Best Light Bulbs for Your Buck: Here’s Why We Chose LEDs

A boy holds two LED lightbulbs in front of his eyes.
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Are you looking for ways to cut down on energy costs? Here’s a bright idea: Reevaluate your light bulb situation.

According to the EPA’s Energy Star program, the average American household has 50 light bulb sockets, and 60% of those still contain an inefficient lighting source.

Incandescent? More Like Inefficient

An old-fashioned bare bulb hangs from a drab ceiling.
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For more than a century, incandescent light bulbs were the only source of artificial light in most American homes. They were and still are offered in 40W, 60W, 75W and 100W bulbs.

The problem with these light bulbs? They are among the most inefficient ways to light a room. That’s because 90% of their energy is lost as heat, and only 10% actually emits light. And worse? These bulbs only last 1,000 hours, or roughly a year before we have to pitch them and buy new ones, meaning more old bulbs and packaging of new bulbs sent to landfills.

Because of their inefficiency, these bulbs have been phased out in the United States.

Eventually, the market demanded more efficient light bulbs. One attempt was the halogen incandescent, which has risen in popularity since the demise of the traditional incandescent. Though it is about 30% more efficient than a traditional incandescent, it still can’t hold a candle — or a light bulb, rather — to two more efficient offerings.

CFL Bulbs: More Efficient, But Hazardous

Several cfl lightbulbs rest on a tabletop.
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The compact fluorescent light bulb (or CFL) arrived on the scene in the 1980s in response to the 1973 oil crisis, which led to skyrocketing energy prices. When they first hit stores, CFLs cost anywhere from $25 to $35.

Despite the high price, they were originally ill-designed to fit existing fixtures and often did not last as long as advertised. Today, however, CFLs have become much more affordable (you can get them for roughly $1.74 a bulb) and 75% more efficient than traditional incandescents.

One caveat to using CFLs: According to the EPA, they contain 4 milligrams of mercury (a very small amount), which is sealed inside. This is problematic if a bulb shatters. If you break a CFL bulb, the room will need to be evacuated, and the cleanup process can take hours.

And Here’s How Much Money LEDs Can Save You

Several different types of LED lightbulbs sit in a group.
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Light emitting diode (LED) light bulbs are growing in popularity because they are 90% more efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs and can last up to 20 years. Unlike CFL bulbs, they do not contain mercury, so cleaning up a broken bulb is much easier.

Like CFLs, LEDs used to be exorbitantly expensive for a single bulb; according to Energy Star, as recently as 2010, bulbs retailed for $50. Today, you can get a two-pack of LED bulbs for under $5.

Now that LEDs and CFLs are priced closely to traditional and halogen incandescents, their long-term value is clearly superior. According to Energy Star:

  • A standard (discontinued) 60W incandescent lasts one year and costs $7.23/year to use.
  • A 43W halogen incandescent lasts one to three years and costs $5.18/year to use.
  • A 13W CFL lasts six to 10 years and costs $1.57/year to use.
  • A 9W LED lasts 15 to 20 years and costs $1.08/year to use.

Let’s assume you live in the average American household with 50 light bulb sockets, and you need to purchase a bulb for each.

You can either purchase a $1.50 halogen incandescent bulb for each socket once every three years for 20 years or you can purchase a $2.50 LED bulb for each socket once over the same 20-year period. That’s $500 over 20 years for halogen incandescents or $125 over 20 years for the LEDs. On cost of product alone, LEDs save you $375 in the long run.

By purchasing the LEDs, you also save $4.10 per bulb per year on energy usage. That’s $205 a year or $4,100 over 20 years.

The total savings of buying and using LEDs instead of halogen incandescents is $4,475 over 20 years, or more than $220 a year.

Still looking for more ways to cut down on energy costs? Check out these 18 creative suggestions.

Timothy Moore is a writer, editor and prolific LED user. His home has more than 75 sockets — all fitted with LEDs.