LED light bulbs are a hot topic, but many consumers want answers before switching from their incandescents and CFLs. Do LEDs really save money? Are they better than fluorescent bulbs? Can LED bulbs match the warmth and quality of incandescent light? ModernEnviro’s guide to home LED lighting separates the hype from the facts.
Are Incandescent Bulbs Being Banned?
No. LED light bulbs are getting extra attention these days because of the so-called “ban on incandescent bulbs”. The regulations now taking effect are part of the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, and don’t actually ban incandescent bulbs at all – they simply require any light bulb (incandescent, fluorescent, LED, or any other type) to meet a certain standard of energy efficiency. And specialty bulbs like floodlights and appliance lamps are generally exempt from the restrictions. But energy efficiency regulations aside, LED light bulbs are simply the most promising lighting technology on the market.
LED Light Bulbs Offer Unmatched Efficiency
LEDs (light emitting diodes) are solid state semiconductors. That’s a good thing for two reasons: first, they convert nearly all their electricity into usable light, unlike incandescent bulbs (which actually waste most of their energy as heat). Second, their sealed, filament-free design means they are not nearly as vulnerable to impacts or moisture as incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, making them much more durable and long-lasting than their competitors. LED light bulbs also don’t contain mercury, which has been a big drawback for CFL bulbs.
The best LED light bulbs on the market use just 10-20% of the energy of an incandescent bulb, or half the energy of a CFL. And LED light bulbs can last up to 50,000 hours (equal to 12 hours a day for over a decade), which is roughly five times longer than a CFL and a whopping 50 times longer than an incandescent.
LED Light Bulbs Really Do Save Money. Lots Of Money.
The initial purchase price of an LED light bulb can seem intimidating. When you’re used to paying under a buck for a light bulb, shelling out $20 or $30 can feel like quite an investment. But do some simple math and the numbers are pretty compelling.
To match the lifespan of just one LED light bulb you’d need to replace up to 50 burned-out or broken incandescents, which would easily total $20. And powering all those incandescent bulbs will supersize your utility bills as well.
If you pay $.10 per kilowatt hour for electricity, a 60-watt incandescent bulb would cost roughly $300 to operate over a 50,000 hour period. A comparably bright 7-watt LED light bulb would cost just $40 to run – that’s $250 in savings, for just one light!
It’s important to note that LED bulbs aren’t indestructible; their circuitry is particularly sensitive to high temperatures, which is why most bulbs incorporate features like metal fins or liquid coolant to dissipate heat. And some newer LED bulbs are designed to “burn” brighter and warmer, so they may only last 20,000 hours instead of 50,000. But they will still pay for themselves over time, and prices will keep dropping as the technology continues to evolve.
The Best LED Light Bulbs Cast Bright, Warm Light
Beyond cost, light quality is vitally important to consumers. And many homeowners are still skeptical about LEDs thanks to the limitations of some early designs. But new LED bulbs can truly match the performance of incandescent bulbs.
Brightness – Wattage vs. Lumens
As increasingly efficient technologies transform the lighting market, the old benchmark of wattage doesn’t accurately convey brightness anymore Lumens are a measurement of the visible light output from a bulb (technically known as luminous flux), and thus much more useful than wattage when comparing different bulbs. Current LED bulb designs can deliver well over 1,000 lumens, equivalent to traditional 75-watt or even 100-watt incandescents.
Light bulb packaging is starting to make it easier for buyers to compare bulbs, with standardized labels that include lumen output, estimated lifespan, color temperature, and energy consumption.
Different Designs For Different Applications
To get the best results from an LED bulb, buyers need to pick the right one for their needs. An LED light bulb contains many diodes housed inside, and how they are oriented affects how the light is dispersed. Some LED bulbs may cluster the diodes toward the top of the bulb (resulting in a more directional light, perfect for a fixture like a ceiling light); other designs arrange the diodes to cast light more evenly in all directions (which might be ideal for a table lamp).
Most LED light bulbs are dimmable as well; check the manufacturer’s specs to make sure about a particular model if you’re replacing a traditional bulb in a fixture with a dimmer switch. Also, LED bulbs light up instantly when they’re switched on, unlike CFLs that require warm-up time before reaching their full brightness..
Light Quality – Color & Warmth
The warm, inviting glow of traditional incandescent bulbs is one of the biggest reasons consumers still use them. Fortunately, LED bulbs have stepped up their game in this area too, and they are finally matching the quality of traditional light sources as well as their brightness.
“Color rendering” is one common term in the lighting industry, which refers to how accurately colors appear in a particular light source. Bright sunlight or traditional incandescent light has a CRI (color rendering index) of 100, so bulbs with a CRI of 80-100 will display truer colors than bulbs with a lower CRI.
Another common measure of light quality is “color temperature” expressed in degrees Kelvin. A lower color temperature indicates a warmer light with more yellow and red tones (like a sunset or candlelight) while higher numbers indicate a starker, bluish light. There isn’t any “best” color temperature for a bulb; it’s really a matter of intended use and individual preference. A homeowner might enjoy warm light from a reading lamp, while cooler light might be best for illuminating a workshop.
For the sake of comparison, the color temperature of a candle might be 1,800K, while a standard incandescent light bulb could be around 3,000K. Bright daylight measures around 5,000k, and that blue glow from a computer monitor might be over 9,000K.
The Bottom Line
LED light bulbs are a great option for lighting your home, and they’re going to keep getting better. You could replace all the incandescent bulbs in your house with LEDs today, and you’d save money while substantially reducing your carbon footprint. But even replacing a single bulb can help your financial and environmental bottom line – and as a bonus, it’ll be years before you need to drag out your ladder and replace all those burned out incandescents.