Light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are the newest lighting technology to come on the scene, and they are the undisputed winners when it comes to energy efficiency. But using one parameter to measure a product’s benefits can be deceiving. How do LEDs really stack up to other types of bulbs?
Let’s take a closer look at LED bulbs, and see how they compare to compact fluorescent (CFL), incandescent and halogen bulbs.
Bulb cost is the LED’s Achilles heel. They are significantly more expensive than other lighting options — currently $5 to $20+ a piece depending on style and quantity purchased. However they are becoming less expensive as they become more popular, and in many cases the LED bulb’s longevity makes up some or all of the price discrepancy.
LEDs lead the pack in life span. A typical LED bulb is expected to last 15 to 25 years — about double the life span of a CFL, and 7 to 25 times that of either type of incandescent.
So, which is more cost effective: one LED bulb that costs $10 but lasts 20 years, or 20 incandescents at 50 cents a piece each lasting a year?
Answer: most likely, the LED.
While the purchase cost for the two bulb models is the same, the frequent bulb changes incandescents require is more likely to result in extra trips to the store and associated vehicle costs. Incandescent bulbs also require much more labor to maintain. Who wants to be constantly changing light bulbs, especially those in hard-to-reach places?
Pardon the pun, but LED bulbs really shine when it comes to responsible energy use. According to the NRDC, an 800-lumen LED provides the light equivalent of a 60-watt incandescent, but uses only one sixth the energy.
For example, the LED costs only an average of $1.34 per year to run, burning three hours a day. CFLs are not far behind. A comparable-intensity CFL bulb costs $1.74 per year to run. Next in line is the halogen incandescent at $5.74 per year, and the standard incandescent comes in dead last at $8.02 per year.
If you assume 20 bulbs per household, that works out to a savings of $133.60 in electricity per year over standard incandescent bulbs. At that rate, even the most expensive LED bulbs will pay for themselves in just four years — with 16 more years of bulb life to go.
Granted, the savings compared to CFLs are less exciting: just $8 per year. Because the overall costs of burning an LED vs. a CFL are not very different, deciding which to use will depend on bulb models, electricity rates and non-financial considerations.
The energy savings alone is a good environmental argument for LED bulbs. However, it’s just the beginning. The reduced packaging and energy used for production and distribution of a long-lived LED bulb is far less costly to the environment than using multiple shorter-lived bulbs even before you install it. And unlike CFL bulbs, LEDs do not contain the heavy metal mercury, which can contaminate rivers and lakes.
LEDs also come out ahead of most other types of bulbs where safety is concerned. Since they are so efficient, they don’t heat up like incandescent or halogen bulbs. It is impossible to burn yourself on an LED bulb.
Since LED lights are so cool-burning, many manufacturers offer models with plastic bulbs. These shatter-free bulbs are an excellent choice for a child’s room, work room, or any other place where a bulb might get hit and broken.
Here is an area where LEDs may or may not be the best choice, depending on your preferences. LEDs are directional, which means they are more suited to spot lighting than diffuse lighting applications. This does not mean you can’t use them to light a room, but you may need to experiment with different fixtures and bulb styles before you find a combination that meets your needs.
Some people object to the color of CFL bulbs, finding them “cold” or “harsh.” This is partly because many people are used to the light spectrum offered by “soft white” incandescent bulbs, which tends toward yellow, and partly because it is difficult to control the color of a CFL bulb, many of which look greenish. LED bulbs are available in a variety of colors, from warm tones to brighter whites approaching daylight.
Another objection to CFL bulbs is that they often take a few minutes to reach full brightness. LEDs turn on instantly, and they can be turned on and off repeatedly without damaging the bulbs.
Whether or not you choose to make the switch to LED bulbs will depend on your budget and performance needs. However, LED light bulbs are clearly the most environmentally friendly choice compared to the majority of other bulbs on the market. Increasingly, they are making sense from a financial point of view, too. It’s no wonder that they are becoming a more popular choice all across the nation.
Stuart Simpson is the marketing director at Lightbulb Wholesaler, America’s leading wholesale distributer of light bulbs & ballasts. Lightbulb Wholesaler brings more than 35 years of experience in the lighting industry, and is backed by a strong team of industry experts to help deliver the best quality LED bulbs at the lowest possible prices.