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Sep 10

Energy Not-So-Smart

A few months ago I had a conversation with someone online about light bulbs. (Yeah, my life is pretty empty.) We were discussing the phaseout of 100W light bulbs and whether the next generation of bulbs was “ready” to replace them.

My house had an assortment of oldy-tyme incandescent light bulbs and florescent ones. The florescent bulbs certainly use less power, and their color is better than they used to be. But their slow start makes them annoying for some spots.

I realized I didn’t have any LED light bulbs in the house! OK, time to try a couple. I like experimenting with new technology to see what’s great…and what’s not so great.

LED lighting is new, and LEDs bright enough for lighting a room still don’t quite exist. The technology is difficult, as I understand it mostly in managing the heat from the light. Compared to incandescents, LED lights run cool … but the heat that they DO generate is all emitted in a microscopic little spot (as is the light). So instead of a big bulb full of glowing filament, you wind up with a brightly glowing spot the size of a grain of sand. Getting the heat out of that tiny spot … without blocking the light … is a huge engineering challenge.

So I took a deep breath and bought a GE Energy Smart A19 bulb…model LED9A19/830. It’s billed as a replacement for an olde time 40 W incandescent, but uses only 9 watts. And because it uses LEDs the package says it lasts 22.8 years! Wow! And costs about $30! Wow! OK, I’ll buy one…for Science. :)

GE Energy Smart A19

Our master bedroom has a small walk-in closet, so I put the new bulb there. A 40 watt light is enough for the small space, instant on is nice there, and it doesn’t get a lot of usage. If that bulb was going to last 22.8 years, that seemed like a great place for it to be.

Six months later, naturally the bulb is dead. I can’t say I’m honestly surprised. The bulb worked quite well, and I was completely happy with it when it worked. The light was pleasing and it was indeed bright enough for the small closet space. No noise or flicker or anything … it Just Worked. Until it stopped. 22.2 years earlier than advertised. :)

So with a $30 bulb that lasted for 2% of its expected lifespan, I want a refund or replacement. I don’t know about you, but I don’t keep receipts for light bulbs, and I don’t keep the original factory packaging. Do you? This ought to be interesting, then.

I started by going to the manufacturer’s website.

This is the Worst Web Site Ever.

So the page offers up pictures of three GE Energy Smart LED bulbs. If you hover your mouse over each page, a button appears that offers to show “More Detail”. But clicking that button doesn’t show more detail! Instead it takes you to a general search page for “Light Bulbs”, that doesn’t have any mention of LED lights on it at all. There’s even an “Advanced Search” button on the site that lets you select bulbs based on “Bulb Type”. But “LED” isn’t a type! There’s Incandescent, and Halogen, and Mercury, and a dozen others … but no LED at all! Trying to dig into the web site “reveals” (hah, bad joke) almost no information about the LED A19 bulbs.

OK, so let’s try to contact GE.

The Contact page says I really should contact my retailer. I bought the bulb at Orchard Supply Hardware … a bunch of nice people, but without a receipt I wonder if they will really be able to do anything. I’ll contact them to see. But I also want to contact GE. So let’s go to the “Contact Us – Product Concerns” page … aka what the URL says is the “Add Complaint” page.

This page requires a name, postal address and email address … and a 5-digit Product Code. Um…looking all over this light bulb there’s no 5 digit code anywhere. Clicking the helpful-sounding “Find Product Code” link takes me to a general page which is all excited about the Lorax … but which has no hints on finding the Product Code. Clicking the link for “5-Digit Product Code” brings up a popup that helpfully explains that the Product Code is on the back of the light bulb package. Uh, yeah. My bulb that lasts 22.8 years is dead … and I’m supposed to keep that package for all 22.8 years? Ahahahahaha.

I finally found a link on the gelighting.com website that would bring up a photo of the retail packaging of the bulb. The photo page helpfully lists the Product Code … 62180. Great! So I fill in my name and address in the Contact … er, Complaint … page, enter the Product Code, and type in a few sentences with my complaint.

Naturally the GE website refuses to accept my complaint, claiming that the Product Code I entered is not valid.

So … what have we learned?

1. LED lights are a new technology.

2. The technology isn’t quite ready for Prime Time.

3. The GE website is totally awful.

4. GE just barely acknowledges that they even make LED lightbulbs.

5. Their comment and complaint processes, which may be reasonable for traditional bulbs, make no sense at all for pricey long-lasting LED bulbs.

I will contact Orchard Supply, and will call GE tomorrow. But so far … GE LED Lightbulbs and the business processes surrounding them are Not Ready.

Update 1. I called GE Lighting, and they said they would send out a mailer to get the dead bulb returned as well as a coupon for another GE product. No hassle. I pointed out the contrast between how good the phone support was and how horrible the web site was. The nice lady noted that she hears that comment a lot and that a web site update was coming soon. OK.

So … next update in 10 days or so. :)

Update 2. 9/21/2012. The promised mailer has not yet arrived. I will call them again.

Update 3. 9/26/2012. I never got around to calling GE, but today a replacement bulb arrived. I’ve plugged it in where the old one had been; we’ll see how long this new one lasts!
…Sam