Light Emitting Diode (LED) and Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) bulbs have revolutionized energy-efficient lighting.
CFLs are simply miniature versions of full-sized fluorescents. They screw into standard lamp sockets, and give off light that looks similar to the common incandescent bulbs— not like the fluorescent lighting we associate with factories and schools.
LEDs are small, very efficient solid bulbs. New LED bulbs are grouped in clusters with diffuser lenses, which have broadened the applications for LED use in the home. LED technology is advancing rapidly, with many new bulb styles available. Initially more expensive than CFLs, LEDs now bring more value since they last longer.
The Status of Energy Efficient Lighting
With a burgeoning supply of far more efficient light bulb options, the EU began a phased ban of incandescents in 2009. Canada followed suit banning the manufacture and import of higher wattage incandescent bulbs beginning in 2014.
In 2007, the U.S. set new energy efficiency guidelines for all bulbs, which effectively phased out the least efficient incandescent bulbs. Incandescents are now available only if they meet the new energy standard.
According to Energy Efficiency Services Limited, India rapid adoption of LED bulbs would save hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
Australia, China, and numerous countries in Asia and Latin America have likewise phased out or banned incandescent bulbs. These changes are estimated to save each country that switches to energy efficient bulbs millions of dollars annually.
According to the Bureau of energy efficiency, rapid adoption of LED bulbs would collectively save $265 billion over the next 20 years. This switch would also help eliminate the need to build 40 new power plants and save hundreds of millions of tons of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.
LED Light Bulbs
LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) are solid light bulbs that are extremely energy-efficient. When first developed, LEDs were limited to single-bulb use in applications such as instrument panels, electronics, pen lights and, more recently, strings of indoor and outdoor Christmas lights.
Manufacturers have expanded the application of LEDs by “clustering” the small bulbs. The first clustered bulbs were used for battery-powered items such as flashlights and headlamps. Today, LED bulbs are made using as many as 180 bulbs per cluster, and encased in diffuser lenses, which spread the light in wider beams. Now available with standard bases that fit common household light fixtures, LEDs are the next generation in home lighting.
A significant feature of LEDs is that the light is directional, as opposed to incandescent bulbs, which spread the light more spherically. This is an advantage with recessed lighting or under-cabinet lighting, but it is a disadvantage for table lamps. New LED bulb designs address this directional limitation by using diffuser lenses and reflectors to disperse the light more like an incandescent bulb.
The high cost of producing LEDs has been a roadblock to widespread use. However, researchers at Purdue University have developed a process for using inexpensive silicon wafers to replace the expensive sapphire-based technology. This has rapidly brought LEDs into competitive pricing with CFLs and incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs are now the standard for most lighting needs.
Benefits of LED Lightbulbs
LED bulbs last up to 10 times longer than compact fluorescents and 40 times longer than typical incandescent bulbs.
Since LEDs do not have a filament, they are not damaged under circumstances when a regular incandescent bulb would be broken. Because they are solid, LED bulbs hold up well to jarring and bumping.
These bulbs do not cause heat build-up; LEDs produce 3.4 btu’s/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs. Common incandescent bulbs get hot and contribute to heat build-up in a room. LEDs prevent this heat build-up, thereby helping to reduce air conditioning costs in the home.
No mercury is used in the manufacturing of LEDs.
LED light bulbs use only 2-17 watts of electricity (1/3rd to 1/30th of Incandescent or CFL). LED bulbs used in fixtures inside the home save electricity, remain cool, and save money on replacement costs since LED bulbs last so long. Small LED flashlight bulbs will extend battery life 10 to 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
The cost of new LED bulbs has gone down considerably in the last few years and is continuing to go down.
Light for Remote Areas and Portable Generators
Because of the low power requirement for LEDs, using solar panels becomes more practical and less expensive than running an electric line or using a generator for lighting in remote or off-grid areas. LED light bulbs are also ideal for use with small portable generators which homeowners use for backup power in emergencies.
Choosing an LED Light Bulb
Many different models and styles of LED bulbs are emerging in today’s marketplace. When choosing a bulb, keep in mind the following:
Estimate Desired Brightness
Read the package to choose desired brightness level. You can use wattage to compare bulb illumination. For example, a 9 watt (W) LED is equivalent in output to a 45 W incandescent. However, wattage measures energy used, not the light output. The new method for comparing bulbs is lumens. ‘Lumens’ is the measure of perceived brightness, and the higher the lumens, the brighter the bulb. Bulbs with similar wattage may vary in lumens.
Do You Need a 3-Way Bulb?
New LED bulbs are available as combination three-way bulbs. These replace 30, 60 and 75-watt incandescent bulbs, while consuming 80% less power than an incandescent bulb.
Choose Between Warm and Cool Light
New LED bulbs are available in ‘cool’ white light, which is ideal for task lighting, and ‘warm’ light commonly used for accent or small area lighting.
Choose Between Standard and Dimmable Bulbs
Some LED bulbs are now available as dimmable bulbs. They will work with any standard dimmer switch.
Choose High Quality Bulbs or They Will Die Prematurely
Don’t buy cheap bulbs from eBay or discounters. They are inexpensive because the bulbs use a low-quality chip, which fails easily. Many cheaper varieties also don’t work inside enclosed light fixtures (see below) and will burn out within a year or less as they heat up.
Enclosed Light Fixtures Require Special LED Bulbs
LEDs have mechanisms to dissipate heat build-up, but these require more airflow than many common light fixtures permit. Bulbs designed for enclosed fixtures will last longer than standard LEDs. Look for explicit statements saying that a bulb works inside enclosed light fixtures.
Recessed, ‘Pot’ and Can Light Fixtures
Be sure to check the diameter of the bulb you’re considering against that of the can you’re filling. Your existing bulbs should say whether they are R20, BR30, or BR40. Look for these same numbers on the LEDs you’re purchasing. Because heat can also be an issue with recessed lighting, look for a description that indicates its suitability for recessed fixtures.
Floodlights, Spotlights, and Accent Lighting
If you’re replacing floodlights, spotlights, or accent lighting, be sure to consider whether you want the light to be diffused or focused. Omnidirectional bulbs will cast light over a wide area, while spotlights and floodlights will have a narrower band of illumination.