CFL bulbs vs LED bulbs

Before the invention of LED light bulbs, people used CFL light bulbs as an energy efficient solution. To this day many people still utilize CFL light bulbs, but there is some controversy regarding how safe these fluorescent-based bulbs are.

According to some researchers, CFL bulbs are dangerous to your health for a number of reasons. More on that later, but first, what’s the difference between CFL bulbs and LED bulbs?

CFL Bulbs Vs. LED Bulbs: Here Are The Differences

Both CFL bulbs and LED bulbs were made as an energy efficient alternative to previous lighting fixtures. LED bulbs are the newer kids on the market and as a result they offer a lot more benefits and added energy savings.

What is CFL bulbs?

CFL bulbs were made to take the place of incandescent bulbs, which generate light as a result of heat. CFLs use just 1/5 to 1/3 the amount of electricity that incandescent bulbs utilize, and they can last up to 15 times longer.  Due to the fact CFL bulbs are a type of fluorescent lamp they contain mercury, which is toxic and complicates the disposal of CFL bulbs.

CFL vs. LED Light Bulbs: What’s the Difference?

Let’s examine the two most popular new light bulb options, CFLs and LEDs, and look at the advantages and disadvantages that come with each.

CFLs: Compact Fluorescent Lights

According to EnergyStar.gov, CFLs work differently than incandescent bulbs in that, instead of running an electric current through a wire filament, they drive an electric current through a tube that contains argon and mercury vapor. This process creates ultraviolet light that quickly translates into visible light, unlike incandescent lights which put off a warm glow.

The big difference between CFLs and incandescent bulbs is how much energy it takes to use them over time. CFLs use about 70% less energy than incandescent bulbs. They also last years longer than traditional bulbs, and only cost about a dollar more per bulb.

However, one of the biggest drawbacks of CFLs is that it takes a few moments for them to warm up and reach full brightness. That means they’re not ideal in spots where you want lots of light as soon as you flip the switch, such as a dark, steep basement stairway. They also cannot be used with a dimmer switch.

Plus, modern CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which is very harmful to both your health and the environment. That means it’s bad news to break one (here’s how to clean it up safely if you do), and they shouldn’t be disposed of in your regular household trash (here’s how to recycle them).

What is  LED?

LED (light-emitting diode) is a type of bulb that produces light using a narrow band of wavelengths. LED lighting is more energy efficient than CFL bulbs, as well as all other types of fluorescent lighting. LED bulbs produce a unique color of light that is very similar to the natural light of the sun. LEDs reach their peak brightness as soon as they are turned on and do not require a warmup phase like incandescent or florescent bulbs.

Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, were for years most commonly found in small electronic displays, such as the clock on your cable box. Because the light emitted by each tiny LED is directional and fairly weak, household LED bulbs were on the fringe of mainstream technology just a few years ago.

According to the Lighting Research Center, LED light bulbs work by bringing together currents with a positive and negative charge to create energy released in the form of light. The result is a fast source of light that is reliable, instantaneous, and able to be dimmed.

What sets LEDs apart from incandescent bulbs and CFLs is just how long they can last. According to Consumer Reports, LED light bulbs can last anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 hours, or up to five times longer than any comparable bulb on the market.

But that combination of efficiency and durability has historically come at a cost. LEDs cost more money than CFLs and incandescent bulbs. The good news, however, is that their price has dropped considerably over the years.

Where once it was common to pay $50 or even $100 for an LED light bulb, they’re now available for about $8 a bulb on Amazon. IKEA sells its own 60W-equivalent LED light bulbs for just $5, and Home Depot is reportedly running a promotion in May that will discount Philips LED light bulbs to as low as $2.50 per bulb.

If you’re still on the fence over which energy-efficient alternative to choose, you’re running out of time. Incandescent bulbs are being phased out and will be a thing of the past by next year. Since lighting our homes accounts for about one-quarter of our electric bills, the new energy-efficient bulbs are going to save us money in the long run. But which should we choose?

LED Advantages

LED lights last longer, so even though you’re paying more at purchase, you buy fewer bulbs over time. These bulbs fit in standard light fixtures with no adaptor necessary. LED makes very nice lighting for effect and decorative purposes.

LED Disadvantages

LED lights generally cost more to buy than CFLs, but manufacturing technologies are lowering these prices continually. These lights are directional, meaning they are excellent for lights under cabinetry, but not as suitable to table lamps. Some of the newer LED lights come with diffusers, which helps some.

CFL Advantages

CFL​, or compact fluorescent, is simply a mini version of a standard fluorescent light bulb, However, these bulbs fit in standard light sockets without any adaptor. The light appears much like the incandescent light we’re used to, and looks nothing like the harsh lighting we associate with offices or school buildings.

CFL Disadvantages

The primary disadvantage to CFL lights is the mercury contained in the bulb. This is ordinarily not a problem, but if the bulb breaks clean up is a hassle. Mercury is a dangerous heavy metal, and proper cleanup and disposal of CFL bulbs is critical. Never put a used CFL bulb in with the rest of your trash. Contact your local waste management company to learn how to properly dispose of used CFL bulbs.

Health Problems Potentially Caused By CFL Bulbs

CFL bulbs have been associated with the following symptoms:

-Headaches and migraines

-Fatigue

-Increased anxiety

-Seizures

-Loss of concentration

-Sleep disorders

Comparing Costs: CFLs vs. LEDs

When most people need to replace their light bulbs, cost is the biggest factor in their decision. But the actual cost includes more than just the upfront price of each bulb you buy; you should also factor in how much each option will cost to operate over the years.

As with most things, it turns out a bit of money spent today can often lead to substantial savings in the long run.

Buying one quality bulb that lasts decades is less expensive in the long run than buying a dozen or more cheaper ones that keep burning out.

And then there’s the cost of the electricity used to light the bulb: Utility prices vary by state and by season, of course, but in 2013 residential electricity customers paid an average of 12 cents per kilowatt hour in the United States. Both CFLs and LEDs use considerably less electricity than traditional bulbs.

Lifespan Winner: LEDs

LED light bulbs have an astounding lifespan – they will last up to 50,000 hours! This means that a string of LED holiday lights from today will still work 40 holiday seasons from now. CFL bulbs have a mere lifespan of 5,000 hours maximum, next to nothing when compared to the lifespan of LED bulbs. Not only do the LED bulbs last almost forever, they are durable. 

An LED bulb can bounce on the floor and will not break. CFL bulbs are the opposite – they are quite fragile and likely to break. And when they break, the mercury that is inside the bulb will cause a problem. In order to properly dispose of a CFL bulb, you must contact your local water management to guarantee proper disposal. The clear choice here are the LED bulbs when it comes to lifespan and durability.

Cost Winner: LEDs (in the long run)

Initially LED bulbs are slightly more expensive than the CFL bulbs. A six-pack of CFL bulbs typically costs around $22-25, while a six-pack of LED bulbs costs around $28-30. Although LED’s have a higher initial cost, they will save you money in the long run. A six pack of those same LED bulbs will last nearly eight times longer than that same six pack of CFL’s. Replacing the CFL bulbs eight times will add up to $184, compared to the single purchase of $28-30 for the six-pack of LED bulbs. The LED bulbs last longer and therefore will save you time and money in the long run.

 Energy Efficiency Winner: LEDs

CFL’s use 25-35% less energy than traditional light bulbs, or incandescent bulbs, use. This is good, but not great. LED’s, on the other hand, use 75% less of the energy than incandescent bulbs use. This means that LED bulbs are incredibly energy efficient. Additionally, CFL bulbs release almost 80% of their energy as heat, while LED bulbs emit very little to no energy as heat, which increases their efficiency even more.

Making Your Decision

Most people make the decision between LEDs and CFLs with their pocketbook. LED costs more at purchase, but lasts longer. CFLs are cheaper, but if broken become not so convenient very fast. Other people decide that CFL lighting is closer to what they’re used to and therefore choose these bulbs to replace incandescent bulbs as they blow out.

Both are efficient ways to light your home, and both work with all the sockets, lamps and fixtures you already own. If you enjoy a directional light for reading, cooking, or working at home, you might prefer the LED bulbs. For general home lighting, such as illuminating a room, CFL might be best.

Of course, you can always use a combination of these technologies in different parts of your home according to the lighting needs in different rooms. This is also a good way to compare the lights to decide. Try some LEDs in the kitchen over your workspaces and over the home office desk. Use CFLs in the living room and bedroom lamps. In time, you may develop a preference, or find you like one for certain applications and the other for other activities.

Whichever you choose, your deadline for deciding is rapidly approaching. By 2014, incandescents will no longer be manufactured in the U.S.

Here’s how much each type of bulb would cost to purchase and operate over a 25,000-hour lifespan (about 23 years at three hours per day):

IncandescentCFLLED
Approximate cost per bulb$1$2$8 or less
Average lifespan1,200 hours8,000 hours25,000 hours
Watts used60W14W10W
No. of bulbs needed for 25,000 hours of use2131
Total purchase price of bulbs over 23 years$21$6$8
Total cost of electricity used (25,000 hours at $0.12 per kWh)$180$42$30
Total operational cost over 23 years$201$48$38

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