Guest Post by Fran J. Donegan
It may be time to declare a winner — or at least a clear leader — in the race to develop the most energy-efficient light bulb. Up until recently, we used pretty much the same type of light bulb in our lamps and light fixtures that Thomas Edison patented in 1880. But those incandescent bulbs are energy wasters. They require a lot of electricity to produce light. Plus, they give off heat, resulting in higher air conditioning costs. Then along came compact fluorescent lights (CFL) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, which use 70 to 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light.
CFL versus LED
CFL and LED light bulbs gained popularity because of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. Among other provisions, the act set minimum energy standards for light bulbs. By 2014, all new bulbs had to be 27 percent more energy efficient than what was standard at the time – this means old-school 60-watt light bulbs now have to produce the same amount of light using only about 43 watts of power. A watt is a measurement of the amount of energy the bulb consumes.
That opened the door for CFLs and LEDs, which provide the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb, but do it using about 15 and 9 watts respectively. And although they are based on different lighting technologies, newer types of both can be used as replacement light bulbs for most household lighting fixtures.
CFLs and LED bulbs are big advancements over traditional incandescent bulbs, but how do they compare head to head?
- LEDs save more energy than CFLs. After spot-checking sample light bulbs, a 60-watt equivalent LED would cost $1.03 per year to operate, assuming three hours per day at a cost of 11 cents per kilowatt hour. The CFL would cost about $1.69. Those numbers will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but LEDs use less energy on average.
- LEDs last longer. The packaging on the LED light bulb mentioned above gives a life expectancy of 18.3 years; the CFL is 9.1 years. Again, the life expectancy will vary.
- Prices for LEDs are falling. It was not too long ago that LEDs cost $20 to $25, but today you can find LEDs that cost under $5.
- General Electric is going all in with LEDs. GE is a major bulb manufacturer and recently announced that it is halting CFL production in favor of LED bulbs for the U.S. market.
- CFL bulbs contain mercury. If you break a glass CFL, mercury can escape. Fortunately, the bulbs contain very little of the toxic material, but cleanup should be handled carefully. The Environmental Protection Agency offers safe cleanup advice.
- LEDs turn on instantly, while CFLs need time to warm up before reaching maximum light output.
- LEDs can be used in unusual applications. The diodes can be assembled in a number of different ways — everything from table lamp bulbs that cast light in all directions to thin strips that cast light in one direction. The strip application is used in under-cabinet lighting and a variety of decorative lighting applications, such as mounted behind molding to produce a soft glow.
- As with CFLs and traditional light bulbs, LEDs are available in a range of types of light, such as “cool white” and “warm white.”
Read the Label
The light bulb packaging provides the information you need to buy the right type bulb, including lumens, which measures the actual amount of light the bulb produces and the estimated cost to use the bulb for a year.
The label will also state the type of fixture the bulb is designed for. Not all LEDs should be used in enclosed fixtures, so make sure you double-check before buying. You will also find the life expectancy of the bulb and the type of light it produces so you can match the bulb to its intended use.
So, the next time an incandescent bulb goes out in your house – or if you really want to improve the energy efficiency of your home lighting – use an LED bulb! The savings may not be obvious right away, but over time, a smaller energy bill and a more environmentally friendly household will make a good case for switching to LED lighting.
Home-improvement author Fran Donegan writes on energy-efficient home lighting news for Home Depot. Fran’s advice to homeowners focuses on ways to effectively lower home maintenance costs while also reducing energy usage, like installing LED lighting. All of Home Depot’s LED lighting options can be researched online.