Incandescent vs. CFL vs. LED Light Bulb

07 May

For anyone out there dragging their feet about switching to Compact Fluorescent (CFL) or LED light bulbs in the home, I’ve done some research and put together some data about long-term usage in comparison to incandescent bulbs. As anyone paying attention has noticed, incandescent bulbs are rapidly becoming a thing of the past in terms of price, output, and performance. In an attempt to shed some light on the issue, we’ve crunched some numbers and put together an Excel sheet that compares various facets of incandescent, CFL and LED bulbs. Read the rest of our analysis after the jump, and feel free to download our Light Bulb Comparison Spreadsheet, which you can customize for your own home bulb comparisons.

Next time you’re out looking for light bulbs for your home, consider your options and bear in mind a few factors that go into differentiating your options: individual bulb price, lifespan, lumens (brightness), and wattage/electricity cost (how much electricity it takes to light the bulb). Before you try to figure out which bulb you want to buy, consider what your goals are. Do you want to the longest-lasting bulb you can find? Do you want the most efficient bulb? Do you want to stop changing bulbs for 15 years? These days, there’s an option for each of these concerns.

The incandescent bulb is a dinosaur. About the only thing it has going for it in comparison to more efficient and longer-lasting options is that the price of an individual bulb is still comparatively low. But if you use a little foresight, you’ll realize there are better options out there that cost just a little more. If you want a bulb that’s going to last for extended periods between replacements, you’ll want to go with the LED. The bulb features a lifespan of 60,000 hours versus the CFL’s 10,000 hours and the incandescent bulb’s 1,500 hours. Considering the bulb’s low energy expenditure, the cost (over its 60,000-hour lifespan) is significantly lower than either of the other bulbs. Simply put, if using as little energy as possible is your goal, the LED bulb is for you.

Of course, the standard LED is generally less bright than a traditional bulb. We tested the Spotlight LED bulb, which is made by the same manufacturer as the bulb we compared in our analysis (but with a lower lumen count), and we found it to have only a slightly less brightness than the traditional bulb. The LED also has the major drawback of featuring a very direct field of light, which makes it most useful only when aimed directly at what you want to light. Standard floor and table lamps equipped with an LED tend to offer streams of light aimed at the ceiling, which may not help with that book you’re reading.

As a versatile bulb that burns comparably bright to a standard incandescent, but still costs less over the long term and burns more efficiently, the CFL Bulb may be your best bet. An advantage the CFL has over the LED is an upfront-cost that is considerably lower and far closer to the incandescent. In fact, if overall cost is your only concern, the cost of new LED bulbs may be more than you want to spend. Over the life of an LED, you are only going to see dramatic savings over the CFL if you are in an area that has high energy costs. For example, we compared LED and CFL bulbs at a standard $0.10 rate, and found that you would save about $11 over 60,000 hours. We also compared the two at $0.33 (what a friend pays) where the savings jumps to $120 over the life of an LED.

While the CFL is twice as expensive as the incandescent upfront, the former buries the latter in a pile of long-term cost. Each individual setting—not to mention the user’s view’s on energy conservation—is going to call for a unique bulb. We’ve tried to give you basic data and tools to figure out which bulb is right for you. Download the Excel spreadsheet and consider the best options for you.



  1. Amber Lighting Enthusiast

    May 25, 2011 at 3:24 am

    LED’s are fantastic there are now lasting between 50,000 hours to 80,000 hours and the closest thing to sunlight.


    May 31, 2011 at 5:28 am

    You didn’t mention labor savings for businesses that now don’t have to have maintenance go through and change lights monthly or yearly like they did previously.

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