Fake That Fireplace Flicker With Flame Bulbs

Ask anyone who’s ever tuned into Fireplace TV on a cold winter’s night — even though you can’t feel the heat or roast a marshmallow with it, fake fire is almost as soothing as the real thing. And if you have kids or pets, it’s a whole lot safer. But why go to the expense of buying a lighted insert when you could just make your own?

You don’t even need to get fancy with a microcontroller and RGB LEDs, either — just do what [Ham-made] did and dismantle some LED flame bulbs. They already have everything you need, and the flex PCB makes them easy to work with.

[Ham-made] adhered three bulbs’ worth to a piece of foam board with double-stick tape, soldered all the leads together, and wired in a toggle switch and a 2xAA battery pack. The bulbs each had a tilt switch so that the “flames” flow upward regardless of orientation, but [Ham-made] removed those to avoid flickering connectivity and fights with the toggle switch.

Once it was all wired up, [Ham-made] hot-glued some magnets to the foam board and attached it to the underside of the grate to keep it safe from the logs and the ash pit, while still allowing the glow to emanate from the right spot for realism. The only thing missing are the crackles and pops, and [Ham-made] is burning to hear your implementation ideas.

[Ham-made] wasn’t using his fireplace in the traditional way because the house is smallish and centrally heated. But if you rely on yours to keep you warm and cozy, why not make it voice-activated?

2019: As The Hardware World Turns

Well, this is it. The end of the decade. In a few days the 2010s will be behind us, and a lot of very smug people will start making jokes on social media about how we’re back in the “Roaring 20s” again. Only this time around there’s a lot more plastic, and drastically less bathtub gin. It’s still unclear as to how much jazz will be involved.

Around this time we always say the same thing, but once again it bears repeating: it’s been a fantastic year for Hackaday. Of course, we had our usual honor of featuring literally thousands of incredible creations from the hacking and making community. But beyond that, we also bore witness to some fascinating tech trends, moments that could legitimately be called historic, and a fair number of blunders which won’t soon be forgotten. In fact, this year we’ve covered a wider breadth of topics than ever before, and judging by the record setting numbers we’ve seen in response, it seems you’ve been just as excited to read it as we were to write it.

To close out the year, let’s take a look at a few of the most popular and interesting stories of 2019. It’s been a wild ride, and we can’t wait to do it all over again in 2020.

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What Happened To The 100,000-Hour LED Bulbs?

Early adopters of LED lighting will remember 50,000 hour or even 100,000 hour lifetime ratings printed on the box. But during a recent trip to the hardware store the longest advertised lifetime I found was 25,000 hours. Others claimed only 7,500 or 15,000 hours. And yes, these are brand-name bulbs from Cree and GE.

So, what happened to those 100,000 hour residential LED bulbs? Were the initial estimates just over-optimistic? Was it all marketing hype? Or, did we not know enough about LED aging to predict the true useful life of a bulb?

I put these questions to the test. Join me after the break for some background on the light bulb cartel from the days of incandescent bulbs (not a joke, a cartel controlled the life of your bulbs), and for the destruction of some modern LED bulbs to see why the lifetimes are clocking in a lot lower than the original wave of LED replacements.

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Teardown: LED Bulb Yields Tiny UPS

Occasionally you run across a product that you just know is simply too good to be true. You might not know why, but you’ve got a hunch that what the bombastic phrasing on the package is telling you just doesn’t quite align with reality. That’s the feeling I got recently when I spotted the “LED intellibulb Battery Backup” bulb by Feit Electric. For around $12 USD at Home Depot, the box promises the purchaser will “Never be in the dark again”, and that the bulb will continue to work normally for up to 3.5 hours when the power is out. If I could repurpose that to make a tiny UPS for a microcontroller project of my own, it could be even more useful.

Now an LED light bulb with a battery in the base isn’t exactly rocket science, we can understand the product conceptually at a glance. But as they say, the devil is in the details. The box claims the bulb consumes 8.5 watts, but a battery with enough capacity to run such a load for 3.5 hours would be far too large to fit inside of a light bulb. Obviously there’s more to the story.

On the side of the box, in the smallest font used on the whole package, we get our clue. The bulb drops down to 200 lumens when in battery backup mode, or roughly as bright as a cheap LED flashlight. Now things are starting to come together. Without even opening the device, we can be fairly sure it will contain two separate arrays of LEDs: one low set for battery, and a brighter set to run when the bulb has AC power.

Still, I tend to be of the opinion that anything less than $20 or so is worth cracking open to see what makes it tick. Even if the product itself is underwhelming, there’s a chance the internal components could be useful or interesting. With that in mind, let’s see what’s inside a battery backup light bulb, and what we might be able to do with it.

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Resurrecting Dead LED Lightbulbs

If you’ve gone down the lighting isle of a store recently, you’ve no doubt noticed we are firmly in the age of the LED light bulb. Incandescent bulbs are kept in small stock for those who still have the odd-ball use case, there’s usually a handful of CFL bulbs for those who don’t mind filling their house with explosive vials of hot mercury, but mostly its all LED now. Which is as it should be: LED lighting is clearly the superior choice in terms of energy efficiency, lifetime, and environmental impact.

Unfortunately, a lot of the LED bulbs you’ll see on the rack are of pretty poor quality. In an effort to drive cost down corners get cut, and bulbs which should run for decades end up blowing after a couple of months. After yet another one failed on him, [Kerry Wong] decided to do a teardown to examine the failure in detail.

The failed LED driver.

He notes that most of the LEDs seem to fail in the same way, flickering after they are switched on until they just stop lighting up entirely. This hints at an overheating issue, and [Kerry] opines that aesthetic and cost considerations have pushed heat dissipation to the back burner in terms of design. It also doesn’t help that many of these bulbs are sitting in insulated recessed fixtures in the ceiling, making it even harder to keep them cool.

Once he separates the actual LEDs from the driver circuitry, he is able to determine that the emitters themselves still work fine. Rather than toss the whole thing in the trash, it’s possible to reuse the LEDs with a new power source, which is quickly demonstrated by showing off a shop light he built from “dead” LED light bulbs.

[Kerry Wong] isn’t the only one to put his LED bulbs under the knife. We’ve covered a number of teardowns which explore the cutting edge of home lighting; for better or for worse.

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Dollar Tree LED Bulb Tear Down

It is hard to remember now, but there was a time when electronics were expensive. [Adrian Black] found some 9W (60W equivalent) LED light bulbs at the Dollar Tree (a U.S. store where everything costs a dollar). Naturally, they cost a dollar, and he wanted to see what was inside of them. You can see the resulting video, below.

Apparently where [Adrian] lives there is a subsidy paid to retailers for selling LED lighting, so you may not be able to get the same bulbs at that price. Still, the price of these bulbs has dropped like a rock over the last few years.

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