Night Lights and Energy Saving Low Wattage Lights - Test Results

Updated 3/29/2011

NOTE - some products below are likely to be discontinued. This web page will likely sometime in 2011 have at least some discontinued products deleted, with a link to likely the 3/29/2010 version of this page for archive purposes.

There are some old and some new low wattage lights and night lights out there. I just want people to beware of possible disappointments and to know of some of the better ones.

Note that all models described below are made for use in the USA, and require 120 volts. Some models require specifically 60 Hz AC. Most 120VAC LED models and in general 120 VAC electroluminescent models will work safely at 50 Hz 110-120 VAC with slightly reduced light output. Most fluorescent models requiring AC should only be operated at their rated frequency.

Contents:
The usual 1/4 watt neon night lights
The dual neon daylight-shutoff white oblong model
Those 3.5 and 4 watt fluorescent models
General Electric 1.5 watt fluorescent models
"Limelight", "Indiglo" and other electroluminescent models
Black And Decker daylight-shutoff model
General Electric / U.S. Energy Technologies 1.5 watt Mini Guide Light
GE, Dollar Store and Similar single-LED Nightlights
Target / Team Products roundish-oval LED Nightlight
Similar Feit Electric roundish-oval LED Nightlight
"Sweet Dreamers" dollar store LED Nightlights
Some LED Nightlights that I Like
LED "lightbulbs" in general

The usual 1/4 watt neon night lights

Most of you are probably familiar with these. They usually have a C2A (NE-2H) neon lamp and a 33K resistor. The NE-2H neon lamp is rated to last 20,000 hours with 120 VAC and a 33K resistor. The neon lamp normally fails gradually, either flickering or becoming dim instead of suddenly burning out. Aging neon lamps sometimes start more easily where there already is light due to the photoelectric effect.

UPDATE 4/1/2004 - These are less common than they used to be and are often now called "guide lights". They are available at Target and some/most places where GE nightlights are sold.

The dual neon daylight-shutoff white oblong model

I don't like these. I don't know the brand of the ones I am thinking of, but they are white, approx. 3 inches (7.5 cm) wide, 7/8 inch (2.2 cm) high, and have an A1B neon lamp (shorter version of the NE2) in each end. I think these are too dim. In addition, power consumption INCREASES when the light is shut off by daylight or room light.

The unit consists of two A1B neon lamps and a 10K resistor all in series, with a cadmium sulfide cell in parallel with the pair of neon lamps. Another problem with this unit is unreliable light output at low voltages. This unit will not light during a significant brownout.

Those 3.5 and 4 watt fluorescent models

I have the 3.5 watt one by American Power Products. I hope other brand ones are better. These are generally claimed to be equivalent to a 20 or a 25 watt incandescent lamp. My 3.5 watt unit is dimmer than a 15 watt incandescent lamp - equivalent to or maybe slightly brighter than a 10 watt 120 volt incandescent lamp. I did allow the lamp to warm up before comparing it to incandescent lamps. The spectral output is slightly more favorable to night vision than that of incandescent, but even to night vision, my 3.5 watt light was dimmer than a 15 watt 120 volt incandescent lamp.

The American Power Products 3.5 watt unit that I have also flickers slightly.

General Electric 1.5 watt fluorescent models

There are at least three of these:

1. A very rounded triangular or triangle-egg-shaped one with a blue push-on-push-off switch, which glows an icy cold pure white to "daylight" color.

2. A different shape white one with a "1-0" switch, which glows a roughly incandescent yellowish warm-white color.

3. A green model which is labelled as "neon".

I purchased the yellowish-glowing model on July 1 2002 and the pure-white-glowing model on July 8 2002 and have been running them 24 hours a day ever since with few breaks.

The yellowish-glowing model produces more light than the pure white model, but to night vision it may be the other way around. The yellowish model produces approx. 9 lumens of light, which is a little less than half as much light as is produced by a typical 4 watt 120V incandescent lamp. To night vision, light output may be more than half that of a 4 watt incandescent. Efficiency is about that of 7-7.5 watt 120V incandescents. Miniaturized fluorescent lamps, especially when miniaturized in length, are inherently less efficient than longer ones.

No claims are made as to light output nor life expectancy except that life expectancy is longer than that of 4 watt incandescent.

UPDATE 5/7/2003 - The warmer color one burned out on 5/4/03, which is approx. 7400 hours. It has experienced approx. 100 starts.

UPDATE 4/1/2004 - The cooler white one largely conked out in mid-March 2004, with two distinct major decreases in brightness about a week apart. It lasted a little over 20 months of operation 24 hours per day with only a few hours per year of off time.

The yellower one and the pure/cool white one appear to have different circuits inside.

"Limelight", "Indiglo" and other electroluminescent models

These work. They do indeed draw extremely small amounts of power. They are capacitive loads, so the power consumption is less than the figure you get by multiplying volts by amps drawn. (For further explanation, get almost any textbook that covers AC circuit analysis.) For more info on electroluninescent lamps in general, go to my odd lamp page. These do indeed draw only 1/16 of a watt.

As for efficiency? The efficiency is comparable to incandescent, and the light output is comparable to the usual 1/4 watt orange neon models. But the light is mostly of wavelengths that night vision is sensitive to, and these illuminate dark rooms much more than 1/4 watt orange neon models do.

These do have impressive warranties against burning out. But there is one dark side of electroluminescent night lights: They do deteriorate with use. I have no hard figures, but I hear horror stories about their "half life" being only a couple to a few years. Sometimes their light-emitting areas develop dark spots.

Black And Decker daylight-shutoff model

These do work. Furthermore, the model I am thinking of (don't have a specific model number handy) has a diode built in to dim the bulb and extend its life. Light output is reduced about 70 percent, and power consumption is reduced by about 40 percent. However, the very thin filament cools significantly during the "off" half of each AC cycle and heats up significantly during the "on" half of the AC cycle. Life extension is less than one would expect, but still significant. The bulbs seem to last an average of roughly 5-10 years in normal household use.

General Electric / U.S. Energy Technologies 1.5 watt Mini Guide Light

I consider this one a disappointment. The package claims it draws 1.5 watts and puts out as much light as a standard 7 watt night light bulb. This may be true if you are comparing this thing to a 7 watt old-fashioned night light used with a black shade because a 7 watt bare bulb is too bright. Otherwise, I have a gripe with this claim. The Mini Guide Light produces about 40-50 percent as much light as a 4 watt standard night light bulb.

The bulb in the Mini Guide Light is a low voltage incandescent lamp that is built in and not intended to be replaceable. I could make out the filament, and think the bulb may be an 1829 or an 1819 or something similar. This light has a built-in electronic ballast to power a low voltage incandescent lamp. There is an efficiency advantage, since a shorter, thicker filament can be operated at a higher temperature for the same lifetime than a thinner filament can.

From the color of the filament, I expect a lifetime of at best several thousand hours. Since it costs about US$ 7 and could easily burn out in a couple years, I think it is no bargain.

Dollar Store, GE and similar single-LED Nightlights

NOTE 3/2/2008 - similar products of other brands have appeared.

NEWS 1/10/2004, updated 1/16/2004 - I purchased late in December 2003 a few LED nightlights from a dollar store. Claimed power consumption is usually 1/3-1/2 watt. Actual power consumption so far in my experience has mostly been around .3-.33 watt.

Most of the power consumption in these models is in circuit components other than the LED.

The white versions will fade over the years, with a "halflife" of only a few years or more likely even around a year, due to phosphor degradation that is normal in white LEDs.

There is a green version that both outperforms (in terms of illumination as seen by night vision) and outlasts the white version. There is also a blue verson.

White, green and blue units are brighter than neon and electroluminescent units, though dimmer than 4 watt incandescents. White, green and blue LED units stimulate night vision well and allow most people to easily see in rooms at nighttime.

Red and yellow LED nightlights are less common, since they are dimmer than white and green ones and also do not stimulate night vision well. Yellow ones are a little brighter than neon "guide lights", while red ones are about as bright as neon "guide lights". Red ones often effectively illuminate rooms even less than neon "guide lights" do.

A review is available HERE in Craig Johnson's world-famous site for LEDs and LED products, mostly flashlights.

GE produces a similar white LED nightlight, which I believe these are a knockoff of.

Target / Team Products roundish-oval LED Nightlight

Target sold these nightlights, but discontinued them. They have since turned up at a small number of dollar stores, but mostly went away afterwards.

These are the ones reviewed by Craig Johnson as noted below. Target now sells other LED nightlights.

They are attractive, roughly of the shape and size of an egg, and have a round dome. Power consumption is claimed to be 1 watt. They have a photocell to shut them off when bright light is present, although the power consumption does not change much when this happens.
Light output is much more than that of neon "guide lights" and somewhat more than that of electroluminescent models, but much less than that of 4-watt incandescent models.

Craig Johnsom has a more extensive review of these at:

http://ledmuseum.candlepower.us/fifteen/tpnight.htm

One note: I have found these to noticeably lose light output and become more blue in color after just a few months of operation. I suspect the phosphor in the white LEDs is a lower quality one that fades from just a few thousand hours of operation.

Similar Feit Electric roundish-oval LED Nightlight

I found these turning up in early 2009 or so, and bought one from my favorite nearby supermarket in mid-2009 for testing. They look like the above Team Products ones.

However, they are improved from the Team Products / Target version that I first purchased in 2004 or late 2003.

I had one of the Feit Electric ones running since early Septermber 2009, with black electric tape over the photocell to force it ro run 24/7. UPDATE 12/6/2010: On this date light output was found to be 53.1% as great as on 9/24/2009. The 46.9% degradation in 438 days is at a rate where the half life is 1.31 years.

I doubt their claim of 100,000 hour life expectancy at this rate. Although 100,000 hours is a widely-repeated figure for life expectancy of LEDs, they usually last 50,000 hours or less before fading to an extent considered to be failure unless they are underpowered.

The Feit Electric version produces somewhat more light than the Team Products version did, although it is still much dimmer than a 4 watt incandescent nightlight. It appears to me that the light output improvement came from use of a less opaque version of the translucent outer surface that the light exits through, and from omitting an "inner dome" diffuser over the LEDs. I consider the light output to be useful.

"Sweet Dreamers" dollar store LED Nightlights

These have a red LED, a green LED and a blue one and are claimed to consume maximum of .3 watt. I find that they actually consume approx. .45 watt.

The circuit is the 3 LEDs, a diode, and a 15K-ohm resistor (of a size appearing to me to be 1/2 watt) all in series. The 15K resistor typically dissipates .4 watt. My experience with electronics repair makes me uneasy with resistors dissipating more than 70% of their power rating in heavy, continuous or long-term use.

"Crude measurement of light output" indicates half a lumen - with the front cover removed. The scotopic/photopic ratio is fairly high, and ability to stimulate night vision is likely comparable to that of 1 lumen of light from white LEDs and 2 lumens of incandescent nightlight light. The front cover blocks about half the light.

The front cover comes off easily without tools, exposing the LEDs. This is a very minor shock hazard. Gripping the unit by the LEDs (somewhat easy to do with the front cover removed) is not recommended, since that can lead to eventual breakage of the LED leads by "metal fatigue".

Some LED Nightlights that I Like

1. Feit Electric "Eternalite" C7 "bulb":

This is an LED "bulb" that can be used in place of 4-7 watt candelabra screw base incandescents. Power consumption is approx. .45 watt. Light output is fairly usual for LED nightlights. It has 3 white LEDs that have a very cool bluish white color. I estimate the color temp. to be about 8,000-9000 K. Light output is somewhere around "crude measurement" 1-2 lumens. Efficiency is in the "low end of incandescent" range, though better than that for night vision.

A shade is unlikely to be necessary in a usual candelabra base nightlight. The light output pattern is different from that of incandescents, due to the light output being more through the tip of the bulb. However, there is no well-defined beam.

The LEDs are being provided much less power than usual, so they should fade more slowly than most low power white LEDs do. As a result, I consider the claim of 50,000 hour life expectancy to be realistic.

2. Amertac Green/Blue switchable model 71381, available at Home Depot:

This is an LED model that resembles electroluminescent ones. Power consumption is stated as .3 watt. It is somewhat brighter than electroluminescent units. It has a switch for green, blue and off. It is available in 2-packs at Home Depot.

Although this unit provides less light than 4-7 watt incandescents, it is plenty bright for most nightlight use since green and blue LEDs provide wavelengths of light that night vision is sensitive to.

Light output in lumens so far, according to actual measurements although likely to not be very accurate, are approx. .2 lumen for green and approx. .1 lumen for blue. Although the photometric energy efficiency is less than that of incandescents, these lights can easily replace incandescent nightlights and achieve energy savings, since their light output is likely to be adequate with the high sensitivity of night vision to the wavelengths produced by these and most other blue and green LED nightlights.

To night vision, the blue LED used here actually outshines the green LED despite lower photometric results.

I consider this unit notable for being reasonably economically priced for a non-dollar-store unit, and also for having blue/green LEDs instead of an aging-prone white LED. Expect the LEDs to give many years of service with little fading.

LED "lightbulbs" in general

There are now many LED screw base "light bulbs". These have screw bases and fit in usual lightbulb sockets. Most have big claims of energy efficiency and/or "incandescent equivalence".

Units of Philips brand (available at Home Depot) or Sylvania brand (available at Lowes) appear to me likely to be better and more honest with their ratings.

Buyer beware of any or any combination of the following disappointments in many models as of 3/29/2011:

* Light output claim has a big number due to apples-to-oranges comparison
    (usually from the LED one having a beam)
* Light output is less than claimed by all measures
* Light from white units has an icy cold color
* Warm white version is even dimmer than icy cold color version
* Many white units will fade over the years
* White units have reduced efficiency if color rendering index is high.

This situation is not as bad now as it was in 2005-2009.

Beware that it is common for white LEDs to fade significantly within 10,000 hours. Better units are generally rated 15,000-35,000 hours, 50,000 hours at most.

If you see a life rating of 100,000 hours, then that is likely only the often-repeated number that applies for colored LEDs, and actual life expectancy may be much shorter.

Green units will tend to work well for good illumination efficiency and lack of fading. Red and blue units also resist fading, but generally provide less illumination. However, colored units are not commonly available except from online sellers.


Written by Don Klipstein.

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