LED Recessed Lighting Shootout: Home Depot vs Lowes vs Costco


Update (13-Aug-2017): Costco in our area has started carrying a soft white retrofit kit. I had a chance to buy a couple pairs and try them out. I’ve updated this review, and I now  feel that for the price the Costco Feit Electronic lights are tough to beat.

Update (12-Apr-2017): Shortly after writing this I installed 12 of the Home Depot Commercial Electric kits, and 4 of the Lowes UtiliTech Pros. My recommendation is now clearly for the Home Depot CE kit. Out of the four Lowes lights one has developed a hum and another occasionally flickers. Out of the 12 Home Depot lights I have had zero issues.


When we remodeled our house in 2000 we installed recessed can lighting. A lot of recessed can lighting. As in 69 6″ halogen cans. Oddly enough, we don’t use much of that lighting. In the bedrooms yes, but otherwise not so much. Why? Because the halogens use so much electricity and put out so much heat that we were reluctant to turn them on.

Now that LED retrofit kits have come down in price I decided to get serious about replacing the old halogens. There are lots of choices in LED kits. I wanted bang-for-the-buck. That quickly led to the house brands of Lowes and Home Depot.

So I decided to do a shootout. I bought a pair of each and compared.

Why a retrofit kit instead of just replacing the bulbs? Because the retrofit kits:

  1. Look nicer, especially if you have old yellowing trim rings on your cans.
  2. Help to seal that big hole in your ceiling. Old style cans are notorious for allowing airflow between your attic and your living space. Most kits come with a rubber gasket and seal tight against the ceiling helping to reduce that air flow.

What I Bought

Before I start keep in mind that Lowes and Home Depot continually update their products using the same “item number”. So by the time you read this things might have changed. But this will give you an idea of what to look for.

Note: the Lowes lights were purchased in a two-pack. Price is for one light. I recently purchased the Costco Feit light.

Lowes UtiliTech Pro Home Depot Commercial Electric Costco Feit Electric
Item 0599032 (SKU 8 22985 51130 8) SKU 0 46335 97939 0 ITM 1136343
Model MQTL1017-LED11.5K827 CER6730AWH27 CELEDR56/927/2
Date Code 0415 Unk Unk
Color Temp 2700 2700 Soft White
Lumens 700 670 850
Watts 11.5 11 11.3
CRI 80 90 90+
Beam Angle Unknown 96deg 101deg
Made In China China Unknown
Price $17.49 $15.97 $7.50
Notes Back of light says Type LB012CM-160C Back of light says Model CDLPS35OR15

Performance

Lowes UtiliTech Pro Home Depot Commercial Electric Costco Feit Electric
Ease of Installation B+ A A
Fit B A B+
Appearance B+ B+ A
Speed A B A
Brightness A B+ A
Color Quality B A A
Quiteness A A A
Dimming A B B+

Impressions

All products were very easy to install. The Home Depot lights were a bit easier because the torsion springs were pre-set into a V and required less compression to slip into the tabs in the can. Also, the Home Depot springs had an improved profile — a bend in the spring that caused it to “snap” into place as you pushed the light up into the can. This resulted in a tight fit against the ceiling. The Costco lights lacked the rubber gasket that helps seal against the ceiling, but seemed to fit well otherwise. Overall the products were easy to install and fit well, but I’ll give a slight node to the Home Depot light.

Appearance is a matter of taste. The Lowes lights are recessed farther into the can and have a stair-stepped bezel. The Home Depot lights have a cleaner look, but when staring directly into them you can see the yellow of some of the leds — once installed this is not as obvious. The Costco Feit Electric lights have a very clean look that I had a slight preference for.

The Lowes and Costco lights turn on instantly, the Home Depot lights have a split second delay. All have good light quality. The Costco light was the brightest — almost too bright for some applications. Lowes was in the middle, and the Home Depot seems a bit more true to color (this is consistent with their lumens and CRI numbers).

All lights dimmed well using my 15 year old Lutron dimmer, and I could detect no noise or buzzing. From low to bright the color stayed consistent. On the lowest setting the Lowes lights were dimmest — so they get the nod here.

Conclusion

All of these kits worked well and I would be satisfied with any of them.

But the price of the Costco Feit Electronics light is tough to beat. In our area there is an instant utility rebate that brought the cost of these lights to $5 each! Very tough to beat that.

Pictures

Which is the Home Depot light? The one with the yellow LEDs showing through. Once installed in the ceiling it doesn't look this bad.

Which is the Home Depot light? The one with the yellow LEDs showing through. Once installed in the ceiling it isn’t  this obvious.

Note the profile of the tension spring on the Home Depot light. It really helped to hold the light firmly against the ceiling.

Note the profile of the tension spring on the Home Depot light on the right. It really helped to hold the light firmly against the ceiling. Also you can see that both lights have a rubber gasket to help seal against the ceiling.

FeitLight

The Feit Electronic light from Costco has a very clean look, performs well and is cheap. Note the lack of rubber gasket to seal against the ceiling. Otherwise they fit very well.

Old fixture with yellowing trim ring.

Old fixture with yellowing trim ring.

You can see the tabs that the tension spring legs slip into. On some cans these are pressed against the walls and you need to bend them out.

You can see the tab that the tension spring legs slip into in the bottom of the photo. On some cans these are pressed against the walls and you need to bend them out.

One of the Lowes lights had a bit of a gap between the ring and the ceiling.

One of the Lowes lights had a bit of a gap between the ring and the ceiling. Others fit better, so this was in part an issue with our ceiling.

The Home Depot lights sucked firm against the ceiling thanks to the spring design.

The Home Depot lights are held firmly against the ceiling thanks to the spring design.

FeitLight2

The Costco Feit Electronics light has a very clean look and fit well despite its lack of rubber gasket.

Amari: Life is Bittersweet – Tasting Review of 6 Amari

Amaro is a large category of Italian herbal liquor that is traditionally sipped neat as an apertif or a digestif. Here in the states amaro is more typically used as an ingredient for cocktails or with a splash of soda.  The most common example is Campari — the key ingredient of the beloved Negroni.  Cynar shows up in the spectacular Little Italy, a Manhattan variant. And finally, a friend at work (a newly minted Manhattan lover) shared his Manhattan recipe that tempers Carpano Antica with a little Cardamaro.

So clearly there is something worth looking into here. Having already reviewed some of the more common vermouths,  it was time to turn my attention to amari.

The Supplies

After a little research on the web I chose my lineup and headed off to Beltramo’s Wines and Spirits in Menlo Park, CA. Here is what I came home with (as pictured left to right above):

  1. Fernet Branca, 375ml, 78 proof, $14.99
  2. Luxardo Amaro Abano, 750ml, 60 proof, $22.99
  3. Averna Amaro, 750ml, 58 proof, $26.99
  4. Cynar, 1L, 33 proof, $23.99
  5. Ramazzotti Amaro, 750ml, 60 proof, $21.99
  6. Cardamaro Vino Amaro, 750ml, 34 proof, $21.99
  7. Amaro Di Toscana, 750ml, 60 proof, $19 (purchased later so not in photo)

Where is the Campari? I chose to leave it out. It’s pretty familiar to many, and  it would be the odd man out in this lineup — being strongly citrus.

All of these amari are italian. Beltramo’s had many more, including a number from other countries. But six seemed a good number for both my palette and my wallet.

The Method

I started off tasting these head-to-head neat. Then incorporated them into my evening libations over the course of weeks. I also invited others (in particular my brother) to join in the fun.

One of the common applications of amaro is to use it in a Manhattan replacing the bitters and a bit of the vermouth. Depending on the ratios this can be called a Black Manhattan or a Little Italy. I call it one of the best damn cocktails on the planet.

For reference here is the Little Italy recipe I (generally) used:

  • 2 parts Bulleit Bourbon
  • 3/4 part Martini and Rossi sweet vermouth (or Cocchi if it’s a special occasion!)
  • 1/2 part Amaro

Stir with ice for 60 seconds and serve up or on the rocks, garnished with a cherry and/or orange twist.

The Results

Averna Amaro

Made in Sicily using a recipe dating back to 1868, Averna is a gentle introduction to amaro. Quite tasty on the rocks, Averna is sweet with a slight herbal orange start and finishes with hints of chocolate and caramel. With little to no bitterness Averna is comfortable and inviting.

In the Little Italy the Averna was good, but easily over-powered by the whiskey. It added some sweetness but not much more. When paired with a lighter whiskey, like Canadian, it might prove to be a good match. I’ll have to give that a try!

Overall a friendly, tasty amaro, but if you want something with a bit more character then there are better choices.

Cardamaro Vino Amaro

I first heard of Cardamaro from a co-worker who uses it in his Manhattan recipe along with Carpano Antica vermouth. Cardamaro differs from other amari in that it is wine based. Sweet, with subtle vegetal flavors Cardamaro is lighter than the other amari here with very little bitterness. On the rocks Cardamaro is easy sipping and refreshing.

Cardamaro was fine in the Little Italy, but the resulting drink tasted more like a stock Manhattan than something special. My co-worker might have had it right — using the Cardamaro to complement a bold vermouth like Carpano rather than using it to enhance a milder vermouth like M & R or Cocchi.

Cynar

Cynar is based on 13 herbs and plants including artichoke and was the winner of Best Herbal/Botanical Liqueur at the 2015 San Francisco Wolrd Spirits Competition. While some reviews I’ve read claim it is less sweet than many amari, I find the opposite to be true. Quite sweet and pleasantly vegetal with a sturdy bitter finish. An no — it doesn’t taste like artichokes. Cynar finally brings the bitterness I was looking for, but on the rocks is not where it shines.

In the Little Italy? Brilliant! The sweet/bitter/earthy flavor rounds out this Manhattan variation perfectly. As I said, this might very well be the best cocktail ever.

Update: Cynar 70: My wife came upon this and bought me a bottle — gotta love her! This is a 70 proof version of Cynar and tastes a lot like normal Cynar but with the warm bite of additional alcohol. As you’d expect it was very good in the Little Italy, but were it shined was on the rocks. Less cloying and more substantial than it’s lower proofed sibling  Cynar 70 makes for an excellent digestif. The downside is the cost, running about $10 more than regular Cynar. Might be worth trying a 50/50 mix of regular Cynar and brandy to see how close it comes to Cynar 70.

Fernet Branca

I don’t get it. Apparently San Francisco is the #1 Fernet Branca market in the US. Go into any Safeway or liquor store around here and you’ll find this strongly bitter elixir. Averna? Nope. Cynar? Nope. Fernet? Yes. Why? Who drinks this stuff?

Fernet is actually a sub-category of amaro, but when used informally it usually refers to Fernet Branca. Fernet Branca is not bittersweet. It’s just bitter. Bracingly bitter. With a touch of menthol. Bitter menthol. That’s it. On the rocks it is awful. The only reason I’d drink this is to settle my stomach. It tastes like medicine. It is medicine. Or poison. I’m not sure.

I knew I had to approach the cocktail portion of my tasting with caution. Use Fernet with a heavy hand and it will run roughshod over the other ingredients — ruining perfectly good whiskey and vermouth. With this in mind I chose to forgo the Little Italy and instead simply replace the bitters in my standard Manhattan recipe with 1/4 part Fernet (2 parts whiskey, 1 part vermouth, 1/4 part Fernet Branca).

And it was terrible. Even at these ratios the Fernet made the Manhattan taste like Fernet. So I’ve learned something. With all the great spirits out there I don’t need to waste any more time on Fernet Branca.

Luxardo Amaro Abano

Luxardo is known for their Maraschino Cherries. Their cherries cost $20 a jar. And no, they are nothing like the ones you just got at Safeway. Luxardo also makes liqueurs and amari. On the rocks the Amaro Abano hits you with flavors of blackstrap licorice and a long bitter finish. On its own I found it a bit unpleasant.

But in the Little Italy the Luxardo was tamed and actually worked pretty well. I still prefer the Cynar with its extra sweetness, but it you want to try something a bit different then the Luxardo is worth a try.

Ramazzotti Amaro

From Milan since 1815, Ramazzotti is one of the oldest amari — and heck, I like saying the name.  On my first tasting of these amari the Averna was my favorite. It was tasty and accessible. But the Ramazzotti stood out as interesting. As I continued to taste these over the course of a couple of weeks the Averna started feeling “ordinary” and my affection for the Ramazzotti grew.

Ramazzotti Amaro starts out with bitter orange and finishes with a touch of licorice and a hint (just a hint) of mint. It’s moderately sweet with a nice bitter finish. This fits my stereotype of what an amaro should taste like, and the Ramazzotti has become my clear favorite on the rocks. It is really good.

But in the Little Italy those flavors that make the Ramazzotti a delight on its own fall to the background, and the resulting drink is good but not quite as good as with the Cynar.

Amaro Di Toscana

This was not in the original tasting, but I had a $10 off coupon for our local Total Wine & More, and I couldn’t get out of there without buying a bottle of amaro. Man I love that place. I tend to wander around and drool.

Anyway, I picked up a bottle of this and I like it.  I would place it between Ramazzotti and Cynar 70 in terms of taste. It’s similar to Ramazotti but with a bit stronger bitter finish — although not as strong as Cynar 70. It has the (very) slight menthol of Ramazotti, and not as vegetal as Cynar. So if you like Ramazotti, but want a bit more bitter then give this a try.

In a Little Italy this was quite good. Since it has a little more backbone than the Ramazzotti it held its own and the slight menthol fell to the background so it was not distracting. I still prefer Cynar for my little Italy, but Amaro Di Toscana works nearly as well. It was quite yummy.

Summary

Other than the Fernet I found all these amari enjoyable to one degree or another. And I will continue to enjoy them until the bottles are empty. Then I plan to keep Cynar and Ramazzotti stocked in my liquor cabinet. In summary:

For drinking on the rocks:

  1. Averna if you want tasty and easy drinking
  2. Ramazzotti if you want a little more flavor and bitterness
  3. Cardamaro if you want light and refreshing

In a cocktail:

  1. Cynar for the best Little Italy ever
  2. Luxardo if you prefer it a bit drier
  3. Cardamaro if you’re pairing with a power-house vermouth (like Carpano Antica)

If you have a stomach ache:

  1. Fernet Branca