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Eartha Steward: Eat LED, you light-bulb Luddites!

LED lights bulb

LED lights bulb

Dear Eartha,

I’d like to have efficient lighting but have been hesitant to switch to CFLs because we have so many dimmer switches. What would you recommend?

Frank, Breckenridge

Dimmers do complicate things. Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) do a much better job of dimming and turning on and off for short periods of time than they used to, but better technology right now belongs to LEDs or light emitting diodes. Some of us just got used to the curly CFL bulbs and now this? LEDs are electronic solid-state lighting that bypass the most common issues reported with CFLs. People report that CFLs do not respond well to dimming, and they ‘blow out’ when turned on and off frequently. Lighting industry experts expect LEDs to fully eclipse the lighting market in the next 10 years, not because of any regulation, but because it makes more economic sense to buy them. They also do not contain mercury, as their CFL cousins do, and they are more readily available in the color spectrum associated with regular old incandescent light bulbs. If you are wondering what that is, it’s about 2,700 degrees kelvin.

What you have to accept is that the incandescent is a relic. Lighting has come a long way since the first incandescent bulb was invented in the late 1800s. That is some seriously old technology. Efficiency is best measured in lumens of light output per watt. In other words, the amount of light put out based on the amount of power used. Incandescents emit about 10 to 15 lumens per watt and a lot of heat. A CFL gives off 40 to 60 lumens per watt — much better! But an LED can now produce 100 to 150 lumens per watt. That’s the best by far.

But LEDs are expensive right? They are more expensive than CFLs and incandescent bulbs, but they also last longer. And prices have come down significantly in the last two years. Maybe when you first priced out an LED it was close to $50 per bulb, which seems a little crazy for a light bulb. It turns out the price point to make it worth your while to buy an LED that lasts for 20 years is about $10-$20 per bulb. Prices are currently reaching this point. And if you are in a commercial building, Xcel Energy is currently offering a rebate for about half the cost of LED installation. Just ask any of the dozens of store owners in Summit County who have recently switched to LED bulbs and found their energy bills cut in half and their store areas not nearly so hot in the summer (because LEDs give off much less heat). Stores like Ten Mile Creek Kayaks in Frisco are going straight from halogen bulbs (a type of incandescent normally used in track lighting) to LEDs and bypassing CFLs entirely.

When you go to buy an LED or CFL, be sure to check the label on the bulbs. An Energy Star bulb has undergone rigorous testing at a federal level and won’t die out before it is supposed to. Plus, only the Energy Star bulb easily garners the Xcel Energy rebate. Good luck light bulb shopper. We commend you for doing a little research. The progression in technology is impressive in the lighting area. We will do our best to keep you up to date.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at