Switching To CFL Or LED Bulbs: Is It Worth It?

Switching To CFL Or LED Bulbs: Is It Worth It?

Both companies and individuals are increasingly making commitments to green technology. This makes more than just good environmental sense, it makes good financial sense. As lighting technology has advanced, two potential replacements for traditional incandescent bulbs have emerged as the go to choice for everyday lighting needs: compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs and light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. A switchover to either type requires an investment, but that investment is not equal for each type of bulb.

How do CFL and LED bulbs differ from traditional light bulbs?

 Traditional light bulbs have been around for generations. Electricity heats a filament inside a glass bulb. When heated, this filament burns brightly, creating both heat and light. It is a fairly reliable, if inefficient, method of lighting our homes and businesses, at least, until the filament breaks.

CFL bulbs have grown in popularity over the past few decades as the primary alternative to incandescent bulbs. Characterized by the curled loop of glass that replaces the traditional bulb shape, electricity heats a mixture of argon and mercury vapor which creates UV light. The UV light reacts with the fluorescent coating on the inside of the glass to create visible light and a smaller amount of heat.

LED bulbs are the most recent addition to the mix. Light emitting diodes began in the 1960s when they became widely available as solid-state semiconductors that could emit infrared light. LEDs that produce visible light soon followed, but only recently has their efficiency reached a point where an entire bulb made from LEDs was possible. They create almost no heat for a comparable amount of light.

What are the benefits and disadvantages of CFL and LED bulbs?

 While both are considered energy-efficient smart lighting solutions, each bulb has slightly different characteristics.

CFL Bulbs


  • Energy Savings – CFL bulbs use about 70% of the energy an incandescent bulb uses for an equivalent amount of light. This has been a large factor in the adoption of CFL bulbs.
  • Lower Heat – Because CFL bulbs convert electricity to light more efficiently, there is less heat by product generated. This leaves you with a more comfortable room and lets your air conditioner do less work to keep it there.
  • Service Life – While an incandescent bulb may offer up to 1,000 hours of life, CFL bulbs have an expected service life of 10,000-12,000 hours. This tenfold increase in service life positioned CFL bulbs as a viable alternative to cheaper traditional bulbs.


  • Potentially Toxic – If the term “mercury vapor” gave you pause, you already understand how dangerous mercury can be. It’s highly toxic and should only be disposed of with a facility that is equipped to handle this hazardous substance. Unfortunately, many refuse collection services aren’t, though there are recycling services
  • Slow Startup – Okay, slow is a relative term. As with all fluorescent bulbs, however, CFLs are not “instant on” bulbs. It can take them a few seconds to reach peak brightness and even longer in colder temperatures.

LED Bulbs


  • Greater Energy Savings – LED bulb efficiency is around 75% less energy usage than incandescent bulbs. This gives them a slight edge over CFLs in raw power consumption.
  • Low Heat Production – Once again, with greater efficiency, we see less heat waste. While the difference is negligible, every little bit helps.
  • Extended Service Life – Most LED bulbs offer a service life of at least 20,000 hours, while some models go as high as 50,000 hours. Used 8 hours a day, you may not need to change the bulb for over a decade and a half.


  • There just aren’t many which don’t rely on unique situations. While the cost and light quality of LED bulbs were a big concern as little as 5 years ago, today’s LED bulbs are offered at a comparable price point to CFL bulbs and innovative designs have allowed for warmer lighting that emits in more than a single direction.

How do CFLs and LEDs match up, apples to apples?

Let’s get down to the bottom line: a total cost analysis. For the following examples, we’re going to assume a $0.15/kWh electricity rate over a 25,000 hour service life and that you are using bulbs from a reputable supplier, such as Atlanta Light Bulbs, rather than opting for the dollar store special. We’ll also use an incandescent bulb as a baseline. All examples give an equivalent amount of light to the baseline.

60w Incandescent Bulb

Initial Bulb Purchase $12.50 @ $0.50 ea.
Number Of Bulbs Needed @ 1000 Hours Per Bulb


Energy Cost For 25,000 Hours $225.00
Total Cost $237.50


13w CFL Bulb

Initial Bulb Purchase $7.50 @ $2.50 ea.
Number Of Bulbs Needed @ 10,000 Hours Per Bulb 3
Energy Cost For 25,000 Hours $48.75
Total Cost $56.25


10w LED Bulb

Initial Bulb Purchase $3.00 @ $3.00 ea.
Number Of Bulbs Needed @ 25,000 Hours Per Bulb 1
Energy Cost For 25,000 Hours $37.50
Total Cost $40.50

Head to head, LED bulbs save you the most. If you change twenty light bulbs in your house (a reasonable number in a three-bedroom house), over 25,000 hours of service under optimal conditions, you would save $315.00 over CFL bulbs and a whopping $3,940.00 over traditional incandescent bulbs. The environmental savings, however, could be higher, as LED bulbs lack both toxic mercury and the amount of waste and packaging 25 traditional bulbs would contribute to a landfill.

Which is best for my bottom line?

 In the end, only you can determine whether CFL or LED bulbs are the better investment, but the choice may soon be out of your hands. Incandescent bulbs are on track to be phased out by 2020, and in 2016, GE announced they would also cease production of CFL bulbs in favor of LED lights, a move which may signal a larger shift across the industry. Whichever path you choose to take, your smaller utility bill will be welcome validation of your choice to go green by saving some green.

Author Bio:

Carolyn Clarke is a freelance writer and fashion enthusiast based in Los Angeles, CA. In addition to her full time job as a buying consultant for small boutiques, she also writes fashion advice blogs that have been published across a number of digital platforms. In her free time, she takes her dog running along the Malibu coastline.