Understanding the Different Types of Light Bulbs

Tess 6W LED Replacement BulbChoosing a light bulb is no longer a simple choice. Understanding the differences between incandescent, CFL and LED light will make it easier.

Buying a simple light bulb is not so simple anymore. As technology has advanced and environmental awareness has increased, energy efficiency has become a paramount concern. It is common knowledge that choosing the right light bulb could drastically reduce your power bills and positively affect the environment, but which one should you choose?  Understanding the differences between incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFL), and light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs will make choosing a bulb simple once more.

There are two key terms pertaining to light bulbs: watts and lumens. A watt refers to the amount of energy required to power a bulb. With incandescent bulbs, the number of watts has become synonymous with the level of brightness, even though a watt really does not tell you anything more than the amount of power necessary to light the bulb. Lumens, on the other hand, indicate the actual amount of light emitted by the bulb. For example, a typical incandescent 40W light bulb draws 40 watts of power and provides about 400 lumens of brightness. A CFL requires 9-13 watts and an LED light bulb uses 6-7 watts to provide the same amount of lumens.

Until recently, most homes used incandescent light bulbs. Incandescent bulbs emit light by generating heat. Unfortunately 90% of the power required to provide the desired brightness is emitted in heat rather than visible light. For this reason, incandescent bulbs are gradually being phased out, and in the United States will be banned entirely by 2014. CFLs have been touted enthusiastically in the past decade, but LEDs are beginning to surpass them because they require as little as half the power and last 10 times longer than a CFL. The table below contrasts the three technologies.

Incandescent CFL LED
Life Span 1,000 hours 6,000 50,000 hours
Watts 40W 9W 6W
Lumens 400 320 300
Heat Emitted 56.6 BTUs per hour 20.3 BTUs per hour 2.3 BTUs per hour
CO2 Emissions 3000 pounds per year 701 pounds per year 301 pounds per year
Contains Mercury No Yes No
RoHS Compliant Yes No Yes
Kilowatts of Electricity Used* 2190 KWh per year 531 KWh per year 228 KWh per year
Annual Operating Cost* $219.06 per year $53.06 per year $22.76 per year
Cost of Bulb $0.84 $2.49 (average) $24.99
Months to Recover Initial Expense N/A Vs. Incandescent: <1 month Vs. Incandescent:
1.5 months
Vs. CFL: 9 months

*30 Incandescent Bulbs per Year Equivalent

As you can see, LED light bulbs outperform CFLs in almost every category, and you recover any initial cost investment relatively quickly. In less than a year, you will have recouped your original investment and your savings will begin to accrue rapidly. While installing LED fixtures is an excellent way to go green, you can also use replacement LED light bulbs in your existing fixtures. Either way, you will have energy-efficient, attractive light that will save you money as well as help conserve the environment for years to come.

Jessica Sullivan is a freelance writer in Los Angeles who cares deeply about environmental conservation and preservation. If you would like to learn more about the benefits of LED lighting, you may want to visit ElementalLED.com.

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