Should I Buy LED or CFL Light Bulbs?

I’ll admit it—I hate going to the hardware store to buy light bulbs. In fact, I’d rather live in partial darkness than peruse the gigantic lighting section. Not only do you have to find the appropriate-sized bulb, you also have to choose the quality of light you want and type of bulb. Warm white light? Soft yellow light? 20 watts? 40 watts? Coiled filaments? Classic bulb?

Perhaps the most difficult part is deciding between LEDs (light emitting diode) and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamp). Since I’m on a tight budget, I used to always choose CFLs because of their lower price point. Lately, though, I’ve been thinking of more long-term ways to lower my electricity bill and conserve energy. If you’re also a budget-conscious, earth-loving energy conserver, here’s what you need to know for the next time you hit up the hardware store for some bulbs.

Longevity and Environmental Impact of LED vs CFL

We’ve come a long way since the days of incandescent bulbs. Thanks to LEDs and CFLs, we’re using a lot less energy to illuminate our homes. While both CFLs and LEDs beat out standard incandescents when it comes to efficiency, LEDs come out on top. Not only do they use less energy (7-10 watts for LEDs vs 13-18 for CFLs), they also have a much longer lifespan. Most LED bulbs last about 50,000 hours, meaning the same bulb could power your home for up to 17 years, depending on your usage. So what does this mean for your energy bill? You could see as much as an 80% savings on lighting costs. While a regular incandescent bulb costs $5.75 in energy annually, energy to power an LED only costs $1.25 a year (depending on your energy rates, of course).

CFLs, on the other hand, typically have a lifespan of between 8,000-10,000 hours. Of course, CFLs do last a lot longer than standard incandescent bulbs, which have about a tenth of the lifespan, so they are still considered an efficient choice. Plus the annual cost to power a CFL bulb is $1.50, which is only slightly higher than an LED. When it comes to longevity, though, nothing beats LEDs.

Average cost per bulb $2-4 $7-9
Wattage 13-18 7-10
Lifespan (hours) 10,000 50,000
Lifespan (years at 8 hour usage/day) 3.5 17
Average energy cost per year $1.50 $1.25

Of course, when considering environmental impact, it is also important to think about what happens after the bulb is thrown out, not just the amount of time it stays in the socket. There has been concern about the mercury content in CFL bulbs being potentially harmful to the environment and for human health. Mercury is a known neurotoxin that can negatively impact human health, and it has been shown to contaminate aquatic ecosystems. A CFL bulb only has about 3.5 milligrams of mercury (which is as little as a dot on top of an “i”). Energy Star CFL bulbs contain even less. However, this quantity of mercury is still released into the air via CFL bulbs that end up in landfills. The good news is that if CFL bulbs are disposed of properly, the mercury and most of the bulb can be recycled, meaning it won’t pollute our environment.

There are also concerns with potentially toxic substances in LED lights. Hazardous materials like lead, arsenic, nickel, and copper are all present in LEDs and could pose a threat to our environment and to human health. Unfortunately, since there is no standard way to recycle LEDs, they typically get disposed of with household waste. Because they are gaining popularity rapidly, however, it’s possible that we can expect a recycling protocol for LEDs in the near future.

Conserving Energy (and Costs) Beyond the Bulb

While the way we light our homes can have a significant impact on the cost of our energy bill and health of the environment, so can the way we power our homes. Traditional utility companies buy electricity on an as-needed basis so it is subject to the ever-changing price of energy based on supply and demand. This can cause your energy bill to fluctuate dramatically from one month to the next, even if you use the same amount of energy. Fixed-rate plans, on the other hand, offered by third-party energy suppliers can take the guesswork out of your monthly energy bill. Since they purchase energy from the plant in bulk, third-party energy suppliers are able to offer consistent and competitive rates to their customers. Plus, if you don’t have to deal with monthly fluctuations of energy costs anymore, it’s easier to budget in those LED lights.

If you’re looking to reduce your carbon footprint by doing more than just changing your light bulbs, consider purchasing renewable energy credits (REC). RECs ensure that your energy consumption is offset by clean energy from renewable resources like wind and solar. While it doesn’t ensure that your home specifically will be powered only by renewables, the clean energy is pumped into the collective grid. This supports the development and growth of new and existing renewable energy projects and represents an investment in a greener, more sustainable future.

Simple Switches Lead to Big Savings

Using energy efficient LEDs, switching to a fixed-rate energy plan, and purchasing RECs are only a few of the things you can do to cut your energy costs and reduce your carbon footprint. There are endless ways to save money and the environment, from making your own home energy kit to buying efficient kitchen appliances, but it’s okay to start small. Not everyone has the means to build a green home or install a windmill in their backyard, but we can all build a better, greener future by making simple, small adjustments to our lifestyle, like changing a light bulb or changing energy suppliers.

At Liberty Power, we want to support you in your efforts to save money and your efforts to go green. That’s why we offer competitive rates and affordable RECs to our valued customers. Contact us today to find out more about our fixed-rate plans and our green energy offerings.


Photo Credit: Patrick Schneider

Liberty Power Editorial Team

The Editorial Team at Liberty Power is a swashbuckling group of passionate and creative Energy experts bringing you the hottest topics on exciting market trends, booming products and services, and the latest news in the industry.


August 8, 2017