The Benefits of Various Types of Light Bulbs: From Incandescent to Fluorescent
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The Benefits of Various Types of Light Bulbs: From Incandescent to Fluorescent

A sample of the energy cost savings possible when converting from incandescent to Compact Fluorescent light bulbs.

When choosing lighting for your home, it's important to consider the benefits of various types of lighting. It's easiest to just go for the cheapest bulbs, but a long term focus is important if your goal is saving money. Unfortunately, when you get to the store, you don't usually have a calculator and 30 minutes to sit down and figure out which light bulb will ideally save you the most money in a given application. You just have a bad bulb and an empty socket.

There are no end of choices, shades, colors and types of bulbs on store shelves. Until recently, fluorescent bulbs were usually used in commercial or industrial lighting applications because of the expensive ballast systems and unusual voltages necessary to operate them. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs, or CFLs, bring the total size of the package down to approximately that of a regular incandescent bulb, thus leveling the playing field to a degree. No longer can you observe a 60W marking and be sure that you have the bulb you need; for example, a 60 watt CFL would probably start glowing like the sun if it got anywhere near an electrical source. The most important overall concept is the lumens, which indicate just how much light the bulb puts out. Since most of us understand the difference between 40, 60, 75, 100, and 150-watt incandescent bulbs, it's easy to use the lumens that these bulbs generate as a baseline for choosing a different kind of bulb. There are also handy keys on some packages that indicate approximately what incandescent wattage a bulb is equivalent to.

To approximate the operating cost of light bulbs over their lifetime, I am using Department of Energy statistics which place the average cost of electricity as 11.68 cents per kilowatt hour. For more specific information to your area, you can follow the link below in the sources section.

Our first contender is the typical 100W incandescent bulb. Its life is rated at 950 hours, it puts out 1,675 lumens, and it costs 84 cents to purchase. By the end of its average lifetime, the bulb has used 95 kilowatt hours, which brings energy usage to a cost of $11.10 and the total cost of the bulb to $11.94. Our next contender is a "100W equivalent" CFL bulb. This bulb's life is rated at 12,000 hours, it puts out 1,600 lumens, and it costs $3.49. It also burns 23 watts of electricity. By figuring out how long it takes for the bulb to consume a kilowatt hour just like we did for the other bulb (divide 1000 by 23 equals 43.478 hours for the CFL versus 10 hours for the incandescent), we can then divide the life of 12,000 hours by that number and see that the bulb will consume 276 kilowatt hours in its lifetime. At the average rate, the bulb will cost $32.24 to operate during its lifetime, and have a total cost of $35.73. The final piece of math is to determine just how many incandescent bulbs it will take to equal one CFL. In this case, the 23-watt CFL is advertised to last as long as 12.63 100W incandescent bulbs. Multiplying this out indicates that the bulbs will cost $150.82 in purchase and operating costs by the time they equal the CFL, which makes for an approximate savings of $115.09. In fact, even if the CFL's only last half as long as advertised, then $39.68 can be saved over the life of the bulb!

There are some considerations to be made. For example, the levels of mercury in fluorescent bulbs mean a higher environmental impact (especially considering poor recycling services and requirements in some areas). Additionally, the electronics of CFL's don't always hold up as well in outdoor applications. The intial purchase price also turns a number of consumers off, as does the type of light that some fluorescents produce. The technology is improving rapidly, however, and CFL bulbs are undoubtedly now worth your money.

Some other bulb types exist. The most notable are LED bulbs, which use an array of LEDs (from 5 to 50 or more) to create a light bulb. You may have noticed that many intersection light bulbs have been replaced by LED bulbs. LEDs are fine for directional light applications, but they do not have a good ability to diffuse the light, which makes them a little quirky to use in home lighting applications. Their current draw is extremely low and overall life cannot be beat, but most LED bulbs rarely put out more than 40-150 lumens (less than a tenth of the light produced in ordinary household bulbs). Unfortunately, LEDs require extremely specific low voltages, and the transformers (or ballast) necessary to achieve this are quite expensive. LED bulbs can range from 20-50 dollars each. Companies are currently working on the bulbs, however, and chances are that they will become a worthy adversary to the CFL and incandescent bulb in just a few years.


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Comments (14)
Harvey Hoffman

Good article but your information about LED lights is WAY out of date. A follow-up introducing current technology and lumen rating would be nice. LEDs still have their limits but can do a lot more than what you say.

Dear Harvey, The information I posted about LED bulbs was current as of the date of posting approximately three months ago. I did not use specific information because I found the LED choices offered by vendors to be so unattractive in comparison that they are almost ridiculous at this point. Check this link: Walmart is a typical vendor that most people would have access to. On that page, there is an LED bulb with impossibly low lumen count and high price relative to the other bulbs. If Walmart can't carry it cheaply, no one can.....yet. However, another person asked for updated articles about the bulbs as well, so I will write a new article with a wider inclusion of bulb comparisons. I have a feeling that LED bulbs would win out financially speaking by the end of their life, but their initial investment price makes them rather unattractive to the average consumer. But stay tuned for the upcoming article so that we can find out! Thanks for your idea and have a great day.

Did you know, that there's also such thing as an LED Exit Sign on the market? Maybe not a very useful information for everybody, but whoever owns a store, a company, or whatever bigger building, knows that you need a couple dozen of these signs and they contribute quite a bit to your energy bill.. So the non-electrical Exit Signs (either photoluminescent or tritium) might be an alternative! More information for example here:

Ginny Skalski

Dustin: I loved your paragraph spelling out how you did all of your calculations. This is very helpful information for consumers. I'm afraid I have to agree with Harvey, however. LED lights are absolutely ready for general illumination. There are some good LED light bulbs on the market right now and there are some outstanding LED downlights and PAR38 lamps that are being used everywhere from Denny's Restaurants to Wal-Marts. Your point about it being a challenge to find an LED bulb on the shelves at places like Wal-Mart is fair. However, that doesn't mean there aren't LED lighting options available. Please contact me if you write a follow-up piece. You can also learn more on our educational site.

Also, thanks so much for raising the important issue of lumens v. Watts. This is so important for consumers to learn.

Harvey Hoffman


People are still tweeting this article and as you know it is way out of date. You had indicated a follow-up article with current information about what is now available in LED lighting for the residential market. Any idea when that will happen? Looking forward to the update.


Thank you, Ginny!

Harvey, the research I've been doing has been confirming my original assessment of LED bulbs, which is that they are currently unattractive for residential consumers. Thank you for your continued interest, however, and since you ask, I'll probably post an article up today or tomorrow with the information I've been gathering. I'll post a link here as well once I've finished.

Harvey Hoffman


I will wait for the article to comment but please tell us a bit about your research. There were many LED products at Lightfair 2010 a few months ago that are ready for prime time if used in the right application. Look forward to reading your update.

I didn't get to attend, but it's funny that you mention Lightfair 2010, because it's the centerpiece of the article!

Harvey Hoffman


I have a PowerPoint presentation that was given by Cree at LF2010 on my server if you care to view it. Send me an e-mail address and I will send you the link. All public domain so no problem sharing. Very good information you may be able to use.


That would be great! My e-mail is and thank you!

Harvey Hoffman


Is there a reason you keep tweeting this article 4-5 times a day. WE GET IT ALREADY.

I don't know what makes you an expert on LED lighting but you are way off base in a lot of what you say in both your articles. This is not scientific research, just your opinion.

Please, give the tweets a break already.


Harvey, Thanks for your comment. If you don't enjoy my tweets, you are free to remove me as one of those you follow. As clearly outlined and supported by the links provided, the information presented above in the article is research, not of the scientific kind, but a direct market survey. I take the information supplied by the company selling the bulbs and explain exactly what math I use to arrive at my calculations. The process is entirely transparent and can be checked by anyone who wishes to take the time. I carefully explained my conclusions regarding these bulbs and also left an open-minded opinion regarding their future. If you feel that I am off base in what I say, you are free to exercise your right of free speech and say so, but it means little unless you take the time to show others the calculations you have made that say otherwise. Please, feel free to write a fact-based article explaining why LED bulbs are an economic solution compared to other bulb types. It is these variegated opinions that make the world better, not comments with a negative tone. I look forward to your article!

A good written article Dustin, thanks for sharing :)