Confused by which light bulb to buy? We’ve put together a short primer to (ahem!) “shine some light” on the topic for you.
Here’s the key thing to know about light bulbs. If you buy junk, you’ll get junk.
- It used to be that wattage of the bulb determined what you needed to buy. Not so much anymore. Lumens is what you should look for. The higher the lumens, the more light is output by the bulb.
- Be wary of really cheap LEDs. More than likely they don’t last very long. LEDs are supposed to last well around 20 years. Cheap ones typically last for less than 10 years.
- Only buy bulbs with an ENERGY STAR logo on them. This is the only way to know if a light bulb is truly a good purchase. In order to receive the ENERGY STAR logo, they can’t just save energy. They must be up to 90% more efficient than standard bulbs, last at least 15 times longer and save about $55 in electricity costs over their lifetime, meet strict quality and efficiency standards that are tested by accredited labs and certified by a third party, and produce about 70-90% less heat (safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling). This is why cheap LEDs, which save energy, cannot get the ENERGY STAR logo.
So let’s get started!
Incandescent Bulbs: These are what I call the “old-fashioned” bulbs though they are becoming less standard all the time.
Pros: They create warm light. They are also inexpensive to purchase.
Cons: They wear out quickly, use more energy, and create more heat. That means more frequent replacement (may outweigh the low sticker price) and more energy use.
Life: 800 – 1,000 hours
Cost per bulb: ~ $1 per bulb
Energy used: ~.06 Kilowatts (kW)
CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) Bulbs: The second generation to the humming tubes hanging in your dad’s basement workshop, these are the curly-shaped little darlings.
When we first moved away from incandescent bulbs, critics of the CFL cried ugly because they produced a cool, harsh, light with blue undertones. As technology has advanced, CFLs can be found in warmer color spectrums that are closer to the traditional incandescents.
Pros: CFLs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. They also produce less heat than their incandescent counterparts (approximately half, depending on the bulb).
Cons: CFLs contain mercury. They are more expensive than standard incandescent bulbs and are arguably less attractive. Designers will not select this bulb.
Life: 6,000 – 15,000 hours
Cost per bulb: ~ $2 per bulb
Dimmable: No (dimmable options may be available for purchase)
Energy Used: ~.014 Kilowatts (kW)
LED (Light Emitting Diode): The energy superstars of the group. Depending on the brand and variety, they can last from 2 – 25 years. Put them in your teenagers’ bedrooms. You know they’re not switching them off.
Pros: LED bulbs produce less heat and last a long time. New LED bulbs can cast that warm-colored light we love. LEDs don’t break when jostled, a huge factor in busy manufacturing sites and industrial areas. Best of all, they don’t contain mercury.
Cons: LED technology is moving quickly. Some of these bulbs still create directional light, but most newer versions disperse light better. Lastly, LEDs do have a slightly higher upfront cost.
Life: 50,000 hours
Cost per bulb: ~$1.25 – ~$20
Dimmable: Yes (non dimmable options are available)
Energy used: ~.008 Kilowatts (kW)
Sustainable Efforts for Light Bulbs:
- Place your lights on a dimmer. It can save up to 50% in energy costs. Remember, most CFLs and even some LEDs aren’t dimmable. You’ll need to look for and specifically buy dimmable bulbs.
- Turn out the lights: One incandescent bulb left on 8 hours costs ~ 6 cents. 5 incandescents burning 8 hours cost ~ 30 cents which equates to $110/year. 2 porch lights, 1 kitchen light, 1 family room light, and 1 bathroom light burning. These costs can start to add up quickly.
- Recycle: CFLs contain mercury and all bulbs take up space in landfills. The good news is it’s easy to recycle your old bulbs. You can even bring them to your neighborhood hardware stores. Visit this site http://search.earth911.com/ and type in your zip code for recyclers near you
Comparison Between LED, CFL and Incandescent Light Bulbs:
|Lifespan in hours||50,000||9,000||1,200|
|Watts (equivalent 75 watts)||7.5||14||60|
|Cost per bulb||$2||$2||$1|
|Cost for 50k hours||$50||$70.00||$300.00|
|Bulbs needed for 50k hours||1||6||42|
|Total cost for 50k hours with bulb price||$52.92||$82.00||$342.00|
*Cost is based on $0.10/kWh, with bulb on for 8 hours per day
- Try to buy LEDs everywhere you can, but if you can’t, target your high use areas first! If you have incandescents, go ahead and replace them. If you have CFLs, wait until they die, and then upgrade.
- LEDs have gotten extremely cheap! Off brand is perfectly fine to buy, as long as they have the ENERGY STAR logo.
- Make sure to match lumens, not watts. Take your old bulbs with you to the store and look for the LEDs that have close to the same lumens, not watts. You may have a 60 watt incandescent only to find a 40 watt ‘equivalent’ LED is actually what you need.