By Jeremy Cook
As of a few years ago, incandescent bulbs are effectively a thing of the past, leaving you with a choice between CFL bulbs and more expensive LED models. Though there are a few drawbacks to LED bulbs, there are also a huge number of benefits.
Direct LED Electricity Savings
The most obvious benefit to LED bulbs is the fact that they use a significantly small amount of electricity compared to incandescent bulbs, and use about half the power of CFL bulbs for the same brightness. Using a 60-watt incandescent bulb, producing 800 lumens of light as a baseline, and assuming the higher watt usage for CFLs and LEDs, here are how things stack up.
For the calculation purposes, bulbs are assumed to use the largest amount of power in the reference material, and that they will be used three hours per day at an energy cost of $.12 per kWh—roughly the average cost in the US.
Yearly Electricity Cost (per bulb)
The savings aren’t dramatic between CFLs and LEDs, but considering the current near-parity price-wise, LEDs seem like the way to go if you have to buy new bulbs. If you still have incandescents, based on cost savings and current prices, LEDs would probably be a good choice for replacement bulbs, even if the originals are still working.
If you throw in the fact that LEDs are more durable, don’t contain mercury and are able to power on without warming up, the case for LEDs versus CFL bulbs becomes even stronger.
How Do You Know Which LED to Choose?
If you do get what you pay for when buying an LED in general, what about the fact that prices vary between different models and brands? Is there a difference quality-wise, or are you better off just buying the cheapest light that meets your need? As with most products, the answer is a frustrating “it depends.”
Here is a sampling of 4-packs of bulbs found after a quick browse around a home improvement store website. You’ll notice pricing varies significantly:
Average Life (Hours)
Philips A19 LED
Not advertised as dimmable
5000 K (daylight)
EcoSmart A19 Dimmable LED
Cree A19 Dimmable LED
2700 K (soft white)
Looking at this chart (abbreviated from the many different types and brands of bulb out there), you may notice a few things: Light output (lumens) and power consumption vary a little bit, but are pretty consistent. Color can vary, but is more of a personal choice than indicative of the quality of the bulb. Physical design also varies slightly, but most likely you won’t spend much time actually looking at the bulbs after installation.
One thing that stands out is that there’s a big jump in price if you want to get bulbs advertised as “dimmable.” Similarly, the warranty and average life of the bulbs also change drastically. As the price goes up, both of these quality indicators go up as well, from 10,000 hours for the cheapest to 25,000 hours for the most expensive.
So yes, among these bulbs there is a definite difference in quality based on those numbers. On the other hand, if you use the cheapest bulb on this list three hours a day for 365 days out of the year, it will take over nine years to reach its average life. It’s entirely possible you won’t be in your house for that long, let alone the 22-plus years it would take to reach the 25,000 hours expected from the Cree bulb.
Choosing Extra Features
Since your new bulbs will potentially last well over 10 years, this opens up a possibility that wasn’t practical with previous types of bulbs: integrated accessory electronics. These involve wireless networking and can give your bulbs abilities most people hadn’t even thought about five years ago. Here are a few examples:
- Wireless speaker LEDs. Relatively simple, a bulb/speaker combination can connect to a smartphone to play music at a wireless range of 60 feet. Some models even change colors with the music.
- Remote-controllable smart home lights. If you’d like to be able to turn your lights on or off remotely from anywhere that you can access the internet, or even set things up to work automatically, a connected light bulb can help you.
- Local remote control via a phone or tablet. If you’d like to get into smart control of your lighting, but would rather connect them to the broader internet, these bulbs simply pair with a smart device via Bluetooth and form their own mesh network. However, you’ll have to be onsite to control things.
- Wi-Fi repeater. If you need to extend your wireless network’s range, you can use a wireless repeater. Rather than set up an extra device, try a Wi-Fi repeater that doubles as a light bulb. No one will be the wiser!
Lights that offer extra features do cost more than a standard bulb. Whether some of the technologies involved will still be widely employed by the time the bulb’s life is done is certainly an open question. It may be difficult to commit to a technology like this when the bulb itself should last well in to the next decade (or two).
Along with other technology options, extremely long-lasting LED lights mean that it’s much more important to select the type and temperature of the bulb you’ll be using. Although you can always prematurely replace them, you’ll otherwise have to live with the type of light you’ve selected for many years to come!
Jeremy Cook is an engineer who loves anything tech and writes about it for The Home Depot. He provides tips on everything from using LED lights to setting up a smart home. To view a wide variety of LED light bulbs and lighting like those Jeremy talks about in this article, visit The Home Depot.
This article is editorial content that has been contributed to our site at our request and is published for the benefit of our readers. We have not been compensated for its placement.