Are CFLs or LEDs the better light bulb choice?

CFL vs LED Light Bulbs

by Shaunna Privratsky


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It used to be that when a light bulb burned out, you went to the store and only had to choose which wattage you needed. Now that the Federal Government has stepped in and declared incandescent bulbs too energy deficient, there are a confusing array of choices in CFLs and LEDs. You might feel you need a PhD to sort them all out, but this easy guide will help you to compare CFL and LED light bulbs.

Most of us are familiar with CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs. There are new shapes and brightness levels, known as lumens, in practically every price range to fit virtually any fixture. They are touted as being 75% more energy efficient than the old incandescent bulbs.

Yet CFLs continue to have problems, including causing fires, burning out too quickly in enclosed fixtures, and emitting too dim a light. The biggest drawback, however, is the fact that they contain 5mg of mercury. Many states have strict disposal laws in place, including the use of hazmat suits, gloves, and biohazard disposal units, not something most of us feel comfortable using around our children, pets, and family members.

The newest light bulb technology addresses all those problems and more. The LED bulb, or light emitting diode, has quickly risen to become a viable option. When it first became available, it was so much more expensive that it put it out of reach for normal household budgets. Advances in technology have brought it more within reach, as evidenced by a recent trip to Walmart.

I compared a typical 25-watt CFL bulb at $6.87 with a 4-watt LED bulb for $8.97, both equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb. The LED is $2 more, but says it will last seven times as long as the CFL. Imagine not having to change that awkward light above the stairs for seven years or more!

According to a cost value chart here, LED bulbs have many more advantages. Unlike CFLs, they are not affected by humidity or temperature. LEDs also aren't affected by frequently turning them on and off. They also have the lowest heat emitted, at only three BTUs/hour while CFLs emit 30 BTUs/hour and incandescent bulbs give off a whopping 85 BTUs/hour.

The push to go green has led many people to believe that CFLs are the best solution. Yet apparently they were always just a temporary solution until technology could come up with a better alternative. Just when everyone was getting used to them, there are a growing number of concerns and a sort of backlash. A newscast last week showed a woman whose lamp caught on fire when she installed a new CFL. The cause was still under investigation, but the woman claimed she would go back to the regular bulbs, even if they are more inefficient.

Some people just don't like the looks of either of the new types of bulbs. Although CFLs have come out in shapes that mimic the old incandescent bulbs, often they fit differently in lamps with harps (the curvy wire piece holding the shade), ceiling chandeliers, or fixtures with covers. Short of buying all new lamps, many people hold onto the old bulbs for either practicality purposes or how they look. The only problem is once those bulbs burn out, you may not be able to buy new ones. The government is phasing out the right for stores to sell them, and when I checked at Walmart, there were none available.

So the next time you need new light bulbs, consider the pros and cons of CFLs and LEDs. While LEDs are new to the market, they seem to shine brighter than the competition, giving you big savings on better bulbs.


Shaunna Privratsky is an expert in personal finance. Between writing, reading and gardening, she is always on the lookout for bargains. Please sign up for the free newsletters at The Discount Diva. You can also visit Shaunna on Google+.

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