Incandescent, CFL, & LED bulbs: Pros & Cons

OK.  I’ve just heard of a new federal mandate that would effectively prohibit the sale of the incandescent light bulb, long a staple of many households.  I’m all for finding a way to fulfill my current lighting requirements with less energy consumption but I’d rather take a logical approach to the problem than follow a mandate that does not take such an analysis into consideration.  Setting aside the fact that this represents yet another intrusion of government into the internal affairs of the individual, a pro-con analysis needs to be done.  Let’s start with the pros and cons of the incandescent bulb:

The pros:

They’re cheap and their efficiency increases with higher wattage consumption.

The cons:

These wattage consumptions are more than many of us are comfortable with given the increasing energy costs.

Which brings me to the CFL bulb:

The pros:

They’re much more efficient than incandescents and they’ve come to be nearly as cheap as incandescents.

The cons:

They contain unsafe levels of mercury.  This results in some hidden costs besides the obvious risk to the environment and our health should the mercury contained in these bulbs leak into the environment.  Because of this if you break a CFL bulb you can’t just sweep up the debris and toss it.  You have to call in an environmental cleaning crew (who will be wearing HAZMAT suits) and that will likely cost a good couple of thousand bucks.  The waste management services of most localities also implement special procedures for dealing with CFL bulb waste, procedures that cost money to implement.  This results in a higher local property tax bill for everyone.

Which brings me now to the LED bulb:

The pros:

They’re much more efficient, more efficient than even CFL’s (at least at lower wattage equivalencies such as the 60-watt equivalency).  They also contain no mercury, eliminating that risk to our health and the environment.  They also last much longer than either incandescents or CFL’s.

The cons:

They cost plenty to buy.  The average LED bulb costs roughly $40 – $50 for a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb.  Their efficiency also drops with higher wattage consumption.  For example: LED’s are more efficient than CFL’s at the 60-watt equivalency but at the 100-watt equivalency, from what I read, an LED bulb would have to consume at least 30 watts of power, giving the CFL the advantage in energy efficiency in this higher wattage equivalency (CFL can produce 100-watt equivalent light consuming only 26 watts of power).  Also a 100-watt equiv. LED would be roughly several times the size of a standard bulb and probably cost roughly $100 – $200!  (eek!)  But it would still make the LED much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

But despite the cons, if you can afford these initial one-time costs for the LED bulbs, the energy cost savings could possibly offset the cost of the bulbs.  The tricky part is actually coming up with the money for these LED bulbs, especially in this tough economy (unless of course Bill Gates is feeling generous enough to replace every light fixture in the US with an LED bulb, but I’m not holding my breath  :-P).

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10 comments on “Incandescent, CFL, & LED bulbs: Pros & Cons

  1. Tom Cox says:

    Good summary of the technology. LED lights are coming down, and I positively dislike the color and (160/sec.) flicker of the CFL bulbs. Some CFL and LED types cause a lot of radio interference, which is an issue for me, a radio amateur. Seems we are trading the wasted power in the form of heat in incandescents, for electromagnetic radiation in the others. “It’s always somethin’,” ain’t it? :)

    • madgater says:

      LED would be great for me since I don’t have that as a hobby. And yeah you’d probably have to spend some of those energy savings on shielding your radio equipment against EM interference if you tried using CFL or LED bulbs. But I think though that LED bulbs could improve enough to not effect things like radio waves. Some LED bulbs might even already be shielded against EMP leakage. No mercury though at least which is not something I can say for the CFL bulbs the gov’t is gonna try to force us to use. “Hey! I got mercury poisoning but I’m saving loads of energy in my bulbs! I’m so glad the gov’t forced me to change to CFLs!”

      But really the government should let us perhaps decide for ourselves what to buy. And one problem with the LED’s is that they don’t seem to come in a high enough wattage equivalency for my mom’s bad astigmatic eyes. 60-watt equivalency for all fixtures in my place if I ever get a place of my own would be good enough for me since I’m still pretty young but too dim for my mom. And I wish I’d known about the high mercury content of CFLs before buying 6 of them…:-P

      But this is what we need….cost-benefit analysis of all “going green” ideas and thinking of free-market ways in which “going green” can be accomplished

    • madgater says:

      another disadvantage that I forgot to mention in the blog of CFLs is that some of them seem to take a while to “warm up” after you flick the switch

  2. […] bulbs madgater.wordpress.com […]

  3. Nicholas Johnson says:

    A CFL bulb contains about 5mg of mercury, about 1000 times less than a mercury thermometer, and about the same as 20 tins of tuna. You won’t need a hazmat suit to clear up a broken one, but if you do drop a bulb you should sweep it up with a dustpan and brush rather than hoovering it to avoid aerosolising the particles.

    Incidentally, strip lights use the same technology and have been used in offices for years without anyone minding.

    • madgater says:

      If we were talking about just a few bulbs in my house you’d have a point. But in my house I have 11 bulb fixtures in my kitchen alone. Then 3 in the family room, 4 in the living room, 4 in the main bathroom, 2 in the powder room, 2 in the main hallway, 1 in the secondary hallway, 2 in my sister’s bedroom, 1 in my mom’s bedroom, and one in my bedroom. Let’s not forget the 4 total light fixtures I have outdoors (1 backyard flood light, 2 front porch lights, and 1 driveway light)

      11+3+4+4+2+2+1+2+1+1+4 = 35 total light fixtures in my house

      now say your value for the number of milligrams of mercury is correct at 5 mg:

      35 x 5 = 175 mg of mercury if I were to replace every fixture with a CFL bulb….175 mg. of mercury that can be enough to cause potential health problems should the mercury in them ever be exposed

      then as I said in my blog there’s the fact that waste management services, either directly or through higher property taxes, have to fund a higher cost associated with ensuring the safe disposal of things that contian such a hazardous substance…and then factor in the fact that in cold weather CFLs can take a while to warm up to the appropriate color temperature and in fact it got so cold that the CFL I had in my driveway light fixture during our current winter season that the bulb burned out much sooner than it should have…at least it didn’t explode or anything for which I’m grateful

      as I said I think the lighting technology that holds the most promise for being just as efficient as CFLs are LED bulbs, which don’t contain mercury, are naturally dimmable unlike CFLs and are generally pretty cool to the touch…the only problem right now is that they cost a lot of money…..average cost is about $30 – $40 for one 60-watt equivalent LED bulb

      there are halogen bulbs which are more efficient than standard incandescents but only by about 30%…..but until the LED’s come down in cost that’s what I will be sticking with…..but I will not be bringing any more CFLs into my home

  4. Nicholas Johnson says:

    You keep bleach under your sink and paracetamol in your medicine cupboard. The paint on your walls probably contains organic solvents. If you have a garden, half the plants in it are probably poisonous to some degree. We are surrounded by hazards and yet somehow we live :)

    • madgater says:

      point taken…..:)

      except for maybe paracetamol otherwise known as acetaminophen…..it’s an analgesic that we adults have been using for sometime without ill effects so I don’t see what’s supposed to be wrong with it except that maybe you should keep it away from very young children

      I don’t use bleach much anymore actually except maybe to pour down the drain as a drain cleaner/disinfectant….but for most cleaning I use a homemade all purpose cleaner of 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup of rubbing alcohol, 1 cup of water, and 2 tablespoons of liquid dishsoap I found at Dollar Tree that has biodegradable surfactants and for glass cleaner I use a 1-to-1 mixture of vinegar and water and that shines it right up as long as you wipe it off right away so that the vinegar doesn’t etch the glass

      I did another blog (which is older you might have to dig for it….about going frugal and how many of the frugalist ideas (many of which likely hail from the Depression Era) also have the added benefit of being kinder to the environment

      but yeah we do survive and I probably wouldn’t be concerned about the mercury in the bulbs as I usually tend to handle any bulb pretty carefully but as I said most waste management services in many localities tend to dispose of such things as hazardous materials which incurs a higher cost than disposal of regular ordinary trash

    • madgater says:

      my house is also a standard ordinary-sized house….I’d hate to think of how many light fixtures are in my friend’s Orchard Park mini-mansion….LOL!

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