I have a love/hate relationship with CFL light bulbs. I love the low energy consumption, but I hate certain other aspects of them.
They’re fragile, they contain mercury, they have to warm up to reach full brightness, and they often die young. In other words, they’re far from being a perfect solution.
Nonetheless, when we moved into our current house 7.5 years ago, I gradually changed over all of our light bulbs (and we have a bunch) to CFLs. But now, with LED bulbs becoming (more) mainstream, I’m starting to re-think things.
My CFL experiences
Before we go any further, I want to provide some background on my experiences with CFL bulbs. Back when we first made the switch, I found that the generic 60W-equivalent CFLs that are sold in bulk at Lowe’s and Home Depot worked well.
These bulbs require minimal warmup to reach full brightness and the color is (imho) fine. And they use just a fraction of the energy of their incandescent brethren — a 13W CFL produces light that’s roughly on par with a 60W incandescent.
But still… They never seem to last as long as advertised. Wondering why?
Well, fluorescent lights require a “starter” to kickstart the lamp. With traditional fluorescent tubes, the starter is contained within the fixture and can be replaced separately. With CFLs, the starter is integrated into the base of the bulb.
Under normal household usage, which typically involves lots of on/off cycles, the starter will die long before the bulb reaches its rated lifespan. The result is that you’re left with little more than a mercury-laden chunk of glass and plastic.
So, when used properly, in fixtures that are on for long stretches per use, CFLs can be a good option. But in closets, bathrooms, and the like, they’ll die young.
It’s tempting to go back to incandescent bulbs for these situations, but those are on their way out. Standard 100W incandescent bulbs were taken off the market in 2012, 75W bulbs went away in 2013, and both 40W and 60W bulbs will be gone in 2014.
What about LED light bulbs?
The obvious alternative for those who are interested in an energy-efficient and (hopefully) longer-lasting bulb is to switch to LEDs.
When they were first brought to market, LED light bulbs were costly ($50+ for a single bulb? no thanks). Moreover, the resulting light was criticized as being both overly directional and rather harsh.
Since then, however, the situation has changed.
Prices have fallen (to a point) and the technology has improved. You can now routinely find non-directional, 60W-equivalent LED bulbs in the $10-$20 range and the light quality has (supposedly) improved.
Here’s a rundown of the top-rated 60W-equivalent bulbs from Amazon:
- Philips A19 Dimmable LED Light Bulb ($14.22/each)
- Enviro Bulb A19 Omni-Directional LED Light Bulb ($16.99/each)
- 3M LED Advanced Light Bulb ($19.99/each)
- SunSun Lighting A19 LED Light Bulb ($11.99/each)
- Lighting EVER A19 LED Bulb ($9.99/each)
I know, I know. Even at the low end, that’s still a lot to pay for a single bulb.
Yes, these bulbs use fractionally less power than a CFL for equivalent light output (typically 10W vs. 13W for a 60W-equivalent bulb) that alone isn’t enough to justify the price difference.
But many of these bulbs are rated for upwards of 25,000 hours which could be 20+ years depending on usage. And, despite my own poor experiences with LED Christmas lights, real-world testing of household LED bulbs suggests that the long lifespan ratings might be accurate.
So… Is it time to switch to LED lightbulbs? For me, I think the answer is a qualified yes. I’m not going to make a wholesale switch, but I’m done buying CFLs. Going forward, I’ll be replacing our burned out CFLs with LED light bulbs.
It’ll probably take a few years to fully convert, but I’m in no rush. And during this time, prices will continue to fall and the technology will likely improve.
What about you? I’m curious to hear your thoughts and experiences. Web-based readers can scroll down to leave a comment. Those of you reading via RSS or e-mail will need to click through to do so.