How to Choose a Light Bulb (CFL? LED? HELP!)

How to Choose a Light Bulb

A walk down the light bulb aisle isn’t what it used to be. On a recent visit to Target, I was completely overwhelmed as I stood in the middle of the aisle and stared at all the choices. CFL’s, LED’s, halogens and yes, still some classic incandescent bulbs where all lined up on the shelves hoping they would go into my shopping cart and home with me.

But what to choose? I felt burned after buying too many CFLs early on – especially because they did not work with the many dimmer switches in our house. And now that standard incandescent bulbs are being phased out, instead of fewer choices, there are more. It’s confusing. After much research I’m not going to pretend to know everything about the light bulb options out there, but I put together a basic primer to help you choose the light bulbs that are right for you:

Standard Incandescent

Pros: Cheap to buy. It’s what we’re used to.

Cons: Energy hogs. Conventional incandescent light bulbs only convert about 5 to 10 % of the electricity used into light (the rest is given off as heat) – making them very inefficient. The phase-out of standard incandescent bulbs has already begun, with 100 watt and 75 watt already out of production. Sixty and 40 watt bulbs will go in January 2014. Note: look for the new halogen-based incandescents (see below) as just one of the replacement options for standard incandescents.

Best for: Standard lighting fixures. Most of us can’t afford to switch over all our light bulbs at once but as your standard incandescents burn out, replace them with the alternatives listed below.

How to Choose a Light Bulb (image by cooper gary via flickr)Compact Florescent (CFL)

Pros: Energy efficient. CFLs last up to 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs and uses up to 75% less energy. CFLs have improved considerably from where they started. Prices have come down a lot since they were first introduced.

Cons: Potentially dangerous. CFL’s contain a small amount of mercury. If they break (and this happens, especially when you have kids), you’re dealing with a hazardous waste cleanup. When they burn out, you must dispose of them as hazardous waste and not trash. Other complaints against CFLs are: the delay while the bulb turns up to full power, inability to use with a dimmer switch and the cool, blue/white light.  Newer CFLs have overcome many of these issues, although dimmability is still not a strong suit.

Best for: Use CFLs in fixtures that are not likely to be tipped over (my kids knocked one over in the living room once – not good!) Also, CFLs are best for lighting fixtures that stay on for awhile. Since the bulbs take time to get to full strength, they are not optimal for fixtures that are turned on and off frequently.

How to choose a light bulb www.mindfulmomma.comLight Emitting Diodes (LED) 

Pros: Energy angels. LED light bulbs are the most energy efficient type of light bulb available – they last 25 times longer than incandescents (and quite a bit longer than CFLs). The fact that LEDs are mercury-free is a huge plus. If you break one,  you may be crying over the replacement cost, but you won’t be racing to put your hazmat suit on before cleaning it up. LEDs are also dimmable and they come up to full light instantly. Choose from white light or warmer toned bulbs.

Cons: Price. LEDs are more expensive at the outset but they make up for it in energy savings. Fortunately, prices have come down considerably and they are heading even lower as the bulbs gain in popularity. I just spent $20 for an 11 watt (60 watt replacement) by GE at Target and Best Buy just announced the $10 LED bulb (price after utility company rebates). I found the popular Cree brand of LEDs on Amazon for $19.95 (for a 60 watt bulb). Some worry that demand for cheaper prices will bring low-quality LED bulbs into an already variable market. Shop for LEDs like you would an appliance. Read reviews and shop around!

Best for: LEDs used to be mainly for focused lighting like flashlights and track lighting but now you can find bulbs for most standard lighting fixtures. For starters, we put one in the lamp we leave on at night. We will add more as standard bulbs burn out.

How to Choose a Light Bulb www.mindfulmomma.comHalogen

Pros: Halogen bulbs use about 25% less energy and last up to 2 to 3 times longer than standard incandescents and yes, they work with dimmer switches.

Cons: Not nearly as energy efficient as CFLs or LEDs. Light is not quite as warm as standard incandescent bulbs but close.

Best for: A budget option that works in most light fixtures. We will probably stick with these for our lights on dimmer switches until we are sure that the LED dimmer option works well.

Bottom line: LEDs are clearly the best option for the environment but you’ll need to do some thinking about the light bulb options that make sense for you. The light bulb market is ever-changing so don’t stock up unless you’re sure you love the bulbs you buy!

What is your favorite type of light bulb? Have you tried the new LEDs?

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(Disclosure: there are sponsored and affiliate links in this post. Any purchase you make helps keep this blog in business. Thank you!)

top photo credit: iwishmynamewasmarsha via photopin cccfl photo credit: coopergary via flickr cc, bottom two photos via the GE Lighting website.

About Micaela

Micaela Preston is a marketing and communications consultant specializing in natural, organic and eco-friendly products and the health and wellness space. Micaela is available as a social media manager, green lifestyle writer, public speaker, brand ambassador and marketing manager.

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