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LED light bulbs are quickly taking over as the bulb of choice, replacing incandescent bulbs at a rapid pace now that many countries have instituted mandatory phase-outs.

CFLs are a temporary solution to energy-efficient lighting, arriving on the market when first generation LED bulbs had a narrow and focused light beam and cost too much for many consumers.

Recent developments in LED technology, however, have addressed these issues. LEDs have been ‘clustered’ to provide more light, and mounted within diffuser lenses that spread the light across a wider area. And advancements in manufacturing technology have driven the prices down to a level where LED bulbs are more cost-effective than CFLs or incandescent bulbs. This trend is continuing, with LED bulbs being designed for more applications while the prices keep going down over time.

The original ‘sticker shock’ of the LED bulbs is no longer a deterrent to their widespread acceptance by consumers. The following comparison charts illustrate the value of the latest LED bulbs when compared with CFLs and incandescent bulbs for overall efficiency as well as cost-effectiveness.

Cost Comparison Between LEDs, CFLs, and Incandescent Light Bulbs

 LEDCFLIncandescent
Light bulb projected lifespan25,000 hours
10,000 hours1,200 hours
Watts per bulb (equiv. 60 watts)8.51460
Cost per bulb$5$2$1
KWh of electricity used over 25,000 hours
212.53501500
Cost of electricity (@ 0.10 per KWh)$21.25$35$150
Bulbs needed for 25,000 hours of use
12.521
Equivalent 25,000 hours bulb expense$5$5$21
Total cost for 25,000 hours$26.25$40$171
Energy Savings over 25,000 hours, assuming 25 bulbs per household
Total cost for 25 bulbs$656.25$1000$4275
Savings to household by switching from incandescent bulbs$3618.75$3275$0

Notes:

  • Cost of electricity will vary. The figures used above are for comparison only, and are not exact. Residential energy costs among the various states range from 26.17 cents (Hawaii) to 7.4 cents (Washington) per KWh.
  • The cost per bulb for LEDs may vary. We used the figure of $5.00 (for a 60 watt equivalent LED bulb) as an average among lighting retailers.
  • Estimates of bulb lifespan are projected, since it would take about 6 years of continuous lighting to test. Some manufacturers claim the new LED bulbs will last up to 25 years under normal household use, but this is not proven.
  • Bulb breakage and bulb replacement costs have not been factored into this comparison chart. Incandescent bulbs and CFL bulbs are more easily broken than LEDs, which increases their cost of use.
  • Most LEDs come with a minimum 2-year guarantee. Any defective LED bulb will usually fail within this time.

Equivalent Wattages and Light Output of Incandescent, CFL, and LED Bulbs

Light OutputLEDsCFLsIncandescents
LumensWattsWattsWatts
4504-58-1240
750-9006-813-1860
1100-13009-1318-2275-100
1600-180016-2023-30100
2600-280025-2830-55150

Comparing the Features of Incandescent, CFL, and LED Light Bulbs

 LEDsCFLsIncandescents
Frequent On/Off Cyclingno effect
shortens lifespan
yes
Turns on instantly
yesslight delay with some CFLs
yes
Durabilitydurablefragilefragile
Heat Emitted
low (3 btu's/hr)
medium (15 btu's/hr)high (85 btu's/hr)
Sensitivity to high temperaturesomeyesno
Sensitivity to low temperature
noyesno
Sensitivity to humiditynoyessome
Hazardous Materialsnone5 mg mercury/bulbnone
Replacement frequency
(over 25k hours)
12.520+

Choosing an LED Light Bulb

Many different models and styles of LED bulbs are available in today’s marketplace. When choosing a bulb, keep in mind the following:

  • Estimate desired wattage: read the package to choose desired illumination level. For example, a 3W LED is equivalent in output to a 45 W incandescent.
  • Choose between warm and cool light: new LED bulbs are available in ‘cool’ white light, which is ideal for task lighting, and ‘warm’ light commonly used for accent or small area lighting.
  • Standard base or pin base: LEDs are available in several types of ‘pin’ sockets or the standard “screw’ (Edison) bases for recessed or track lighting.
  • Choose between standard and dimmable bulbs: some LED bulbs are now available as dimmable bulbs. Note also if your bulb will work in an enclosed light fixture: some do not.

The common styles of LED bulbs available for household use include the following:

Omnidirectional LED Bulbs

In this style LED bulb, clusters of LEDs are covered by a lens which spreads the light over a wider area, like standard incandescent bulbs. Available in standard Edison bases, these bulbs are used as area lighting for rooms, porches, reading lamps, accent lamps, hallways and low-light applications where lights remain on for extended periods.
Available in 40, 60 75, 100 watt equivalent; clear or frosted.

Dimmable Globe LED Bulbs

Designed for bathroom vanities or anywhere a globe bulb is required, these bulbs produce light equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent bulb, yet only consume 10 watts of power. Dimmable from 100% to 10%, these bulbs have a 200 degree beam angle to cast light in a wide area.

Track Lighting

Available in pin base or standard (Edison) base, LEDs are ideal for track lighting. LEDs do not contribute to heat buildup in a room because no matter how long they remain on, they do not get hot to the touch. Also, because they are 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer than CFLs, the frequency of changing LED bulbs is greatly reduced.

Flood Reflector LEDs for Recessed Cans and Track Lights, Screw-In Base

LEDs are now available for standard recessed lighting pots and housings. They range from 7.5 to 17 watts, with beam widths from PAR20 to PAR38. Several models are dimmable. Also, because they are 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and last 10 times longer than CFLs, the frequency of changing LED bulbs is greatly reduced.

Flame Tip, Candelabra Base LEDs

Designed to replace incandescent candelabra bulbs, these flame tip LEDs deliver the equivalent light of 25 – 35 watt incandescent while only drawing 3.5 watts of electricity. Because of the heat sink in the base, light doesn’t disperse downwards as much as a typical incandescent candelabra bulb.

LED Tube Lights

Designed to replace fluorescent tube bulbs, these LED tubes are available in 8 and 16 watts, which replace traditional 25-watt and 40-watt T8/T10/T12 fluorescent tubes. Because fluorescent lights are often installed in high ceilings in commercial sites, there are additional savings because the frequency of changing bulbs is greatly reduced.

Vintage and Decorative LED Bulbs

Vintage-style LED filament bulbs are now available for chandeliers, pendant lights, ornamental lights, commercial lighting and more, pairing antique design with modern, energy-saving technology.

LED String Lights

LED technology is now available for Christmas and other holiday lighting. String lights have moved beyond the cool light spectrum into ‘warm white’ and many vibrant, pleasing hues. For more information about saving energy with your holiday lighting, read our article about LED Christmas Lights and Other Energy-Saving Decorations.