CFL Vs. LED. Which Bulb to Buy?

Over the past few months you may have noticed that there has been more attention brought to what type of bulbs you use to light your home.  You may have even heard that the government is going to force you to change from incandescent bulbs to CFL (compact fluorescent) or LEDs.  While it is highly recommend you change, being forced is a strong interpretation of what is occurring with our lighting choices.

What is truly happening is that over the next few years traditional incandescent bulbs are being phased out and more efficient bulbs will be manufactured.  As most of us know, we already have more efficient bulbs in CFLs and LEDs but in the coming years we will also gradually see more efficient incandescent bulbs appear.  This leads to the predicament which some of you may have already experienced. Which bulb should you use?

While this question appears to have a simple answer it may not be as simple as you may think.  As with many choices in life, the answer that you arrive at is founded in your beliefs. There are many things to consider when changing bulb types such as convenience, light color and cost, but today there are tends to be two predominant reasons for initially selecting a bulb type, to save the planet or to save money. 

If you are changing bulbs to save the planet the answer is very simple.  You pick the bulb that is the most efficient, regardless of the cost.  If you are like most individuals in the population, however, you are more prone to look at your savings. At this point the answer becomes even less clear.  Compound this with the onslaught of advertisement in stores telling you which one is the best choice and many of you may be confused. 

Bulb LabelLuckily light bulbs are now packaged with a label akin to the nutritional facts on food that can help in this decision. The lighting facts will help simplify the decision making process.  First let’s look at the important facts, Brightness, Cost, Life and Energy Used.  Brightness is how much light the bulb will produce.  This is measured in Lumens but many people still associate the brightness of the lamp with its wattage.  This is not a proper way to compare bulbs so we first need to compare lumens to the conventional understanding.  To help with this a 100 watt incandescent produced about 1600 lumens, a 75 watt 1100 lumens, a 60 watt 800 lumens and a 40 watt 450 lumens.  Using this information you can now see that the bulb on the fact sheet is about a 60 watt equivalent. 

Now that we have established a way to compare the brightness of the bulb we need to look at how much each bulb will cost to operate per year.  This is a simple calculation that has already been done for you on the fact sheet.  In this case the bulb will cost $1.57 to operate if the bulb is used 3 hrs/day at $0.11/kwh.  This is a standard assumption that will be used on all sheets.  Your usage and cost per kwh may differ but for the purpose of comparison this is the number you want to consider. 

Next the life will show you how long the bulb will last if it is used 3 hours/day.  You can also find the bulb life hours on the package in another location.  This would be listed in how many hours the bulb will last. This is an approximation of the hours so don’t be surprised if your bulb last longer or burns our quicker.

The final part of the label we’ll discuss is the energy used.  This is a simple “quick check” to see which bulb uses more energy.  If you have two bulbs that have similar brightness then the one with less energy use will be the bulb that will cost you the least to operate.  With this being said you may be wondering why we don’t just compare the brightness and energy used or yearly cost.  You can if you want a quick estimate but this doesn’t give a true representation of how much it will cost you to use this bulb.  First you need to look at the cost of the bulb.  For our example let’s assume our bulb cost $2.00 and has the label above.  To determine how much it cost per year to replace this bulb you will divide the cost of the bulb by the life.  In this case you will get $0.36.  This means that every year you will need to save $0.36 to pay for the replacement of the bulb when it burns out.  To determine the total yearly operating cost of the bulb you then add the yearly replacement cost to the operating cost shown on the label.  In this case it will cost you $1.93 per year to use this bulb. 

Now that you know this you may still be asking yourself, how does this help you pick a bulb? Ignoring all other aspects let’s compare three bulb types, an incandescent, a CFL and a LED.  We have already calculated what a CFL cost because our previous example was using a label from a CFL.  For an incandescent, a 60 watt bulb will cost $7.23 per year to use, have a life expectancy of 1.4 years and cost $0.30.  An equivalent LED will cost $1.57 per year to use, have a life expectancy of 11 years and cost $20.  Performing our calculations we will find that the incandescent cost $7.44 per year to operate, the CFL $1.93 and the LED $3.38. 

In the example we have been using the CFL is the best choice if you are looking to save money.  Regardless of what you have been told or how the light bulbs change, if you are interested in making a wise decision based on what the bulb cost you only need to remember how to read the Energy Fact Label and perform our little calculation.   Simply remember to divide the cost of the bulb by the life expectancy on the label and add your answer to the yearly operating cost. This will give you the total yearly operating cost and provide you the information that you need to make a wise decision.

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