CFL light bulbs became popular as a replacement to the regular incandescent light bulb in the 1990s and have steadily gained in popularity ever since. But over the last couple years LED light bulbs have come on in a big way.
In this article, we are going to go through a side-by-side comparison of LED vs CFL to help put into perspective their relative pros and cons.
When we compare CFL and LED light bulbs we are really just talking about one type – the A series or the regular household shape. CFLs never really lent themselves to the other light bulb types like MR16, PAR and BR light bulbs. The original Incandescent A19 light bulb was 19/8ths of an inch wide, which the CFL and later on LED A19s were designed to replace. So they have more or less a similar size and all share the same screw in base to fit into the existing light fittings without trouble.
Performance – both CFLs and LEDs are equally effective at turning electricity into light. They make about 60-80 lumens per watt which is about 4 times better than a regular incandescent light bulb.
When you’re comparing light bulbs you will find both the lumens and the wattage printed on the box. Lumens is the total amount of visible light produced by a light source and wattage is the electricity it’ll draw when turned on. The higher the lumens per watt, the more efficient the light bulb is.
That being said, a CFL of 15W installed in your ceiling will usually be replaced by an LED of only 8W. Although both light bulbs produce an equal amount of light, about 50% of light from a CFL is trapped in a can light and can’t make it out.
That’s because CFLs emit light in all directions compare to LEDs that point light down, which in most cases (for ceiling down lights and can lights) is a benefit. But sometimes, in some less common light fixtures such as hanging pendant light or floor lamps, you will want light in all directions.
Replacing one CFL of 15W with an LED of 8W will mean about $1.50 a year in electricity savings. Next, let’s talk about lifetime. LEDs are claiming life times of about 25,000-50,000 hours while CFLs are about 8,000-20,000. Basically, LEDs last about 3 times longer than CFLs. But to put that in perspective, an average light bulb in your home gets used only about 1,000 hours a year.
Next is light quality. Light quality has two aspects –Color Temperature and CRI.
Color Temperature of your CFL or LED can range from a soothing extra warm white to a neutral white to a cool white light. You may have seen the terms 2700K, 3000K, 4000K, 5000K etc. These let you know what color of white light you’ll be getting. LEDs and CFLs these days offer you the same range of choice for color temperature. Color temperature is important because it’s easily the most noticeable thing to our eyes.
The Color Rendering Index or CRI refers to how well a light source reproduces the colors of the rainbow to the human eye. It’s compared against a perfect light source, like the sun, and given a number out of a perfect 100. Both CFLs and LEDs offer CRI in the 80s these days. Interestingly, incandescents, as inefficient as they are, score a perfect 100. But honestly, the difference between light bulbs with CRI in the 80s and a light bulb with a score of 100 is hard to spot with an untrained eye.
Now on to price, this is important. An LED A19 light bulb is about $10 these days and its CFL equivalent sells for about $4. The difference in price used to be a lot more.
Now let’s talk about the drawbacks CFLs have that LEDs don’t.
• CFLs contain hazardous mercury and are dangerous if broken inside the home.
• CFLs are made of glass and more fragile than LEDs that are made of aluminum and acrylic.
• CFLs can take a while to warm up, LEDs are instant on.
• CFLs are difficult to dim; LEDs are much more suited to dimming.
• CFLs emit a lot of Ultra Violet (UV) light. UV light has been shown to cause headaches and skin irritations.
That’s it for this comparison. Watch out for more articles on LED lighting that further explains the differences of LED light bulbs to traditional lighting.
You can also watch a video version of this article on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LYSYn-zbTrg.