CFLs and LEDs

Glenn Reynolds points out this Popular Mechanics story: Will LED Light Bulbs Best Your CFLs and Incandescents?

I’ve been waiting for LEDs as home bulb options for years. And one is finally here. At $30.

That’s not an option. I guess we’ll have to wait some more.

While waiting, we’ve used a large number of CFLs, most of them installed in the summer of 2007. According to, we’ve saved $527 and prevented 7,415 pounds of CO2 from being produced. Now, those numbers are A) dependent upon the usage info I entered (though I did try to be conservative) and B) probably complete crap. But we’ve had pretty good success.

We’ve used a total of 30 CFLs since 2007, and 27 of them are still in use. (One was DOA, one went out after a few months in a fixture that had a history of blowing bulbs every few days, and one was a three-way CFL bulb that went out after about a year of heavy use.) Though the color of the light varies on the different brands of bulbs, we’ve swapped them around in a few cases where we wanted a different look in a particular area; we’ve never had any real issue with the color being a problem of any kind.

We also use one bulb outside on our porch. Though normal CFLs are not recommended for use outdoors, I wanted to try one to see how it perfromed, which is why I had also gone right ahead and put one into the incandescent-eating machine earlier. Though the porch light takes a minute or two to warm up in the winter, the bulb has worked just fine for a couple of years now. This is great, because that light often gets left on accidentally for extended periods and the CFL is 13 watts vs. 60 for the previous incandescent.

So, overall, our CFL experience has been a very positive one. But I still want LEDs.


  1. CFL light bulbs also happen to contain a toxic heavy metal, Mercury — the money saved by switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs will only be spent later in combating Mercury Poisoning.

    This stuff isn’t standard, liquid Mercury either. It’s mixed into something else that yields extremely-fine particles, which waft around, and are easily-inhaled after a CFL bulb breaks.

    Hell, just look at what the EPA advises in the event that a CFL bulb breaks;

    Environmentally-friendly, my ass!

    1. Um, Blacktail? Dunno how old you are, but I’m old enough to remember mercury-based internal temperature thermometers. The kind your mom would stick under your tongue for what seemed like five hours. ;)

      I’m also old enough to remember playing with the mercury from a broken thermometer. I suffered no ill effects, although some of my friends may disagree. Heh.

      Also, the actual amount of mercury in a given bulb in infinitesimal.

      Finally, who takes the EPA seriously? These people think CO2 is a pollutant, for crying out loud!

  2. Where I work we have been evaluating the latest tube fluorescent and LED replacement lamps. I will post a link to the findings later (they have not been published yet).

    Overall, the LED lights were expensive and not as bright as the best tube fluorescents in terms of total light output per energy consumed (lumens per watt).

    However, they have a much more directional light – that is, more of the light goes directly down from the ceiling rather than being radiated in all directions. This gives the LED replacements a somewhat better light intensity per energy (lux per watt) as measured at the desk surface being illuminated.

    In terms of cost, the lamps cost 2-3x as much as a premium fluoro tube but claim to last several times longer. Whether or not they do is (in my opinion) yet to be seen but it certainly is possible. Due to the very long life, they may well pay for themselves over many years.

    I suspect LED technology will continue to improve so I wouldn’t run out and buy them just yet. They will probably get brighter and cheaper in a few years.

  3. Cheap CFLs from China fail far more frequently than the expensive US or Euro kind. Similar math wrt to LED lighting. I strung some cheap Xmas LEDs from CostCo about, and a number of the lights have already failed.

    The newer and newer CFLs use less and less mercury. And even with an ‘average’ CFL, if the energy is coming solely from an ‘average’ coal plant, there is less overall mercury pollution from the CFL breaking at the end of its life than as compared with a comparable incandescent light source. And the CFLs aren’t necessarily broken at end of life, this is balanced by most energy sources are mix of non-mercury polluting generation.

    If you insist on cheap, stick with incandescent for a little while. Watch LEDs though, and do the math wrt longevity v. price. They and other novel light sources will shortly be worth it. IF you are concerned with mercury laded coal, and get your energy primarily from coal, then look into getting quality CFLs…not the cheap crap.

    1. Actually, neither of the CFL bulbs that we’ve had fail in use were cheapos. The DOA one was, though.

      None of them have broken. The dead ones are in a bin that will go to the drop spot when it’s full. Looks like that will take a while.

      1. Interestingly, although incandescents are now banned here, we have no program for disposing of used CFLs. AFAIK they just end up at the tip. I usually hand them over to the lighting store when I buy a replacement (same for actual fluorescent tubes), I asked them what they do with them and they said they just throw them in a dumpster.

        Head-scratching isn’t it.

        1. The dumpster likely has a high mercury content anyway. Intriguingly, a background level of mercury is needed for good health. *shrug*

          WRT incandescent ban: it’s really a ban on inefficient lights, in which incandescent lights usually fall. There are technologies in development which can greatly improve their efficiency, thus keeping them in the game. que 3 year old article:

      2. I’ve been using GE Soft White CFLs myself, the 20 watt (75w equivalent) bulb. Rated at 8,000 hours, or 5 years @4 hours/day. Certain areas (dinette/living room, bathroom, hallway) average closer to 8 hours/day, depending on season, with all my apartment windows facing west. I replaced all my incandescent bulbs with CFLs over the last week of Nov/first week of Dec, 2006. This past spring (c. March, IIRC) I had to replace 6 of those bulbs, which gave me c. 39 months, or 3.25 years.

        Interestingly enough, they failed pretty much in order of original installation, over a similar time span of roughly two weeks. 8 hours/day X 365.25 days a year gives 2922 hours. Divide the official life cycle of 8,000 hours by 2922, and you get 2.74 years, so I beat the spread. :)

        Another advantage a CFL has during summer is it produces far less heat than an incandescent bulb, saving even more energy.

        I’ve mucked about with LEDs while considering using them in lighting scale models; they’re impressive little beasts. Right now the biggest challenge is creating an acceptable white light for home use, but since an acceptable CFL white light bulb has been developed, I don’t doubt they manage something similar with LEDs.

        Our little solid-state friends have already made inroads into traffic lights and indicator lights in autos, so I expect we’ll see economically-useful LED bulbs the next several years. Come to think of it, LED-backlit (as opposed to fluorescent-backlit) LCD monitors have been entering the market as well. They cost more, but reputedly use less energy and produce less heat.

  4. The government should have NO authority to ban any type of technology. If I want to use incandescent bulbs (and I do… I won’t have a CFL in my home), then I ought to be able to purchase and use them. I will continue to use the old bulbs until LED’s become affordable and reliable.

    1. There are a lot of things the gov’t should not be able to tell us to do but it always seems to come down to “Won’t somebody please think of the children!”

  5. Wow, you’ve had much better luck than I have. I’ve bought a total of 16 in the last two to three years. Of those 16 I broke two, and two are still in use. All the rest are dead…

    Pretty poor track record, about the same as incadescent bulbs…which I continue to use.

    If LED’s were about half the price, I’d consider them–especially if I could control the color balance of each LED light…separate LGB controls with a Bluetooth controller would be nice…walk into the room, hit a button and change thecolor brightness to a number of set choices…that woould be helpful, and very very desireable…


    1. Matt, LEDs don’t work that way. A particular diode will produce a particular color. Period. You get green, or red, or yellow… Even the “white” lights have a distinct bluish cast to them.

      That’s been part of the challenge for a general-purpose LED bulb; creating a useful & acceptable white light. That’s also why they’re doing so well as traffic lights, car turn signal & brake lights, and flashlights. Who cares about the exact shade of a flashlight? :)

      …Does anyone know the structure of an LED light bulb? LEDs are, after all, fairly directional. Is it a globe of LEDs, or what?

      1. Actually LEDs do work that way, some of the time anyway.

        Many white LEDs are actually blue LEDs with a yellow phosphorescent coating to make up for the missing parts of the colour spectrum. But the possibility also exists to combine red, green and blue LEDs, either several dies on one chip or multiple chips, and have the colours blend to white – just like they do on an LED (or for that matter LCD) display.

        So if a white LED light is made from individual red, green and blue elements (some are, although I don’t think it’s that common) then you could adjust the colour to anything you want.

        More realistically, many white LED lamps actually contain a combination of “yellow-white” and “blue-white” LEDs mixed to achieve the desired colour temperature. By changing the current flowing to one set or the other, the colour temperature could be adjusted over a particular range.

  6. BTW mine were G.E. or Philips…don’t know if they were made in US or China or EU…

  7. Consumers Energy claims we save about $100./year for every 5 I bulbs switched to CFLs. I’ve switched a bunch in our house, and even if the savings isn’t that great, I still appreciate the lower heat output (especially during summer), and I”m getting more light in some cases as I was able to go to a higher output bulb without exceeding the fixture out put limits. I can remember when CFLs were $10-15 each……they’re much cheaper now (about $5.00) so it’s reasonable to switch as old I bulbs die. I’ll be waiting awhile to switch to LEDs……….at $30.00 ea, they’re just not cost effective for me.

  8. LEDs absolutely RULE in the flashlight/spotlight market. I’ve bought 15-20 over the last few years. It’s like the PC world, where output doubles every couple years. They are so far beyond incandescents now that there is no comparison in that application.

    The trucking industry has moved to LEDs as well, for signaling, because they are almost indestructible. That saves them a boatload in maintenance costs.

    LEDs will no doubt eventually rule in other lighting areas as well, but it will take a few years for production capabilities to ramp up. The LED industry is mostly targeting commercial and municipal (street lighting) markets right now. In the mean time, CFL’s do a decent job at home. Except for spot/task lighting, where there is still no substitute for halogens. I’ve got a 10 year supply of those stashed away….

    Yes, the life expectancy of CFLs is greatly overestimated, and the color temperatures are all over the place. I do have one that I bought in 1992 that still works. But I keep that one more as a curiosity piece now. It is huge, and its lumens/watt rating isn’t as good as current technologies. But its color is beautiful. I guess that was sacrificed in the name of efficiency (or cost) along the way.

    1. Jaymaster, I still say the GE soft white is an excellent choice for color and life expectancy. Avoid the GE “economy” bulbs at all cost! Bought a pair this past spring to replace two dead CFLs, put them in, and fugly blue light!! Blecchh. Took them back for credit, and picked up the Soft Whites this time. GE changed the packaging, which threw me the first time. You couldn’t pay me to use the GE “economy” bulbs.

      Quartz Halogen lights give fantastic light, but they pump out heat light crazy. Had a very nice goose-neck light for my hobby work, but I felt like I was baking in the sun, even with the AC on.

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