CFL vs. LED: What’s the Best Lightbulb Type?

By Carl Seville (a green building consultant who works with Atlanta electricians) for Networx

Unless there is some big action by conservatives to repeal Bush administration legislation that requires more efficient lighting, many old incandescent bulbs (or lamps) will become unavailable over the next few years. This will leave most of us having to look for alternative products to light our homes, the most common being Compact Fluorescent Lamps, a.k.a. CFLs, and Light Emitting Diodes, a.k.a. LEDs.† Somebody seriously dislikes something about both of these newer lamps, often resorting to stocking up a lifetime supply of incandescent lamps to avoid using CFLs and LEDs. But those are some short-sighted people who are prejudiced against new technology because of bad experiences, rumor, fear, or a combination of all three.

CFLs had a reasonably deserved poor reputation early in their development. They flickered, the color of the light wasnít good, they took a while to get to full power, and they couldnít dim. On top of that, there is a tiny amount of mercury in them, so there are some safety issues when they break, but trust me, you donít need a HazMat team to clean up the mess. Things in the CFL world have changed. High quality, reasonably priced lamps are available that have excellent light color and quality, donít flicker, donít need time to warm up, and are dimmable in standard fixtures. And as a benefit, they donít put out 90 percent of their energy as heat like incandescent lamps, which leads my friend, Architect Michael Klement to describe them as heaters with light as a by product.† This means that you donít pay so much extra to air condition your house in the summer when the lights are on. Look for ENERGY STAR rated CFLs, and check for the new FTC lighting facts label that tells you the efficiency and color of the lamp.† If youíre looking for something that resembles incandescent lamps, buy CFLs with a color temperature of about 2700 degrees Kelvin.† Donít worry about what it means, just know that it is a nice, warm, familiar colored light.† Oh, and the light will use about 75 percent less energy and last about 10 times longer than the old style lamp.

So, just when some of us were becoming a little more comfortable with CFLs, we now have to thing about buying LEDs instead. LEDs are electronic, solid state lighting, and weíve been looking at it for years in our clock radios, microwaves, and other equipment.† The technology has advanced far enough to provide interior lighting, although it is still evolving and not all lamps are quite ready for prime time.† People like the fact that LEDs donít have any mercury in them, so there is no fear of difficult cleanup (and they generally don’t break like a regular bulb anyway).† They last a really long time, an estimated 30,000 - 50,000 hours, compared to about 10,000 for CFLs and about 1,000 for incandescents. They are, however more expensive, although prices are coming down. LED efficiency is similar to CFLs, and getting better all the time. In terms of light quality, LEDs are getting pretty close to CFLs and incandescents but it may take some effort to find something you like the look of.

So whatís a poor consumer to do?† First, accept the fact that incandescents are an obsolete, inefficient technology and you wonít be able to buy them forever. The choice between CFLs and LEDs, for now at least, is partly financial and partly aesthetic. LEDs are more expensive, but they last longer, so if you can afford to spend the extra money, youíll end up even or better in the long run over CFLs. As for the aesthetics, check out several different ENERGY STAR labeled lamps and figure out what kind of light you like, then stock up on them.

You can also look for the Lighting Facts label, a sort of nutrition label for lamps that includes the energy used in watts, brightness in lumens, estimated yearly energy costs, lamp life, and the light appearance.† This helps you compare different lamps just like your breakfast cereal.† So go forth and shop for your new bulbs. With a little effort and research you can find some that you like that will save energy and money for many years.

Related:
6 Reasons Why You Might Buy a $50 Light Bulb
Let There Be LED Light
Experiencing Eco-Light Bulb Confusion?

101 comments

Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn16 days ago

Many thanks to you !

Brandon Ladd
Brandon Ladd7 months ago

I am 22, so I have been raised with CFL in classrooms and offices; but, I never liked the coldness of 'natural' or 'white' lighting from certain tube-CFLs. So when I got my first apartment, I bought CFLs with a warm hue, the 2700 kelvin+. I always liked the swirl look to CFLs, and being efficient, $1 a bulb typically isn't a big deal when it lasts so long and gives off decent light. Then a year or 2 ago, LEDs became economical, so I started buying them, and at first it was horrible, pure white light, yuck. Made me nauseated. So I put those in appliances and other sterile-type of places. Then LEDs with warm hues came out, I was sold. 90% efficient compared to incandescent, etc. Well, sure enough, a year later of using 99% LED in my apartment, I have come to realise they STILL make me get headaches, even with their warmer hue. I think their refresh rate might be an issue? At any rate, CFL seems to work best for me. And I really wish that LED didn't give me headaches because I don't want to be using more energy, but even my Retina MacBook sometimes gives me a headache, so I am at a loss. Really hope they come out with LEDs that are better for sensitive eyes and feel more like the CFL lighting I love! Not sure if anyone else is in the same situation, but I am. :/

Warren Webber
Warren Webberabout a year ago

Live long and prosper

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

Now that I got your attention -- the answer is not the kind of light bulb that you use -- the answer is to USE SOLAR-WIND-TIDAL-WAVE -- in ways that do not hurt mankind and the earth.


At least let's let -- people have a choice -- about what kind of light bulb they use !
After reading more comments -- it sounds like people need the choice !

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

Now that I got your attention -- the answer is not the kind of light bulb that you use -- the answer is to USE SOLAR-WIND-TIDAL-WAVE -- in ways that do not hurt mankind and the earth.


At least let's let -- people have a choice -- about what kind of light bulb they use !
After reading more comments -- it sounds like people need the choice !

Yes a minute amount of mercury in CFL's.

NO mercury in LED lights.

Thank you for the article ! Sorry for the mix-up.

Please what is in LED Lights -- that mankind may know -- what we are getting into?
1.) What are the material and the chemicles?
2.) How does the process work to form light ?
3.) What effect on people's eyes will LED light have?
4.) Do people truly have the anwers yet ?

At least let's let -- people have a choice -- about what kind of light bulb they use !
After reading more comments -- it sounds like people need the choice !

Still nothing like a good incandescent light bulb !

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

We must have a rule for every thing -- including what light bulb you may use -- ridiculous!

I still like Incadescent -- because it gives off heat --as June T mentioned.
I do not like the feeling of the LED bulb -- on my eyes and on me -- because that is not what I grew up with.

It could be that people need the kind of bulb that they -- like !

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

I agree with the thouht that: There is no reason to tell people -- what kind of bulb to use.

Ruth R.
Ruth R.2 years ago

Yes a minute amount of mercury in CFL's.

NO mercury in LED lights.

Thank you for the article ! Sorry for the mix-up.

Please what is in LED Lights -- that mankind may know -- what we are getting into?
1.) What are the material and the chemicles?
2.) How does the process work to form light ?
3.) What effect on people's eyes will LED light have?
4.) Do people truly have the anwers yet ?

Madeline L.
Madeline L.3 years ago

I always look for full-spectrum lighting. Anything new in that area?

Christine L M.
Lynn Christy3 years ago

Thanks, I enjoyed the article and the other comments, as well... =)