As the days of the standard incandescent light bulb grow dimmer, many are faced with the dilemma of what to screw into the socket next. In late 2007, Congress passed a law to begin the phase-out of incandescent bulbs beginning with the 100-watt in 2012 and ending in 2014 with the 40-watt. All light bulbs must use 25% to 30% less electricity by 2014.

While the technology of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) has been with us for nearly 35 years, recent improvements in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have many people considering them as an option for home use. Before you try to figure out which bulb you want to buy, consider what you what to accomplish with that light. Here are a few points to consider:


“Lumens” is the term used to express brightness or how much light a bulb produces. A 40-watt incandescent generates about 450 lumens. Depending on the brand, 9 to 13-watt CFL delivers the same amount of light, while a comparable LED uses 5 watts. When you start considering the ratio of power input to light output, it becomes easy to recognize that CFLs are about three to four times and LEDs are around 10 times more efficient at converting electricity to light than the incandescents. While it is currently difficult and costly to find LEDs to replace higher wattage lamps, more and more options are becoming available every day.


It seems like it was just yesterday that you just replaced that 100-watt bulb in that fixture way up on the ceiling. Considering most 40-watt incandescents are rated for only 1,000 hours of operation, you probably did. Try a CFL next time. To be ENERGY SMART approved, they must have a rating of 8,000 hours or more. Or for an even longer-life lamp, consider LEDs. They are rated for 25,000 to 100,000 hours!

Bulb Price

Remember when you could pick up a 4-pack of incandescent bulbs for $1? Well, it might be a while until you find that good of a bargain on CFLs, many retailers offer them at a cost of less than $2 per lamp. If you are committed to getting an LED, be prepared to spend quite a bit more. The previously discussed LED that is comparable to a 40-watt incandescent will run around $20.

Cost to Operate

Electricity is not getting any cheaper. That is why efficiency makes sense. If we compare our choices for the 40-watt incandescent over 50,000 hours (LED lifetime) we get some shocking results. Over this time period, we would have to replace that incandescent 50 times! And at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, it would cost us $200 to operate! Assuming the CFL is rated at 10,000 hours, we would only replace it 5 times and pay only $65 for the energy. Finally, we would see that the LED did not require replacement and used $25 worth of electricity.

Though these four points cover some of the most important considerations on lighting choice, other factors may also weigh on which lamp you ultimately purchase. In the end, whether you go with CFL or LED, either choice puts you a step further towards being EnergyWiseSM!