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Advantages Of LED Bulbs vs. Compact Fluorescents

Updated on October 4, 2012

Are LED Bulbs Really Better Than CFL's?

For many years the compact fluorescent was the gold standard of energy saving bulbs. They were cheap, gave off decent light, and used only about a third of the energy of incandescent bulbs. Now there is an even better alternative to CFL's that can save more energy and last longer. These new bulbs cost more, up to ten times the price of a CFL, but as you will find out, pay for themselves many times over. Here are some of the advantages of LED bulbs vs. compact fluorescent bulbs.

No Mercury In LED Bulbs

One major advantage that LED bulbs have vs. compact fluorescents is that they do not contain the dangerous element mercury. Although each CFL only contains about enough mercury to cover the head of a ballpoint pen, it is still dangerous. If you break enough CFL bulbs in your home over the years, you could actually have enough mercury buildup on your floors to be a health hazard.

LED Bulbs Save Energy (A Lot Of Energy)

New LED bulbs are guaranteed to last at least 25,000 hours of run time. It would take 20 incandescent bulbs to equal the life span of one LED bulb. We're talking a life span of about 22 years for LED bulbs, vs. about one year for incandescent bulbs. How much energy would an LED bulb save you in those 22 years? Each bulb would save about $110 in energy (a very conservative estimate). If you replaced 20 incandescent bulbs in your home you would save over $2,000 in that time, not to mention the bulb costs. Compared to compact fluorescent bulbs or CFL's, an LED bulb would save about $20 for each bulb.

This is assuming that you pay ten cents per kilowatt hour, and that you replace a 15 watt CFL with a 7 watt LED. For a home with 20 bulbs, this would amount to a savings of about $400 over 22 years, plus another $50 or so in bulb cost saved. While the cost savings aren't huge of LED's vs. CFL's, you are also saving yourself the hassle of changing all those bulbs, and getting mercury out of your home. Another factor that must be considered is that your own savings may be much more than the example given above. Electricity rates are as high as 28 cents per kwh in some places such as Hawaii. The average energy cost in the U.S.A. is 12 cents per kwh and the forecast is that that number will rise dramatically over the next couple of decades. When this is taken into account, one LED bulb could end up saving you as much as $300 or more vs. an incandescent bulb, and over $40 vs. a CFL. For example, homeowners in Hawaii, paying 28 cents per kWh, would save about $400 on each LED bulb vs. an incandescent one. That adds up to about $8,000 in a home with 20 bulbs. Compared to CFL's the savings would be about $56 per bulb, or $1,120 for the household.

Kinds Of LED Bulbs. Are All LED Bulbs Energy Star Approved?

Not all LED bulbs are Energy Star program approved. This fact shouldn't discourage you from buying them though. The reason that the Energy Star program dropped some LED bulbs from their program was that they feared that consumers would not think the light pattern of less expensive "snow cone" type LED bulbs was equal to incandescent bulbs. Rather than have manufacturers explain the light pattern on the packaging, they decided to boot "non standard LED bulbs" from the program. Non standard or "sno cone" LED bulbs are much less expensive however, and because they radiate light in a 180 degree pattern, work very well for overhead fixtures such as track lighting or can fixtures. Bulbs such as the Thetalux and Zetalux models made by EarthLED offer a 25,000 hour life span, and all of the same features as bulbs that are twice as expensive, with the trade off of a slightly more focused light beam. (180 degrees is still a very wide light pattern). These inexpensive LED bulbs cost about half of what GE charges for its Energy Star rated bulb and still last over 25,000 hours. To assure you are getting a quality bulb, look for ones that are UL listed, have at least a 3 year warranty, and a life of 25,000 hours or more.

Will LED Bulb Costs Come Down?

At the time this article was written, an Energy Star rated LED bulb made by GE, (with light output equaling a 60 watt incandescent bulb), cost about $35 at Lowes. A cheaper alternative made by the U.S based company EarthLED, cost about $17. Note that he Energy Star agency has agreed to consider reinstating these "nonstandard" LED bulbs back into the program in exchange for labeling changes. No longer will "sno cone" LED bulbs be able to claim an equivalent wattage to regular incandescent bulbs. The fact is though, for almost any fixture except those that point straight up, such as table lamps, cheaper "sno cone" LED bulbs work just fine at a fraction of the cost of Energy Star rated ones. I've even got a couple in a regular table lamp, which has the bulb facing straight up, and they work fine when a diffusing lamp shade is used.

Why I Love The Cheaper LED Bulbs

The "sno cone" type LED bulbs are what you find in most of the rest of the world. Because overseas factories are now cranking out millions of them each month, at a rate far greater than GE's Energy Star rated ones, prices are getting really cheap. Since they are the type most used LED bulbs in countries such as Japan, China, India, and much of Europe, they will most likely be around for many more years. I converted my whole house to EarthLED bulbs for less than $400. While this may seem like a lot of money, I saved more than half of what it would have cost had I used GE bulbs. My $400 investment in LED bulbs should pay me back more than twice that in Energy Savings and I won't have to change any bulbs for years. Since my home has a rooftop solar power system, I'm starting to see more months with zero bills, since I've shaved another 25 or so kWh off of my monthly usage by switching from CFL's to LED's.

Advantages Of LED vs. CFL Bulbs. Conclusion

Here are some more advantages of LED bulbs that make deciding to switch over a "no brainer" in my opinion.

  • No mercury
  • Uses half the energy of compact fluorescent
  • Lasts more than 25,000 hours
  • No glass to break, durable. Can even be dropped without breaking
  • No flicker
  • Warm light very similar to incandescent.
  • Less labor in changing bulbs all the time
  • Turn on instantly, at full light.
  • Can be turned on and off often without shortening life.
  • Can earn LEED points in green building projects. (Less expensive "sno cone" bulbs can also earn LEED points, even if they are not Energy Star.

If you found this article useful, please help me spread the word about how much energy LED bulbs save by using the Facebook "like" button.

Update: 429 lumen EcoSmart bulbs can be purchased at Lowes and Home Depot now for around $10. These roughly equal a 40 watt bulb and emit light around 3,000K (color temperature). Do not buy these if you are used to "soft white" light, as you will find the bright white light they emit unpleasant. "Warm white" LED bulbs cost more but more closely resemble "soft white" incandescent bulbs. Look for 2,700K LED bulbs if you like a softer white light.


Submit a Comment

  • doodlebugs profile image

    doodlebugs 6 years ago from Southwest

    Yes flicker was a big problem with some CFL bulbs as they got older. No such worries with LED's.

  • Hello, hello, profile image

    Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

    Very informative and great details. Those fluorescent bulb give me a headache.

  • doodlebugs profile image

    doodlebugs 6 years ago from Southwest

    It truly is amazing, I just don't understand why more people don't switch out their lights when it could put up to a hundred dollars a month in their pocket.

  • Brian Burton profile image

    Brian Burton 6 years ago

    Great in depth article. It's amazing the strides the world is seeing in regards to energy savings.