Light Bulbs: Everything You Need To Know About Incandescents, CFLs & LEDs

If you’re been down the aisle at the hardware store recently, you’ve probably seen the vast array of product selection. It’s an overwhelming display of different types, colors and costs. To help you make educated decisions about your home’s lighting, we’re going to explore the different types of light bulbs and the benefits of each.

Incandescent Bulbs

incandescent light bulbsIncandescents are the most common bulb, since they’ve been around for more than 130 years after Thomas Edison made the light bulb safe and economical for widespread use in 1879.

The problem with Edison’s bulb is that it loses 90 percent of the energy it uses to heat. For a product whose main purpose is to produce light, that’s a lot of wasted electricity. If you doubt this statistic, put your hand close (but don’t touch!) to an incandescent bulb manufactured before 2012 and you’ll feel a sizeable rise in temperature.

Because of this excessive waste, Congress passed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA) that raised the energy standard for light bulbs. As a result, there is now a distinction between incandescent bulbs before 2012 and those after: traditional incandescents (pre-2012) and energy-saving incandescents (made 2012 or later).

From 2012 to 2014, manufacturers will be phasing out traditional incandescents to bulbs that use about 25 percent less energy than the traditional incandescent. Even though these bulbs use less energy, they still produce the same amount of light, which is measured by lumens in the science world. If you want a brighter bulb, then look for one with more lumens.

For more information about EISA, check out the U.S. Department of Energy’s page with FAQs.

Incandescents come in a wide range of shapes and colors and can be used with dimmers.

Cost for pack of six traditional 60-watt incandescent bulbs: $4
Energy savings: None
Estimated yearly energy costs: $7.23 (based on 3 hrs/day, 11¢/kWh)
Life expectancy: 1.8 years (based on usage of 3 hrs/day)

CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps)

CFL light bulbsYou might recognize CFLs, or compact fluorescent lamps, by their curly shape. These curly bulbs are cousins of the long tube-like fluorescent lights in garages and kitchens of older homes and office buildings.

An ENERGY STAR CFL uses about one-fourth the electricity and lasts 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb that puts out the same amount of light, according to Energy Saver. Because of this large difference in energy use, CFLs can typically pay for themselves in nine months.

CFLs come in a variety of colors so you can find one to fit your preference. Not all CFLs are designed to be used with dimmers, so only use ones specifically labeled for that purpose. Another tip to help you maximize the life of your CFL: Keep them on for at least 15 minutes at a time. Turning the bulbs on and off wears them out.

One drawback of using CFLs is that they aren’t always compatible with timers and motion sensors. Check with the control manufacturer before purchasing if you plan to use it for a space where you have CFLs.

CFLs contain a little bit of mercury and should not be thrown away with the regular trash. For proper disposal, check out

Cost for pack of four 60-watt CFL bulbs: $8
Energy savings: Uses 75 percent less energy than traditional incandescent
Estimated yearly energy costs: $1.69
Life expectancy: 9.1 years

LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes)

LED light bulbsLight emitting diodes, also known as LEDs, use about one-fifth of the electricity that traditional incandescent bulbs use. A more common LED that you’re probably familiar with is the blinking light used in your cell phone that alerts you of a message.

The major upside to using LEDs are that they last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescents.

One downside to LEDs right now is the cost, but with the extremely long lifetime and low energy cost, they are still a good buy. As with most things, though, manufacturers expect the prices on LEDs to decrease as technology improves and more competition enters the market.

Cost of one 60-watt LED bulb: $26
Energy savings: Uses 78 percent less energy than traditional incandescent
Estimated yearly energy costs: $1.57
Life expectancy: 22.8 years

Why You Need To Consider Changing Bulbs

It all comes down to money. The two main benefits of switching bulbs are saving money and saving energy.

While CFLs and LEDs do cost more at the beginning, you get that money back and more in the long run with the long-lasting bulbs and lower electricity costs.

According to Energy Savers, U.S. households could save nearly $6 billion dollars in 2015 alone under new EISA standards. Energy Savers also points out that you could save $50 per year in electricity costs if you replace 15 traditional incandescent bulbs in your home.

Which light bulb do you prefer and why?

Photos courtesy of Energy Savers.

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