Have you ever wondered just how many light bulbs you have in your home? Have you ever counted? Not counting the bulbs in our refrigerator, we have 104 light bulbs on the first floor of our house alone. So why am I counting light bulbs? Am counting light bulbs because beginning in 2012, the all too familiar incandescent light bulb will, for the most part, be a thing of the past.
The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, also known as the Clean Energy Act of 2007, requires roughly 25% greater efficiency for light bulbs phased in from 2012 to 2014. Because incandescent bulbs are so inefficient (they are really miniature heaters that emit light as a byproduct), the Clean Energy Act will outlaw the sale of these bulbs, with a few exceptions. And by 2020, the Act requires roughly 200% efficiency for most bulbs.
So what will replace the incandescent bulb? The answer is two-fold: compact florescent bulbs (CFL bulbs) and LED bulbs. Today, both have significant advantages and disadvantages over incandescent bulbs. In the long run, however, most experts believe that the LED bulb is our light source of the future. Here is some basic information about each type of bulb, followed by a strategy to replace your incandescent bulbs between now and 2012.
Fluorescent bulbs were developed about 70 years ago. Inside a CFL bulb, an electric arc energizes mercury atoms, causing them to emit ultraviolet rays. A coating on the bulb’s interior surface converts UV rays to visible light.
Average Lifespan: 6,000 hours
Average Cost: $7
Energy Consumption: About 75% less than an incandescent bulb
Advantages: The big advantages here are that CFL bulbs use a lot less energy than incandescent bulbs and the cost of the bulb on a per hour basis is less.
Disadvantages: The CFL bulb contains trace amounts of mercury. While manufacturers are working to reduce the amount of mercury in a CFL bulb, clean up of a broken CFL requires special care. The light emitted by CFLs also takes getting use to.
An LED light uses semiconductor chips treated to release light when charged with electricity. Manufacturers have produced an assortment of colors and are striving to perfect white LEDs. LEDs are now used in brake lights, traffic signals, Christmas lights and recessed lights. Experts think LEDs eventually will replace CFLs.
Average Lifespan: 50,000 hours
Average Cost: $40
Energy Consumption: A 6-watt bulb produces as much light as a 40-watt incandescent, while producing little heat.
Advantages: LED bulbs last up to 10 times longer than CFLs and use anywhere from 1/3rd to 1/30th the electricity of a standard incandescent light bulb.
Disadvantages: LED bulbs are expensive, although the costs are recouped over the life of the bulb. Also, the industry has yet to produce a white LED bulb that effectively disperses the light. As a result, LED bulbs today are best used for recessed/track lighting or spotlights.
An incandescent bulb contains a tungsten filament that glows white-hot when electrified. In their basic form, incandescent lights have been manufactured for more than a century.
: 1,000 hours
Average Cost: $2
Energy Consumption: These bulbs convert nearly all electricity to heat. Advantages: The bulbs are inexpensive, although their per hour cost is higher than CFL or LED bulbs.
Disadvantages: The typical incandescent bulb burns for just 1,000 hours and consumes substantial energy.
Incandescent vs. CFL vs. LED: Which one to buy
Our plan is to replace incandescent light bulbs as they burn out with CFL or LED bulbs. With this approach, we get full use of the existing bulbs, and can spread out the replacement costs of the new bulbs over a year or two. By 2012, we should have replaced most if not all of the light bulbs in our house.
For recessed lights, we plan to use the LED bulbs. They are perfect for this type of lighting, are the most energy efficient, and last far longer than even a CFL bulb. The absence of mercury in an LED bulb is also a big plus.
With one exception, we plan to replace the remaining lights with CFL bulbs. Although the mercury content is a concern, the amount of mercury in each bulb is becoming less and less as manufacturers improve the technology. Today you can buy what are called “Alto” CFLs that have less mercury than other CFL bulbs. Philips is one manufacturer of these reduced mercury content bulbs.
The one exception would be any bulb that has a high risk of breaking. The best example here would be a floor lamp in my son’s bedroom. We’ll stick with an incandescent bulb and hope the technology improves by 2012 for alternative light sources.
How much do CFL bulbs really save?
So how much would changing out incandescent bulbs actually save? Well, according to an estimate by General Electric, factoring in replacement costs of incandescent bulbs and the energy costs, over the lifespan of a single CFL bulb, total savings amount to about $35. Given the lifespan of a CFL bulb, this savings likely spans two to four years, depending on the usage of the bulb. Multiply that savings by the number of actively used light bulbs in your home, and the money saved is likely very significant.
If you are interested in CFL bulbs, Amazon has a very good CFL Bulb Buying Guide.
Published or updated December 8, 2011.