Remember when buying light bulbs required little thought on your part? Now you must choose between LEDs, CFLs, and conventional incandescent light bulbs. Learn the pros and cons of each in order to make the best decisions for your home and wallet.

Light Emitting Diode - A diode is a semiconductor of electrical current that generates light, hence the name "light emitting diode." These diodes got their start in single-bulb applications, such as in displays for electronics and in Christmas tree lights, and were first clustered for use in flashlights and headlamps.

Today, LEDs get clustered in as many as 180 in light bulbs, use diffuser lenses to spread the many lights into a wider beam and feature a base that allows for their use in standard household fixtures.

Pros of LEDs:

  • They last 50,000 hours, as compared to 10,000 hours for a CFL and 1,200 hours for an incandescent light bulb.
  • They use 300 to 500 kWh of electricity over their life span, while a CFL uses 700 and an incandescent light bulb uses 3,000.
  • They do not have a filament, which means they are not as easily damaged as incandescent light bulbs.
  • They do not cause heat buildup, helping to reduce air conditioning costs.
  • They do not contain hazardous materials, such as mercury.
Cons of LEDs:
  • They cost $30 to $50, but that investment more than gets recouped in energy savings over the lifetime of the light bulb.
Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb - The name for this type of light bulb describes its form, but CFLs also feature a base that allows for their use in standard household fixtures. These newer fluorescent bulbs also give off a light similar to that of an incandescent, as opposed to the cool white hue of their predecessors. Pros of CFLs:
  • They last 10,000 hours. While not as long as the 50,000 hours of an LED, a CFL lasts far longer than the 1,200 hours of an incandescent light bulb.
  • They use 700 kWh of electricity over their life span. While more than the 300 to 500 of an LED, a CFL uses far less than the 3,000 kWh of an incandescent light bulb.
  • They cost less than LEDs, even factoring in that one LED equals five CFLs in terms of life span.
Cons of CFLs:
  • They have a warm-up period of one to three minutes before achieving full brightness.
  • They can have a far shorter lifetime if turned on and off frequently. Dimmer options are available, but they also have a shorter life span.
  • They contain 4 to 5 mg of mercury, which can cause harm to humans and the environment when not disposed of properly.

The EarthEasy.com website offers an excellent cost and savings comparison chart for LED, CFL and conventional incandescent light bulb options. It looked at all three bulbs over 50,000 kWh and found that LEDs and CFLs don't differ by much, but that both prove far more cost-efficient than and offer significant energy savings over that of incandescent bulbs.

Making the Switch
If you do decide to switch from conventional incandescent light bulbs to LEDs or CFLs, you have plenty of options. LEDs are commonly available as diffused, dimmable, track lighting, flood, candelabra and tube bulbs. Colors include red, green, blue, white and amber.

CFLs come as spiral, triple-tube, standard, flood, globe and candelabra bulbs. Colors include warm and cool white.

Now armed with the above facts, you have the information you need to hit the light bulb section at your local hardware or home improvement store with confidence. If you have any additional questions, your professional handyman can offer excellent lighting advice.

Read more about saving on your electric and utility bills in our home energy efficiency guide.

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