CFLs and LEDs Duke It Out After the Light Bulb Ban
When the phase-out of common household incandescent light bulbs begins in January 2012, there will still be plenty of electricity-guzzling 100W bulbs (or lamps, as they are called in the industry) on the market shelves. There will also be a variety of energy-saving products to choose from. Halogen incandescent lamps, for instance, will save a third on energy costs and provide the same light quality you’re used to. Newer technologies can save even more on electricity consumption and are coming down in price.
“You can find a CFL or LED that will give you the brightness and light quality you like, and it will save you around $50 over the life of each CFL and anywhere from $65 to $400 over the lifetime of each LED,” said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home and yard editor at Consumer Reports.
In a recent round of testing, Consumer Reports found that many of the problems associated with the early compact fluorescent replacements for common incandescents have been overcome. From the mid-eighties to the mid-ninties, most CFL products were just not ready for prime time. They flickered, they buzzed, they didn’t turn on right away…and worst of all was the color. “Consumers have been disappointed in the past by the bluish light produced by CFL bulbs,” said Michelle McMullen, vice president of vendor relations for Bellacor.com. “CFLs today come in a variety of colors. Consumers want to find bulbs that have a color rendering index (CRI) greater than 80; preferably closer to 100.”
Hugh Prosser, buyer for Lamps Plus, recommends consumers pay attention to color temperature: for indoor table lamps and overhead lights look for 2700K, but in a bright kitchen or outdoors, the “cooler-looking” 3500K or 4100K would be appropriate. “Don’t pay attention to cool-white or warm white, actually look at the color temperature on the label,” Prosser warned.
Beginning in January 2012, all this information – lumens, CRI, color temperature, and life rating (number of hours you can expect the lamp to operate) will be found on the Lighting Facts label printed on every lamp package, regardless of technology.
Despite these improvements, CFL prices still surprise consumers used to buying cheap incandescents. But you’d have to burn through 5 to 10 incandescent lamps to equal the long life of that one $5 to $10 CFL; which might give you the payback right there. And because of the lower wattage, the CFL will save about 75% in energy costs.
Even so, “green” consumers are still put off by CFL technology due to the mercury content. Manufacturers have drastically reduced the amount of mercury in these lamps, and today many CFLs contain less than a milligram inside the sealed glass tube.
But consider that electricity use is the main source of mercury emissions in the US, and CFLs use so much less electricity than the incandescent they replace. Burning through multiple incandescents will spew perhaps 5 mg of mercury out into the atmosphere, compared to 1 mg over the life of one CFL (source: US EPA). Nevertheless, spent CFL lamps should be recycled and are accepted at Home Depot, Ikea, Lowe’s, and some ACE hardware stores.
The solid state lighting manufacturers (also known as LED lighting) have taken their lessons from the CFL debacle and rely heavily on testing of products to build consumer confidence. Prices for LED replacement lamps are dropping, but remain high at $20 to $40 for the household lamp equivalent – thus the payback is much longer than for CFLs. But the LEDs’ low electricity consumption (saving 85% or more compared to incandescents) and incredibly long life (perhaps 20 to 50 years if used a few hours a day) will make convincing offers as the technology becomes more accepted. Further, reducing wattage that much can make rooms with a lot of tracklights or downlights noticeably cooler, and so save on air-conditioning.
Though they contain no mercury, spent LEDs should be recycled along with other household electronics.
The first places you’ll see LED lighting are in sockets with long burning hours (think dusk-to-dawn floodlights) and hard-to-reach places like high-ceilinged downlights. LEDs love the cold and will do well outdoors. Dimmable LEDs are also better than CFLs at dimming to low light levels, but neither will produce that romantic candlelight-colored glow when dimmed way down.
When crunching the numbers, CFLs and LEDs win hands-down. But for romance, better stick with halogen.
Written by Lois I. Hutchinson