failures.

  6. Andrew says:

    Variations in voltage or ‘dirty voltage’ can also kill a LED. But as Malatrope said, quality bulbs last.

    If I remember correctly, you were still building and rebuilding your system at least once since moving into the Hermitage. So, considering some of the things you’ve been through, and some of the hits your system has taken, 4 years ain’t bad. Ain’t good, but ain’t bad.

  7. The issues we have seen are also with cheap bulbs, but not the LEDs themselves. It is typically the internal board and/or transformers that go bad before the diodes. Again, it is all in the heat management. We have several multibulb overhead pendulum style lights that basically trap the heat right around the base. The cheap bulbs failed with dismaying regularity (after about a year) until we spun the fixture so the bulbs pointed up. That immediately doubled the lifespan.

  8. terrapod says:

    Phillips seems to be better at lifespan than Cree but strangely appear to run hotter. I have had Crees fail a few months from install. The Chinese junk is just that, I don’t buy them any more.

    I mark each bulb with a sharpie on the date installed. I and have a hall light that is on 24/7 – it lasts about 2 years which is way less than the number of hours claimed. Maybe electrical spikes or other crap on the power lines shortens their lives but I have yet to have one last to the hours claimed. Mark the bulb voltage with a sharpie when you open the packaging, that solves the mystery when you find and forgot what it was etc.

  9. Hoeverse Gottit says:

    “Also I’m down to a single spare and need to buy more. Which of course aren’t sold locally.”

    And, just like that…

    Subtlety is not exactly your forte.

  10. Joel says:

    Subtlety is not exactly your forte.

    No, that wasn’t a lightbulb bleg. 🙂 I can be less subtle than that.

    Actually I already have some replacements coming, via Big Brother. So don’t do that.

To the stake with the heretic!