A Review of CFL Bulbs
Having said this, they were an important option when people were starting to look for energy savings from their light bulbs, as they use only about 25% of the energy consumed by incandescent bulbs. Usually for $5 or less (some years ago), you could replace your 50 cent incandescent bulb with something that would last 10 times as long (in fact more like 5 to 10 times as long), so the cost of the bulbs themselves evened out. Meanwhile, you would slash your energy bill.
Given that lighting makes up about 10% to 15% of a residential electric bill when you're using incandescent bulbs, this could cut electric bills by roughly 8% to 11%. And while LEDs in the early days were slightly more efficient than CFLs, they also cost around $20 to $40 per bulb and most people couldn't afford them.
But that's no longer the case, so now let's get an update on the world of LEDs.
A Review of Today's LED Bulbs
Meanwhile, the efficacy of LEDs has continued to improve. This means they're producing more light, or lumens, for every watt of energy used. For instance, you can replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a 13 or 14-watt CFL -- an efficacy of up to about 60. Early LEDs had a similar efficacy, and may have only saved you 1 watt in a 60-watt replacement.
But today's LEDs, while far lower in cost, have boosted their efficacy and now approach 100. This means you can save up to 4 or 5 watts per bulb. If this doesn't seem like much, keep in mind that the average light bulb is used for around 1.6 hours per day, or 500+ hours per year, and this difference could yield $3 to $4 in energy savings each year. So an LED could pay for itself against a CFL within 1-2 years and then start keeping money in your pocket every year after that. Not bad for a technology that may last you 20 years!
Plus, LED efficacy is expected to continue rising, and to reach around 150 by 2020.
Even better, the quality of LEDs continues improving as well. Today, some LED bulbs approach a 100 CRI, which means they score almost perfectly on the Color Rendering Index. (This is a complex topic, however, as different technologies render colors differently, even if scoring a similar number on this scale.)
Meanwhile, some LED technology now make the bulbs even more closely mimic incandescent bulbs, which provide a warm color that many people love. This new technology means that the bulbs not only mimic the color temperature of incandescent bulbs at full brightness, but they also get warmer -- like incandescent bulbs do -- when dimmed.
A Summary of CFLs and LEDs
So today, the choice between CFLs and LEDs has less to do with initial cost than it once did, and rests far more in the hands of personal preference. Either way, they represent an easy way to dramatically lower your electricity bill.