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 wasn’t good, they took a while to get to  full  power, and they couldn’t 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 don’t 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, don’t  flicker, don’t need time to warm up,  and are dimmable in standard  fixtures. And as a benefit, they don’t 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 don’t 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  you’re looking for something that resembles incandescent lamps, buy CFLs   with a color temperature of about 2700 degrees Kelvin.  Don’t 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 we’ve 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  don’t 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 what’s a poor consumer to do?  First,  accept the fact that  incandescents are an obsolete, inefficient  technology and you won’t 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, you’ll 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.