The wholesale switch from incandescent light bulbs, which were discontinued for wattage above 40 watts in 2014, to the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs has been evolving for years. A lot of confusion still exists, however, about these bulbs, starting with which is which. Is the long light bulb the CFL bulb and the LED the curly light bulb? Or is it the other way around — CFL is the curly light bulb and LED is the long light bulb? And that’s before we even analyze which one is more energy efficient!
In short form, here are the answers: CFL is the curly light bulb and LED is the long light bulb. And, in the CFL vs LED battle for energy efficiency, the LED light benefits make it a winner, hands down. Here’s what you need to know.
To understand LED light benefits, it’s important to understand the difference between the two bulbs. LED light bulbs produce light when an electrical current passes through them. In CFL bulbs an electric current flows between electrodes at each end of a gas-filled tube. The reaction creates ultraviolet light and heat, which is then changed into light when it hits a phosphor coating on the bulb’s interior. This process takes anywhere from 30 seconds to 3 minutes to complete, according to ENERGY STAR®, which is why it can seem as if your CFL light takes a while to be fully lit.
CFLs used 25-35% less energy than incandescent bulbs, but it you really want to make the biggest environmental impact on the environment, choosing LEDs is the way to go. Residential LEDs, especially those rated by ENERGY STAR, use 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting. Energy.gov notes that by 2027 widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh of electricity, the equivalent of annual electrical output of 44 electric power plants (1000 megawatts each). It’s also a total savings of more than $30 billion at today’s electricity prices.
Here are some other differences to keep in mind when examining CFL vs LED bulbs:
This chart shows the difference in costs between CFL vs LED bulbs:
Something else consumers need to understand while analyzing CFL vs LED bulbs is the difference between lumens and watts. Consumers are used to buying light bulbs based on watts, or how much energy they consume. It didn’t matter how much light (lumens) they provided. Now, as a way to differentiate LED vs CFL bulbs, manufacturers are classifying the new energy-efficient bulbs by their lumens. You are buying your bulb based on the amount of light you want rather than the energy used by the bulb.
Admittedly, it can be confusing. Here’s the basic point to keep in mind: More lumens equals more brightness. But exactly how many lumens is equivalent to what was once, say, a 60-watt bulb? Here’s a breakdown to give you the basic new LED vs CFL light bulb math:
The reality is that while switching light bulbs from CFL to LED can seem like a small step toward energy efficiency, the result nationwide can be a win-win for everyone: potentially lower energy costs in your home and in the U.S. as a whole.
Want to know more about which of your appliances wins the energy efficiency battle? Take our energy efficiency quiz. Then find the rest of our series examining the details of each appliance, starting with electric vs natural gas dryer.
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