Even though the relentless LED revolutionists at Cree recently pledged to help free the American workforce from the unholy terror that is overhead fluorescent lighting, this doesn’t mean the North Carolina-based company has completely shifted its focus from consumer back to commercial lighting. 

Following last month’s release of a LED replacement for halogen PAR38 bulbs — you know, those clunky n' chunky one-directional beasts commonly used for indoor track lighting and exterior flood/spot/security lights — Cree has now bravely waded into somewhat uncharted consumer lighting territory: three-way bulbs. 

While LED replacement bulbs for three-way fixtures do indeed exist, they’re somewhat of a rarity — and often prohibitively spendy. And so, many consumers have been left to settle with inferior CFLs and inefficient three-way incandescents, which, as specialty bulbs, have not been phased-out by the federal government alongside with their single-output siblings.

With a sticker price of $24.95, a lifespan of 25,000 hours, and a shape that mimics the reassuring contours of the incandescent, the new 3-Way Cree LED consumes a staggering 90 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs that perform the same function, and not nearly as well.

Although I personally don't use three-way incandescent bulbs, I had been using a CFL three-way in a lamp in my living room. When I swapped it out with the new Cree bulb, the difference in light output was dramatic. It was like I had never really experienced a true three-way light bulb before — just something that was loosely 2-and-a-half-ish with little noticeable difference between the “medium” and “high” outputs.

Instead of relying on differences in wattage as three-way CFL and incandescent bulbs do, the 3-Way Cree LED, designed to replace 30/60/100-watt three-way bulbs, measures its trio of brightness levels in actual light output: 320 lumens at 3 watts, 820 lumens at 8 watts, and 1620 lumens at 18 watts. Again, the difference in brightness between each level of light, particuarly the top two levels, is markedly noticeable and not just vaguely/slightly/not really apparent to the naked eye as was the case of my old CFL three-way.

Want to join Cree in a little hot and heavy three-way light bulb action? The American-made bulb is available now online or at your nearest Home Depot.

It’s also worth noting that Cree, alongside other energy-efficient lighting heavyweights such as Philips and Osram Sylvania, appears to be on board as one of the dozen-or-so Apple HomeKit partners, so expect more news on that front in the coming months.

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

From Cree, a 3-way LED bulb that really, truly goes 3 ways
Unlike incandescent 3-way bulbs that really only have 2 levels of brightness, the 3-way Cree LED boats a trio of brightness levels you can actually see.