LED Lighting Saves Even More than CFL and Lasts Longer

Working at the local Meijer store earlier this week, I noticed that they now have a pack of 8 store branded LED light bulbs for $11.99 – just $1.50 each. (Black Friday pricing: $8.00!) I’d say we have now hit the tipping point where it makes little sense to buy CFL or traditional incandescent bulbs for most applications.

3 types of ligh bulbsLED lighting has several advantages over incandescent and CFL bulbs, including:

  • Better Quality Light
  • Better Energy Efficiency
  • Longer Life Span
  • Better Compatibility

Better Quality Light

Color Temperature

Incandescent light bulbs have a warm color temperature, typically in the 2400 K to 2550 K range. By comparison, the color temperature of midday daylight is 5,780 K, a burning candle about 1,700 K, and compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs are generally in the 2,700 K to 3,000 K range.

color temperature

Color temperature: warm white (2,000 to 3,000 K), cool white (3,100 to 4,500 K), and daylight (4,600 to 6,500 K). ©Westinghouse

What this means is that indoor lighting tends to be warmer (more reddish) than daylight, something that has traditionally caused all sorts of headaches for photographers. If you’ve ever taken a photo indoors on color film, the results always look reddish. If you use flash, which has the same color temperature as daylight, you counter that but have the direct lighting issues caused by on-camera flash and everything in the background will be reddish.

With digital photography, the problem persists, but automatic white balance will usually give you less reddish photos from indoor lighting, but in my experience they are often more noisy or grainy in appearance than shots in daylight.

Apple had a clever solution to this with the iPhone 5S, something it calls True Tone flash. Where previous iPhones had a single white LED for flash photography, the iPhone 5S and later add a yellowish/warming LED. When you take a flash photo, the camera analyzes the color temperature of the scene and does its best to match it by balancing the output from the two LEDs.

The CFL Problem

Fluorescent lighting suffers from another issue, a discontinuous light spectrum. With film cameras, this usually meant greenish photos or using a light magenta filter to compensate. With digital photography, the camera can do its best to adjust on the fly.

How your eye perceives it varies from person to person and among different types of fluorescent bulbs. As Wikipedia notes,

“For example, some people find the color rendition produced by some fluorescent lamps to be harsh and displeasing. A healthy person can sometimes appear to have an unhealthy skin tone under fluorescent lighting.”

Fluorescent bulbs produce light from mercury vapor and the phosphors chosen to coat the inside of the bulb. In general, the less expensive the bulb or tube, the less likely it is to provide a good color spectrum – and expensive CFL bulbs kind of defeats the purpose of saving energy and money.

Fluorescent lighting does not put out an even spectrum of light.

Fluorescent lighting does not put out an even spectrum of light.

Another issue with fluorescent bulbs is that they flicker at twice the frequency of your electrical supply, which can impact color temperature, photography with a DSLR, and people sensitive to light flicker. Flickering will increase toward the end of a fluorescent light bulb’s life.

LED Gives You Choices

What does all of this have to do with LED light bulbs? Simply this: You can choose 2,700 K or 5,000 K light bulbs to match your needs, and other color temperatures as well from some manufacturers. You’re not limited to warm lighting, which is typical for incandescent bulbs.

Daylight bulbs can be helpful for those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and those who work the night shift and see little sunshine.

Better Energy Efficiency

Compact fluorescent lighting is about 4x as energy efficient as incandescent bulbs, and most LED lighting today is 5-10x as efficient as incandescent bulbs.

To replace a traditional 60W soft white light bulb, you would choose a 13-15W CFL or a 7-10W LED.

Longer Life Span

The lifespan of an indoor incandescent light bulb can be 800 to 1,000 hours, and one of the leading arguments in favor of CFLs – along with their energy efficiency – is around 8,000 hours. Over the course of time, CFL has cost benefits in terms of energy used and longevity.

Problem is, you have to be careful where you use a CFL. Every time you switch it on, you reduce its lifespan a little bit.

CFLs are affected by humidity, so you don’t want to use them in the bathroom. Steam from your nice hot shower can kill a CFL as fast as an incandescent bulb. LEDs are not supposed to be affected by humidity, so I’ll have to give one a try in that one bathroom ceiling fixture that goes through a few traditional or CFL bulbs a year. Fingers crossed!

In most circumstances, LED lighting seems like it lasts forever, with a lifespan rating of 15-30,000 hours.

Better Compatibility

If you’ve used CFLs, you’re probably aware that sometimes they just won’t physically fit into the lamp or into the light socket. LED bulbs don’t have that problem and seem to be 100% compatible with devices designed for standard A19 incandescent light bulbs.

Another issue is that you cannot dim fluorescent bulbs. Three-way bulbs are an alternative, but they require a three-way lamp or light switch. Like incandescent bulbs, LEDs can be dimmed, but not all LED bulbs are designed for it. If you need a dimmable bulb, make sure that’s what you’re buying.

Incandescent bulbs tend to work at a wide range of temperatures, even in ovens, fridges, and freezers. Fluorescent bulbs are less efficient in hot and cold temperatures., and they also warm up more slowly in the cold. (If you live in cold climates and use CFLs in your garage, you’ve probably seen how dim they are during winter weather and how long they take to warm up.)

LEDs come on at full strength and don’t change their color output, since they don’t have to warm up like CFLs. This makes them a much better choice than CFL for outdoor flood lights, path lighting, porch lights, and garage lights.

Speaking of warm, fluorescent bulbs do not run as hot as incandescents, but they do run quite a bit hotter then LEDs. That said, LEDs are negatively affected by high temperatures, which reduces their lifespan, so you do not want to use them anywhere they might be exposed to excessive heat – and definitely not in your oven.


This table compares the rough equivalents of the 60W soft white incandescent bulb. All numbers are averages. Purchase price is average per bulb in a multipack and can vary significantly.

Incandescent CFL LED
Purchase price 41¢  $1.00 $1.50
Watts 60 14 8
Lumens 860 775 800
Lifespan 1,000 hr 8,000 hr 15,000 hr
Avg energy cost $17/yr $8/yr $3.50/yr

Average energy cost assumes 13¢ per kWh and the light bulb being on an average of 6 hours per day. Lifespan covers quite a range, but in the long run it costs less to purchase CFL or LED lighting and less to use them, giving CFL a 4:1 advantage over incandescents and LED at least a 5:1 advantage (2015 data).

Holiday Lighting

If you’ve seen the price of LED Christmas lights in recent years, you’ve probably been scared off. But this is no time to be pound wise and penny foolish. Those lights on the Christmas tree or in your backyard gazebo have two costs: the price of purchase, which may be 2-3x as high for LEDs, and the cost of use, which may be 80-90% lower.

For instance, a string of 100 traditional light bulbs from GE sells for $21 on Amazon.com and uses 48W per hour, while a similar string of LED bulbs sells for $29 and uses about 9W. Not that you won’t see better prices, especially after Christmas, but this gives us something to start with.

In this case, you spend one-third more for LED lighting and save about 80% on the cost of using them. Energy Check found that it costs about 6x as much to run traditional holiday lights – but that only saves you about $6 per holiday season to run six strings of bulbs. It’s going to take a long time for LED to pay for itself here, unless you wait for the post-Christmas clearance prices.

On the other hand, say you have the same lighting in your gazebo and it’s on for five hours per day. Over the course of a year, LEDs could save you $70-75, so this is an instance where the same lights can pay for themselves in a year or two of full-year use but can’t justify seasonal use for 30 days a year.

The other factor is that cheap string lights often stop working when one or two lights die, and many find it easier and cheaper to replace the whole string with spares bought after the holiday than try to figure out which bulb(s) have gone bad and replace them.

Then again, with the much longer lifespan of LED, quality strings of lights could last many, many holiday seasons before the first one fades out.

Other Issues

Because they contain mercury, you should never put a fluorescent bulb in the trash. Some stores that sell light bulbs will take them back so the mercury is recovered.

I have not seen CFLs that can replace those small “candle” lights sometimes used in chandeliers and with some ceiling fans. Phillips makes a 4.5W LED soft white replacement bulb with the smaller candelabra screw that is dimmable.

If your oven has an appliance light bulb, it’s probably the smaller A15 bulb with the same base as a traditional incandescent bulb. Ovens are too hot for anything but incandescent bulbs, and be sure to buy ones rated for appliances.

Plants appear to do well with LED lighting.

Make the Switch Intelligently

If you can afford to change all your light bulbs at once, go for it. If not, look for sale prices – especially with Black Friday only days away. The first bulbs you want to replace are the incandescent bulbs that are used most frequently. Then move to the incandescent bulbs that see less use, and then the CFLs that are being used heavily. (Moving from CFL to LED will only cut your overall cost by about 33% vs. over 80% for incandescent, so replace CFLs last.)

One other factor is the cost of specialty light bulbs, like outdoor flood lights. Replacement bulbs cost $15 and up from Amazon.com, $18 and up in stores, and each motion sensor fixture at my house takes two light of these costly bulbs. Looking through Amazon.com, I can replace the whole fixture with a new one with built-in LED lighting for about the cost of one outdoor flood light bulb!

You should see a drop in your electric bill soon, and that can help you afford to replace more light bulbs. Over the course of 3-6 months, you should be able to replace almost every incandescent and CFL bulb in your home and see the energy savings add up month after month.

Further Reading

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