Is it Time to Switch to LED Lightbulbs?

Is it Time to Switch to LED Lightbulbs?

A little over five years ago, I replaced all of the lightbulbs in our house with CFLs. At the time, CFL prices had finally come down to the point of affordability and the technology improved to the point where we could find (with some searching) bulbs with decent light quality and minimal warmup time.

With this past Sunday being Earth Day, the next generation of lighting products — LED lightbulbs — has been in the news. From a technical perspective, these bulbs look great. Instant on, no warmup, good light quality, extremely long life, and low energy requirements. The main problem is the price — as much as $60 per bulb.

So… The question is whether or not it makes sense to switch to LED lightbulbs. I’ve given this a lot of thought and decided that the time isn’t quite right, at least for us. Don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that the large upfront investment gets paid back (and then some) in terms of energy savings and bulb replacement costs.

But, in our case, we’re already realizing the energy savings due to our prior switchover to CFLs. As it turns out, the energy requirements of CFLs and LEDs are roughly equivalent, as they both use ca. 25% of the energy of an equivalent incandescent bulb. We still have a lot of life left in our CFLs, as well as a number of replacements sitting on the shelf in our laundry room.

At the same time, I’m expecting LED bulb quality to continue improving and prices to drop considerably in the next few years. Thus, I’ll likely begin the transition over time as our CFLs wear out. As our supply dwindles, I’ll consolidate the remaining CFLs into individual fixtures/rooms and start replacing them with LED bulbs.

Honestly, in this case, the extremely long life of LEDs works against them as I don’t want to invest a ton in bulbs that are likely to be left in the dust by newer models as the technology matures.

That being said, if you’re looking for LED bulbs, I highly recommend checking out this detailed review by Marco Arment. You might also want to check out this bulb (that’s a link) from the Lighting Science Group. It’s been getting rave reviews.

So, dear readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic. Are you making the switch to LED bulbs? Or are you sticking with your current incandescent or CFL bulbs?

Note: There’s been some discussion of the mercury content of CFL bulbs in the comments, so I thought I’d add this link to instructions (from the EPA) on how to clean up a broken CFL. I’ve also written elsewhere about how to properly dispose of CFL bulbs – don’t just throw them in the trash!

27 Responses to “Is it Time to Switch to LED Lightbulbs?”

  1. Anonymous

    Yea I know old thread but you might get different answers now with reputable Cree 60w equiv for $7.99

    Couple of nits on prior posts

    -there is no such thing as a mercury free CFL. There are a few that put some plastic over the glass.

    -there’s about 40 cans of tuna fish worth of mercury in a typical CFL. The coal you burnt using incandescent delivers far more mercury into the air than a dropped CFL. Just wipe it up with a damp paper towel and chuck it in the trash. Don’t do something stupid and vacuum and blow it all over the house. If you did open some windows chuck the vacuum bag and lessoned learned.

    – getting a filling removed (increase your bodies mercury level) shows a half life is something like 60 days.

    -Mercury hype is misplaced and over blown muddying the real sources of chronic mercury exposure.

    -iirc the toxics like lead and arsenic etc. are more a functioning of producing LEDs not in them.

  2. Anonymous

    So a 450 lumen lamp being compared to something with 3 times more lumens it is! I rest my case that is not like for like replacement. No even close to 50% of the incandescent lumens. This is where everyone is slipping up with LED thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread! It’s not it’s a stop gap until the technology can match the performance of incandescent or fluorescent. Until then I rest my case that LED is not for all just the few. Those that can afford it anyway!

  3. Anonymous

    Ian, one more thing: Are you perchance Ian Fursland, Managing Director of The LAMP Company? If so you might have identified yourself, as you seem to have a dog in this fight.

  4. Anonymous

    Oh, and Ian, I made an error in my original post. The LED bulbs are 450 lumens, not 750. The Feit website shows that. Sorry.

  5. Anonymous

    Sorry for the multiple posts. I got some sort of “Internal Server Error” when I clicked submit, and it seemed to take only part of my post. Ian, hope you can read the rest.

  6. Anonymous

    Responding to Ian (#19):

    I don’t know what a GLS is, and searching the only thing I find that might apply is General Lighting Service, which I also don’t exactly know what is. Perhaps you can enlighten us, no pun intended (OK, it is intended–sorry for that!).

    Furthermore, I don’t understand what your math was intended to show – it seems like you took the long way around to show that 40 – 10 = 30. (Actually the LED bulbs draw 7.5 W, which I should have put in my previous post, though it can be obtained from the Feit website I did include.)

    Here’s what my math was: I compared the cost of running a 7.5 W LED bulb to a 100 W incandescent. (I’m not sure what the “40w LED incandescent” you referred to is, but that would seem a contradiction in terms.) At 11 cents/kwh the LED costs $0.008 per hour to run, and the incandescent costs $0.011 per hour. So, the savings is the difference, or $0.01075 per hour. Dividing the $10.80 cost by the $0.01075 savings per hour gives a payback time of 1061 hours, divided by 3 hours use per day gives a payback of 354 days. I put said spreadsheet into my Public Dropbox folder here: if anyone would like to peruse it and tell me where it’s “broken”. I’ve made mistakes before, so it’s possible I made one this time too.

    I created the spreadsheet to ascertain whether the LED bulbs in question would make sense for me, not to persuade anyone else that they’re the “bee’s knees”. I concluded that I’d get just as much useful light for 7.5% of the electricity cost, so it was worth it given the payback I calculated. If the bulb life is even one third of what the maker claims, it will be a good investment, and more so as electricity costs continue to rise.

    As you point out, I could have gotten incandescent spots (nice little pun yourself, saying I might be “spot on”), and I didn’t think of that, but I expect those would still have been at least 40 watts, which makes the payback 2.8 years instead of one. (If you’re playing with the spreadsheet, just replace the 100 at the top with 40 to see this.) The LED’s would still be worth it to me.

    Those who buy Priuses (Prii?) seem to have concluded that they would get just as much useful transportation from the Prius as they would from the Viper, or they get a feeling of satisfaction from being environmentally correct which is worth the cost to them. That’s their right. I disagree with them, and I wouldn’t buy either car. Furthermore, I don’t think the buyers of Prii have taken into account how much it will cost to replace the batteries when they start to fail in a few years, a cost every laptop owner should understand.

  7. Anonymous

    My maths was proving that you canot use a 100w incandescent usage against a 7.5w LED that is allegedly 750 lumens! That’s 100 Lumens per watt when most of the large Manufacturers are struggling at around 70! A 100w incandescent is around 1300-1400 lumens so you are not comparing like for like. Another facbulous LED claim that is not like for like by any stretch of anyones imagination!to get the same lumens on a 40w incandescent in LED you would need to use about a 10w LED lamp. Just a comparison sorry iof it’s not clear.

  8. Anonymous

    Responding to Ian:

    I’m not sure what your math was intended to show, but I’ll tell you what mine was:

    I compared the cost of running a 7.5 W LED bulb to a 100 W incandescent. I’m not sure what the “40w LED incandescent” you referred to is. At 11 cents/kwh the LED costs $0.008 per hour to run, and the incandescent costs $0.011 per hour. So, the savings is the difference, or $0.01075 per hour. Dividing the $10.80 cost by the $0.01075 savings per hour gives a payback time of 1061 hours, divided by 3 hours per day gives a payback of

  9. Anonymous

    Dave post 18!

    Sorry your spreadsheet must be broken!!!!

    11 cents into $10.80 = 98.18 Kwh. Divide by 365 days = 0.269Kwh per day. 0.269Kwh into three hours = 89w per hour! As you LED is equal to 40w I’m going to guess your LED is 10w give or take. Therefore a 30w per hour saving. You cannot compare a 40w LED incandescent to a 100w! Do you compare a Prius to a Dodge Viper! No! This is a major stumbling block with LED v Incandescent. People “make stuff up” to justify that LED are the bee’s knee’s when in fact they are not direct replacements. Okay you maybe spot on with your “directional light” quote but that is what spot lights are for. GLS are 360 degree illumination always have been always will. Buy a spotlight and compare it not a GLS.

  10. Anonymous

    I got three LED bulbs made by Feit at Costco a few months ago for $10 each. They’re 40 W equivalent, 750 lumens. Of course, it being Costco, they didn’t have them very long. They went into a dimmer-equipped hanging fixture over the dining table. I’ve replaced most of my non-dimmed lights with CFL’s but the dimmers can’t take them.

    I did run the numbers, and still have the spreadsheet I used to do so. With bulb cost $10.80 (includes sales tax) and used 3 hours per day with 11 cents/kwh electricity the payback was 354 days. That analysis assumes they aren’t being dimmed, which is usually true – sadly, we don’t have that many romantic dinners!

    Someone who saw my spreadsheet might point out that I’ve compared 100 W incandescents with 40 W equivalent LED’s. That is true, but for my purposes it is a fair comparison, because the LED’s direct all of there light downward, onto the table where it’s needed, whereas the regular bulbs rather light the ceiling as much as the table. So I find there’s the pretty much the same amount of usable light. I did notice the change in light quality for a few days, but I no longer do, and find the light from the LED’s to be perfectly fine. Your mileage may vary.

    Feit claims their LED bulb will last “up to 30,000 hours”, which with my 3 hours per day, would be 27 years! It may not be that long but after one year I’m ahead, and more so as electricity prices rise.

    Feit LED bulbs:

  11. Anonymous

    Thad P. In the UK retrofit LED’s are subject to an upfront recycling charge. An LED tube has 300 components in it or there abouts. They cannot be recycled to the same extent to fluorescent tubes. Standard tubes are recycled to about 98% of total materials. LED’s are currently being stock piled at the recyclers as, they have informed me, until they get a list of components from the Manufacturers they will not recycle just stock pile them. 18-24 months has passed and as yet no info received by the LED Manufacturers. Who knows what’s in them!!!

    Beware there is more to this than meets the eye!

  12. Anonymous

    I recently visited the Frankfurt Light & Build. The show where all Lamp Manufacturers exhibit their new technologies. Basically all LED Manufacturers are going through a phase of not producing stock as technology is moving too fast. Philips sales on LED products is well below their published thoughts 5 years ago. 16% of sales are LED bu the end of last month they were hoping for 75%. Samsung are not making any retrofit lamps as they are obsolete before the chips are even made. Read this blog for some myths and misconceptions about LED lighting. Paybacks of 16+ years! Why would you buy something today that costs 50 bucks when in 3 years time it’s likely to be 10 bucks! Here’s another thought. Fluorescents, in all shapes and sizes, are energy saving light sources. It’s difficult to then make a light source to replace something like for like performance wise!

  13. Anonymous

    My experience with CFLs is that they don’t live up to their advertised lifetime hype. There is no way I’m moving to LEDs, not at todays current price levels.

  14. Anonymous

    I think it’s important to use up existing supplies of bulbs you own first before switching over to anything else. I’m sticking with incandescent bulbs for certain rooms in my house where I want a certain type of light.

    As Kate mentioned, CFL’s need to be recycled due to their mercury content. I doubt most American’s are doing the right thing in this aspect. I fear that in a few years, we will start hearing about how old CFL bulbs are contaminating water supplies.

    I do hope competition and technology end up decreasing the cost of LED bulbs. It will be nice to have a long lasting bulb that uses very little energy while producing a pleasant source of light.

  15. Kate: Burning coal to produce electricity releases mercury into the atmosphere, so there’s a bit of a tradeoff. No, it’s not directly released into your house, but (imho) the mercury fears surrounding CFLs are a bit overblown. As long as you’re aware of the issue, cleanup isn’t a big deal.

  16. Anonymous

    I am sticking with incandescent bulbs for now. These bulbs are hazmats if broken. They have mercury in them which, if vacuumed, can contaminate your entire house. Please check snopes for more information. Don’t compromise your health for a few dollars in savings.

  17. Anonymous

    I recently picked up few 60W replacement LEDs for ~$10 a piece on Amazon, and replaced the old incandescent bulbs in a fixture that has dimmable switch (CFLs wouldn’t work there). Be careful to get dimmable LEDs. Been extremely happy with them. Low heat, great light output.

  18. Anonymous

    Granted I still have a few extra CFL’s but as they begin to blow I plan on slowly phasing in the LED lights as well. My reasoning for this is simple, while the CFL’s and LED wattage is comparable (and both much better than incandescent), the lifespan is not, the LED is obviously much greater which, although I have not ‘ran the numbers’ from a feel makes the cost balance out to about the same if not better than the CFL at the moment. It may not make much sense to invest in a costly bulb with uncertain results, however, there is also the reasoning that I support LED and more efficient and reliable technology in the long run. It is important to support this phase of technology so that they can continue to do the necessary research to further improve it and not let it slow down. I hope my 2 cents help you nickel. By the way I’m also involved in the semiconductor field and believe that in the next few years there will be significant jumps. I also support solar depending on where you live in the country.

  19. Anonymous

    As others have said, you should definitely wait until the LED technology comes down in price. I hate the fact that CFL’s take longer to warm-up though, maybe I’m just buying the cheap brands? haha

  20. Anonymous

    I’m with you and Rob, at those prices it is just too hard to justify. I’d much rather wait a bit in hopes that prices drop. It is a shame that green technology has to be so damn expensive when it first comes out. It’s got to really limit the amount of people that adopt it.

  21. Kurt: My experience has been that CFLs tend to burn out ahead of schedule if you’re using them in a situation where they get turned on and off really frequently, but they do quite well in uses where they’re switched on/off less frequently, even if they burn for longer periods of time.

  22. Rob: If you do the math, you’ll find that you have a choice between paying a lot up front or paying even more over time (relative to incandescent bulbs). I figure by the time we burn through our current supply of CFLs the price gap will have narrowed significantly and we can then start switching over.

  23. Anonymous

    I’m with you. Investing in each new technology, in general, has a poor payback. Conceivably, and if LED bulbs come down in price by at least half, I might begin replacing any CFLs that fail with an LED. But given the advertised lifespan of CFLs, the transition process would probably outlive me!

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