I’m updating the lighting in my home and am trying to decide between CFL bulbs or LEDs. I’ve heard that CFL bulbs contain harmful mercury, but they’re significantly less expensive than LEDs. Besides, will LEDs really save me that much money in the long run?
— James, Summit Cove
There are several factors to consider when deciding what type of energy-efficient bulb to purchase for your home. Lighting accounts for about 25 percent of home electrical usage, which means choosing the most efficient bulbs is important to saving both energy and money.
CFLs, or compact fluorescent light bulbs, are the tubular- and helical-shaped bulbs that use about 75 percent less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb. They are relatively inexpensive, though not as efficient as LEDs. Their lifespan is about nine years with normal usage, and they can save you up to 75 percent on energy bills.
CFLs do contain a very tiny amount of mercury, about 4 milligrams per bulb, which is never released while the bulb is in use or intact. If broken, CFLs must be handled carefully because proper disposal outlets or options may not be readily available. Your local waste collection agency can advise you on proper recycling of CFL bulbs.
LEDs (light-emitting diodes) are small, very efficient solid bulbs grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses that have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. LED technology is advancing rapidly, with many new bulb styles available. While there are many bulbs to choose from, LEDs are considered the most energy efficient, saving up to 90 percent on energy bills.
When replacing incandescent or CFL bulbs with LEDs it’s important to understand that you need to match the lumens of the existing bulb and not the watts. The lumen output of a bulb determines the brightness and quality of the light distributed by the bulb. Early LED technology lacked the lumen options that are available today.
Though good-quality LED bulbs can run as much as $30-$40, consider this: You will rarely replace them. Energy Star-rated lights are guaranteed to last 25,000 hours with normal use, or nearly 23 years.
LEDs do not “burn out” like traditional bulbs and they emit very little heat, and heat is wasted energy. LEDs are very durable, as they don’t have a fragile shell or filament that can shatter, like conventional incandescent bulbs.
CFL bulbs, like incandescent bulbs, create heat, which can lead to ice dam issues on rooftops. Light systems installed in a home’s attic or vaulted ceiling can allow heat loss to the underside of the roof decking, which will then melt the accumulated snow, potentially causing ice dams to form.
Ice damming is a common problem in Summit County and leads to the extensive use of heat tape to melt snow and prevent the formation of ice dams. Heat tape is energy intensive and draws exorbitant amounts of electricity, which can drive up energy use significantly. LED lights emit little heat, making them an excellent lighting choice in Summit, especially considering their other energy-efficient qualities.
Still skeptical about LED lighting? Try using a combination of LEDs and CFLs to meet your lighting preferences and monitor your utility bills to track your savings. LEDs too expensive? Try replacing existing bulbs with LEDs only when they burn out.
Whether it’s the environment or your pocket book that drives your purchasing practices, LED lighting will meet your needs on both accounts. For more information on lighting and home energy efficiency call your friends over at the High Country Conservation Center.
Ask Eartha is written by the staff of the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit dedicated to resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at firstname.lastname@example.org.