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Better Bulb Buy: CFLs or LEDs?

Decisions

Decisions

Just lighting your home accounts for 5-10% of your yearly energy use[1].  Lighting efficiency is a fantastic low-hanging fruit to glean for a household looking to shave dollars off their energy bill.  Incandescent bulbs (traditional bulbs) are still most common in American homes but are so extremely inefficient, that only about 10% of the energy they consume is actually transformed into light. The rest is lost as heat, which means you’re getting burned-literally!  90% of the money you spend to power those bulbs is wasted.  Replacing inefficient bulbs can help save a lot of money, and increase the energy efficiency of your home.

Just as Americans have become accustomed to CFLs, LED technology has developed and is now beginning to challenge CFLs for the best light bulb buy, and Americans still have questions about both. We’ll help you understand which is the best choice for your home.

CFLs:

Compact fluorescent bulb companies claim your new bulb will last between 8-10 years, which may seem like a marketing trick at first, but tests by organizations such as Consumer Reports have proven that you in fact can expect your bulb to last about that long.  But considering the price of one is still about 6 times higher than an incandescent, you might ask if it’s really saving you money.  The answer is an unequivocal YES.  A CFL bulb will give the same amount of light, but use far less energy to do it (sometimes less than a fourth of the energy of an equivalent wattage incandescent).  You will save more in energy costs each year than the cost of the bulb itself.  Furthermore, since you won’t be replacing it anytime soon, you save about 10 years worth of the replacement costs of incandescent light bulbs.  CFLs have overcome many of their old drawbacks: you can get them for 3-way fixtures, for outdoor lighting, in colors, in various styles and shapes, and even designed to emit the yellowish glow that you’re so familiar with from your incandescent days, if you’re nostalgic. You can save $35+ over the bulb’s lifetime.

Many families worry about the mercury content of CFLs. While it’s true that CFL bulbs should not be thrown in your regular trash stream, and you should take extra care when cleaning up a broken CFL bulb, the tiny amount of mercury in these bulbs does not pose a significant danger to your family or pets, and proper disposal services are already offered at many of the places you buy light bulbs anyway, including Ace Hardware, Lowes, and Home Depot.  Municipalities and other local services commonly offer CFL recycling options, too.  Go to www.earth911.com to find all the disposal options in your area.

LEDs:

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are even more energy efficient than CFLs; they produce only a very small amount of heat, which is directed into a heat sink behind the bulb, leaving LEDs almost always cool to the touch.  An LED bulb is actually made of an array of very small chips moving electrons through semi-conducting materials.  The result is a powerful light source that is highly efficient and direct, wasting virtually no power on heat or misdirected light. Whereas other bulbs waste some of their energy shining light in directions that are not helpful (i.e. behind and below the bulb), LEDs focus their light in the direction it is needed.  Not only will an LED use about half the energy of a CFL, it will also last twice as long.  Modern LEDs can last 20+ years and contain no mercury.  LED design has advanced to meet many of our everyday lighting needs, just as the CFL has, including coming in different sizes and being suitable for outdoor and indoor use.  Shopping for an LED bulb might give you sticker-shock, though.  They are far more expensive than CFLs, but over its lifetime will still cost half of the price to power a CFL.  Non-Energy Star LEDs may still contain design flaws that may sacrifice expected savings or your personal comfort, including dimming over time, so ensure that any LED bulbs you buy are Energy Star rated to ensure high long-term performance.

In short, replacing your incandescent bulbs will save you money and will save greenhouse gases and pollution.  The upfront cost of LEDs is significant, but if you are looking to maximize long-term savings, the LED is the bulb for you.   CFLs are a good solution for any lighting need and will still reduce your energy bill significantly.

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