LEDs Are Challenging Reliance on Planned Product Obsolescence

There's nothing green about planned obsolescence of any building product. LEDs force manufacturers to face that fact.


And in many cases, the short lifespan of an object borders on pre-meditated sabotage. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the history of the common lightbulb. As the following excellent article from the New Yorker points out, even incandescent light bulbs could have been designed to last for decades, instead of a couple hundred hours. But LEDs may be the game changing technology that turns planned obsolescence on its head, finally. LEDs have a stated operational life of 50,000 hours, but could last even longer. And as their price drops, giant profit centers for companies such as GE and Philips are disappearing. Buying a new set of LED lamps for a home might skip an ENTIRE generation. At Green Builder, we see this as a good thing. Products SHOULD last as long as possible. To design a product for anything less than optimal performance is a sort of petty crime, legalized hucksterism in the name of short term profit, at the expense of finite resources. Hurrah for the LED revolution.--Matt Power, Editor-in-Chief

Here's an excerpt from the article from The New Yorker:

 Mackinnon LED Quandary

"The light bulb that has brightened the fire-department garage in Livermore, California, for the past hundred and fifteen years will not burn out. Instead, it will “expire.” When it does, it certainly won’t be thrown out. It will be “laid to rest.”

“You have to use the correct terminology,” Tom Bramell, a retired deputy fire chief who has become the Livermore light’s leading historian, told me. The bulb has been on almost continuously since 1901, he said; in 2015, it surpassed a million hours in service, making it, according to Guinness World Records, the longest-burning in the world.

Bramell so cuts the figure of a firefighter that he has smoke-colored eyes and hair, and a permanent hack from smoke inhalation (“I do a bag of cough drops a day”). His circumlocution around the bulb’s eventual, inevitable end reflects the reverence in which it is held by Livermorans and its more far-flung fans, who keep vigil over the light online. The bulb, he said, has outlived three webcams so far. It was manufactured sometime around 1900 by Shelby Electric, of Ohio, using a design by the French-American inventor Adolphe Chaillet. Its essential makeup is something of a mystery, because it is hard to dissect a light that is always on. (Shelby bulbs of the same vintage have been studied, but the company was experimenting with a variety of designs at the time.) What’s known for sure about the Livermore bulb is that it has a carbon filament of about the same human-hair thickness as the ones, typically made of tungsten, that are found in modern bulbs. It was made to be a sixty-watt bulb, though it currently illuminates the Fire Department Station 6 garage with only about the brightness of a nightlight."

READ MORE OF THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE, TITLED The L.E.D. Quandary: Why There’s No Such Thing as “Built to Last," by J. B. MacKinnon