Have you ever stood in the aisle of a Home Depot and felt overwhelmed by the vast number of choices in lightbulbs? The decision between LED (light emitting diode) and CFL (compact fluorescent light) has become more difficult within the last few years. In the past, LED lights were too expensive or complicated to get into the home. CFLs had a bad rap for flickering and humming, giving off that uncomfortable hospital feeling. Now, things have changed, and the differences between these two bulb options can be hard to understand. We’re here to make the bulb-buying experience more straightforward, and by the end, you’ll be an expert and know precisely which bulb to buy!
Before we dive into the details about the bulbs, let’s get some terms out of the way to help you better understand what we’ll be talking about.
Watts is the measurement of how much energy it takes for a light bulb to illuminate. Lumens are the measurement of how much light a bulb gives off. These two measurements are vital in understanding the difference between not just CFLs and LEDs but also incandescent bulbs.
Lastly, if you hate the cold and harsh way school room fluorescents look and you want to buy a bulb that gives off the warm and familiar glow of incandescents, you’ll want to pay attention to Kelvin (K). Kelvin is the measurement of the color a light gives off. The higher the number, the cooler the light will be; the lower the number, the warmer the light will be.
Incandescents are the lights we’ve all been using for years, but these are being phased out and soon will not even be an option. However, we’ll be referencing them in this piece since it is what we have been used to.
You might be more familiar with CFLs bigger brother, the large fluorescent lights in hospitals and schools. These lights are harsh and cold and have an annoying habit of flickering and giving off a horrible hum. Don’t let that scare you off of CFLs, though. In recent years the CFL has come a long way and will no longer give you a headache and drive you crazy.
For a long time, the choice between LED and CFL was easy for some people. CFL gives off a warmer light than the older LEDs used to, making it more appealing and more like the warm incandescents we were used to. CFLs typically run around 4500 K. Luckily, the CFL’s ability to be a warm light has stuck around, and it has even more options for different warmer or cooler lights. Also, if you’re looking for a dimmable light, all you need to do is find the “dimmable” CFLs.
Now onto its impact on the environment and your wallet. Compared to an incandescent bulb, CFLs use around 50% to 80% less energy. CFLs also have a much longer life expectancy than incandescent. They can last up to 10 times longer than the average incandescent.
Here is an easy way to look at it. The average lifespan of a CFL is 8,000 hours. You would need almost 7 incandescent light bulbs to last the same amount of time one CFL would last. So even though a CFL might cost more when you buy it, over time, you would spend a lot more on replacing incandescent bulbs and paying the energy bill to use them.
There are, however, a few downsides to CFLs. When they are first turned on, they will need a “warm-up” time to reach their full brightness. This could be a big deal to you or not, but it is something to keep in mind when thinking about where in your home you will be putting these bulbs.
The most significant inconvenience of these bulbs is that they have mercury in them, making them dangerous and complicated to dispose of since they can’t just be thrown away.
In the past, LEDs have been too expensive compared to incandescents and CFLs for the average person. However, thanks to advances in manufacturing technology, they have dropped in price and are now a very competitive option. LEDs can also be associated with that same harsh light of fluorescents, and though that may have been the case a few years back, there are now new options for LED warmth. When looking for a new bulb, check the Kelvin for a higher number for cooler light or a lower number for warmer light. Additionally, newer LED models have technology enabling you to change the color of the lights with remotes. This means you could vary them from cooler to warmer depending on the situation. Also, if you’re looking for the option to dim the lights, it’s the same with LEDs as it is with CFLs. Just look for the LEDs that are marked “dimmable.” These will work with most newer dimming switches.
When shopping for light bulbs, and comparing LEDs, CFLs, and incandescents, pay attention to lumens, not watts. Since LEDs are so energy efficient, an LED using the same lumens will measure a much lower wattage than a CFL at the same lumen measurement. So LEDs are not only in a more competitive price range and offer a wide range of warm and cool light options, they are also highly efficient.
Speaking of those lumens and watts we mentioned above, let’s compare the LED to the incandescent. An LED gives off 78 lumens per watt compared to 13 lumens per watt for incandescent. Put simply; LED uses 1/6 the amount of energy that an incandescent does and lasts up to 25 times longer. The average lifespan of an LED is 25,000 hours, a CFL is 8,000 hours, and an incandescent is 1,200 hours. This means you would need 21 incandescent light bulbs to last as long as one LED and 3 CFLs to last as long as one LED. They may cost more upfront when comparing them at the store, but the average home could save $150 a year on energy bills just by switching all their bulbs to LED. To make the decision even more of a no-brainer, LEDs do not contain the toxic chemical mercury that CFLs do.
In addition to both its eco-friendliness and wallet-friendliness, there are a lot of fun and exciting things you can now do with LED bulbs. For example, Wifi bulbs will allow you to control your lights with your smartphone. Some bulbs will even have the ability to change color just by using your phone! If you’re worried that you’ll need to buy a whole new system, worry no more. Most of these recent advances offer a “stand-alone” option. So if you only want that kind of control in the bedroom where you can turn your lights on and off from bed, you can do that.This a significant improvement to when your only option was buying a huge, expensive system.
Before a few years ago, the choice between CFL and LED was a much closer race. However, with new technology and LEDs dropping in price, it’s obvious which is the superior bulb.