CFL vs LED Lighting – What is the Difference?
|October 4, 2013||Posted by Rachael under Buyer Guides|
With rising costs and economic uncertainty, we all want to save money on our utility bills. Little changes to our shopping habits can make a big difference. Buying energy efficient light bulbs not only help your wallet, they help the planet as well.
Currently, there are two leading energy-efficient light options on the market – LED and CFL. Both choices have been getting lots of buzz from politicians, industry professionals, and the media lately. But exactly what is the difference between the two and which is a better value? And do they outperform traditional incandescent bulbs? We have investigated so you don’t have to! Read below for our findings.
What are LEDs?
Light Emitting Diodes, or LEDs, are semi-conductors that light when charged. LED lights emit a very low amount of heat compared to other lighting options. The lights themselves are designed to dissipate the little heat they give off, which makes them perfect for the warmest room of the house – the kitchen.
The light of LEDs shines through a filter to create the ideal shade for your room. It is not uncommon to see these filters when the light is unli,t however not all LED bulbs and filters have visible filters. It usually does not matter if the filters are visible in outdoor lighting however hidden filters are ideal for pot lights and other exposed bulbs.
LED lighting has a much longer life than traditional light bulbs, with the average lifespan of an LED being 50,000 hours compared to 1,200 for an incandescent bulb. 50,000 hours is given as the lifespan of LEDs because that is when the human eye is able to notice a difference in lighting. LEDs can in fact be used for much longer, they just will not burn as bright as they originally did when first lit.
Pro Tip: Each LED lighting fixture has a Kelvin rating. 2700 Kelvin is the warm color Americans are used to in our homes. 3000 Kelvin is the color halogen lighting gives off. 4000 Kelvin is the white color associated with indoor lighting in Europe, also known as crisp white. Be sure to check the Kelvin rating of your LED bulb or fixture for your preferred lighting.
Today many light fixtures are sold with built-in, non-replaceable LED lights. This is especially true with outdoor lighting. Be sure to do the math before you decide to pass on LED lighting because you cannot change the bulb! As mentioned above, the average LED light has a lifespan of 50,000 hours – that’s almost 6 years if the light is on 24/7/365! If the light is on 8 hours per day, say an outdoor spotlight only on at night, that’s over 17 years! Over 17 years of not having to change a light bulb is a great value, especially when a traditional incandescent bulb will only light for 1,200 hours, or 50 days if lit 24/7.
What are CFLs?
Compact Fluorescent Lamps, or CFLs, are just as their name suggests, small fluorescent lamps. Like all fluorescent lamps, CFLs consist of tubes filled with mercury vapor that is energized to shine light. The mercury in CFLs make them a health risk if broken and must be properly disposed of once broken or dead. Click here for more details on CFL and fluorescent lighting disposal.
Like LEDs, CFL light bulbs cost more than traditional incandescent light bulbs but last longer. CFLs have a lifespan of 8,000 hours or slightly less than a year if lit 24/7. If lit 8 hours per day CFLs should last for almost 3 years.
Experts estimate CFLs can save over 5 times their initial purchase price due to the reduction in home energy bills. US News and World Report poses this simple explanation of CFL savings: “A household that invested $90 in changing 30 fixtures to CFLs would save $440 to $1,500 over the five-year life of the bulbs, depending on your cost of electricity. Look at your utility bill and imagine a 12% discount to estimate the savings.”
Pro Tip: While most commonly associated with swirled light bulbs, CFL light bulbs are available in a variety of styles, many that look like traditional incandescent bulbs. Visit your local hardware store to see the various bulb options available in CFL.
Just like LEDs, each CFL bulb has a Kelvin rating. Soft White CFLs usually have a range of 2500 – 3000 Kelvin and emit a warm light similar to what Americans are used to with incandescent bulbs. Bright White CFLs have a Kelvin rating of 3500 – 4100 and are like the crisp white lighting usually found in Europe. Daylight CFLs mimic natural sunlight. With a Kelvin rating of 5000+, daylight CFLs are best for reading.
The Pros and Cons
As with any purchase, there are pros and cons to both LEDs and CFLs. One con they both share is price. Both lighting options cost more upfront (starting at $8 for a CFL bulb and $12 for an LED bulb), however they last much longer than incandescent lights and reduce your energy costs, resulting in bulbs being able to pay for themselves in months.
As mentioned previously, a large con of CFLs are their disposal. Because they contain mercury, CFLs cannot be thrown in trash that will end up in landfills or recycled along household goods. Instead, they must be dropped in special collection sites. Home Depot and Lowes both offer CFL drop-offs for disposal.
The pros of both are their energy savings. It is estimated that running 30 CFLs in a home will cost $76 per year while 30 LEDs cost $32 per year (30 incandescents would cost $329 per year). Both bulbs can be used in traditional lamps and do not need to be replaced as often as traditional bulbs.
For more on the pros and cons of CFLs and LEDs, consult the chart below.