CFL vs LED Bulbs: Which Is Right For You? October 05, 2016 00:00

The light bulb aisle in the hardware store has never been more confusing:  incandescents, CFLs, LEDs, in different sizes, shapes, and colors. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, we don’t blame you.

But we’re here to tell you that, in at least this case, two of the world’s most popular bulb types – LEDs and CFLs – aren’t as complicated as they seem. Here’s how to choose between them.

What are LED light bulbs?

Widely considered to be the future of lighting, LEDs or light emitting diodes are one of the most rapidly developing lighting technologies today. In fact, whereas LED lights today make up about 18% of the global lighting market, 2020 will see LED bulbs representing a whopping 70% of the world’s lighting market.

First developed in 1962 by Nick Holonyak, Jr, early LEDs could only be found in a handful of colors. Red came into being first, later followed by yellow, green, and blue. Due to their long lifespans, LED bulbs were at first used in indicator lights, traffic lights, and TVs. As the push for more efficient LED lighting intensified, funded in part by the Energy Department itself, LEDs became even more efficient and cheap to produce. Even in the last few years LED bulbs have dropped in price more than 80%.

But the question still remains, what exactly are LED light bulbs? The simplest explanation is that a diode is the most basic form of a semiconductor, or a material that conducts electricity but only partially. When an electric current is applied to a particular type of semiconductor, the atoms of the material shift around and in doing so emit a bit of light (for a more technical look at how this happens check out this article from HowStuffWorks).

This process doesn’t produce nearly as much heat as traditional incandescent bulbs. In fact, incandescent bulbs give off about 90% of the energy they use as heat alone. LED bulbs on the other hand barely produce any heat at all, making them much more efficient and giving them a lifespan almost 25 times longer than incandescents.

What are CFL light bulbs?

Compact fluorescent lamps, also known as CFLs, are another alternative to the antiquated incandescent bulb. CFL light bulbs are pretty much exactly what they sound like: a smaller, more tightly packed fluorescent bulb. So instead of those long tubes you see in your office at work or lighting the floor of your manufacturing plant, even your school, CFLs are spiral shaped and plug directly into any run-of-the-mill light socket.

With its early history being based in the 19th century, the fluorescent bulb works off of the basic premise of running an electric current through a vacuum. Although many great minds like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla tried their hand at improving the output and efficiency of the bulb, Peter Cooper Hewitt gave fluorescent bulbs the push they needed by introducing mercury vapor into the bulb. Various energy crises throughout the 20th century eventually led to the refinement of his idea into the fluorescent bulbs you see today.

CFL light bulbs can also boast a pretty significant efficiency over incandescent bulbs. They only use up about 20-33% as much energy as a typical bulb and have a lifespan of about 8-15 times longer as well.

CFL vs LED: Which is right for you?

Though both types of bulbs are far more efficient that incandescent bulbs and in that sense alone are each better choices than the old-fashioned filament bulbs, both LEDs and CFLs have their pros and cons.

LED pros: One of the clearest advantages of LED light bulbs is the vast improvement in efficiency it offers over both CFLs and incandescents. A typical incandescent is expected to have a lifespan of about 1000-1200 hours. CFLs, at the same rate of energy usage, can last up to 10,000 hours, a decent improvement by comparison. LEDs on the other hand generally boast a lifetime of 25,000 hours, far outweighing either competitor.

LEDs also lend well to additional technological features that CFLs and certainly incandescent bulbs simply can’t accommodate. Due to their small size and concentrated beam spread, LEDs enable lighting manufacturers to add features like Bluetooth and WiFi control, motion sensing automation, the ability to switch between literally millions of colors, and even let you play music right speakers incorporated directly into the bulb.

LED cons: The greatest barrier LED manufacturers face is the cost of producing the bulbs and subsequently, the upfront cost to the consumer. Although LED light bulbs are probably the most expensive type of light bulb on the market right now, costs of LED production are dropping every day and have almost caught up entirely to every other type of bulb out there. Additionally, when the cost of the bulb is taken into account with its overall lifetime, LEDs come out to be cheaper than CFLs in the long run.

CFL pros: In step with the cons of LEDs, one of the biggest benefits of CFLs is their (temporarily) lower shelf price when compared to the competing LED bulbs. Though becoming less true by the day, CFLs are typically available at more locations than LEDs as well as they’ve been around a bit longer.

CFL cons: One of the main concerns regarding CFLs is the fact that they each contain mercury, a potentially harmful substance if it comes in contact with the skin or is ingested. Though the amount of mercury in the modern day CFL is significantly less than its predecessors, any amount of a dangerous material in your everyday lighting is enough to make you rethink your purchase.

Let us know what you think!

What kind of light do you prefer, CFLs or LEDs? Can you think of any other advantages or disadvantages of each? Let us know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out the wide range of Flux Smart products!