Are LED Lightbulbs Worth the Investment?
As of January 1st, 2012, incandescent light bulbs will be phased out, as per government’s new regulation. The first type of bulbs to go starting this year is the traditional 100-watt bulbs and then, followed by the 75 watt in January 2013 and 40-watt bulbs in January 2014. But the new rule also will require different labeling system too.
Even before the new standards were announced, energy savvy consumers have been switching to compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs for years but not readily to Light Emitting Diodes (LED) bulbs as LEDs were more expensive. However, LED’s have been gaining more popularity lately and the prices have come down.
What are LED’s and how do they compare to Incandescents & CFL’s?
It’s no secret that LEDs, light-emitting diodes, are seen as the future of lighting. For starters, they’re absurdly efficient. One LED bulb can use the equivalent wattage of up to eight incandescents, and last for an incredibly long period of time. Many are rated for 50,000 or more hours of useful life. They also burn much cooler than incandescents, which can be safer, as well as potentially result in cheaper air conditioning bills depending on where you live. So why aren’t LEDs all over most homes already?
Aside from some limitations in the types of fixtures where they can be utilized (directional fixtures like pendants or outdoor wall lights work best), the main obstacle to asserting their dominance is price. A 60-watt, standard base incandescent bulb will cost you under $1. As of this writing, a 60-watt LED equivalent will likely cost you $25 on average, with some closer to $15 at the lower end, and others nearly double the average amount. While it’s true that LED options should be thought of as an actual component, and thus an investment that will help you realize savings over time, it’s still a significant change in thinking to consider a light bulb as anything other than a throwaway item.
LED vs. Compact Fluorescent Bulbs
While price differences between LEDs and incandescents are still fairly dramatic, perhaps a better comparison is with compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs. Continuing our above comparison, a 60-watt CFL will cost you around $5 per bulb. Similar to LEDs, at one time CFLs were much more expensive before competitive pricing brought their costs down dramatically. It’s a pattern that is now repeating itself all over again with LEDs. Interior designers in particular are very interested in LED technology, partly because their mostly affluent residential clients do not have the same negative impression of LEDs as they do fluorescents. Many people still remember how poor most early fluorescent light was, and aren’t willing to let go of that stigma. It results in designers often not having a ‘green’ option to put forward in projects, something LED can hopefully change.
With new FTC light bulb packaging standards now stressing lumens instead of wattage (after all, lumens light your home, not the energy consumption it takes to power the bulbs), it’s easier to compare across bulb types to see exactly what you’re getting. We took a look at both compact fluorescent and LED bulb options that are marketed as 40-watt replacements, and compared both to an actual 40 watt incandescent bulb. We looked at standard A19 base types, just like those found in your average lamp. Since costs, light output, and wattage can vary greatly across manufacturers, we chose to stay inside the GE Lighting family of bulbs for a more fair comparison of lumens. The results? Comparing wattage (energy usage), lumens (light output), and average hours (estimated lifespan), we found the following:
1) GE Lighting Energy Smart 9 Watt LED Bulb | 470 lumens | 25,000 hours
2) GE Lighting Energy Smart 10 Watt CFL Bulb | 520 lumens| 8,000 hours
3) GE Lighting Soft White 40 Watt Incandescent Bulb | 490 lumens| 1,000 hours
LEDs Deliver Significant Efficiency
Two things stick out when going through the above exercise. One, the wattage difference between the LED and CFL bulb was only a single watt. LED is often advertised as close to twice the efficiency of compact fluorescents, so why the nominal savings? The answer has to do with the number of actual LED lights in the average bulb to deliver the necessary light output. If you’ve ever seen one up close, an LED bulb may more closely resemble your shower head than any bulb you’ve every purchased. Second, the difference in lifespan is staggering. A CFL bulb should last 8X longer than an incandescent, with that ratio climbing to 25X for an LED bulb. For the latter in particular, it’s not hard to imagine the bulb outlasting the fixture itself.
What does this mean?
The conclusion to all this is that while LEDs are here to stay, pricing and other factors will likely result in more buzz than actual volume for the immediate future, at least in the residential market. However, with costs falling very quickly during a time when competition is getting stronger, don’t expect that reality to remain for long.
Luxalo is an online retailer with an exclusive focus on sustainable lighting options for the home, believing that choosing eco-friendly and energy-efficient lighting should not mean sacrificing style.