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LED, CFL and incandescent lights: How do they stack up?

Posted on June 17, 2013 Category: Hospitality Design Articles

In 2007, Congress began a program that was aimed to phase out inefficient light bulbs in favor of more cost-effective, energy-efficient ones. For the first time, Americans had to but thought into their light bulbs that went beyond changing them when they burnt out.

So what are the different kinds of light bulbs that are offered? Here are the three main types, along with some benefits and drawbacks to each kind.

These lights are the most similar to traditional incandescent bulbs, though are a bit more energy efficient. Their popularity lies in the fact that they can easily sub in for incandescents, will work with older dimmer switches and are the cheapest of the three popular types of energy efficient light bulbs. They also turn on instantly, not requiring any time to light up.

Unfortunately, they just simply aren't that much better than incandescents. They don't last much longer and don't have a huge improvement on energy efficiency. Halogen lights also produce an amount of heat comparable to an older light bulb, and don't have a lifespan that is significantly longer, either.

Compact fluorescent lamp (CFL)
Everyone, by now, is familiar with what CFLs look like- sort of a cross between a corkscrew and soft serve ice cream. But don't let their non-traditional shape fool you, these bulbs are were a huge step forward when it came to energy efficiency. In fact, they can last up to ten times as long as an incandescent bulb, which is great because they are a bit more expensive than the halogen options. CFLs are also more energy efficient than halogens. Across the board, CFLs can be a great choice for a large-scale home or office lighting replacement.

Unlike halogens, CFLs can't light up completely at the flick of a switch. They can take a few minutes to reach their full brightness. There have also been reports of CFLs emitting an off-putting odor or noise. Another drawback is that if you have a switch for the LED dimmer, it is going to be incompatible with these bulbs. They also contain a small amount of mercury, which means that they can't just be thrown away when they are done.

Light Emitting Diode (LED)
LED light bulbs are gaining popularity for a variety of reasons. First of all, they are far and away the most energy efficient light bulbs on the market which adds long-term value to them. They also can last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs. This means that the percentage of energy consumption that comes from manufacturing the bulb is much lower than either incandescent, halogen or CFL bulbs, making them the most environmentally friendly of the bunch. They are also unique in that they come in a variety of colors that can be changed with the press of a button. Though they don't work well with old fashioned dimmers, special LED dimmers are available on the market, some of which can even be controlled through your smart phone. LEDs come in strips, ropes and a variety of other shapes as well. Because LED lights don't contain any mercury, like CFLs do, they can be simply thrown away when they are spent.

Of all of the light bulb options, LEDs are the most expensive. Switching an entire home over to LEDs in one sweep would have the most overhead, but it would also add up to the most savings in the long run. Also, the nature of LED light is very directional, and some do find the light too harsh, though modifications are always being made to soften the light and mimic the incandescent glow that many prefer. 

Although the cost for LEDs has historically been high, tools exist, along with new technology, to reduce how much you will pay for the product.