Consumer Reports just released its ratings of CFL and LED bulbs. I’ve always been a fan of these energy saving light bulbs. In my 99 Painless Ways to Save Serious Money eBook (free to subscribers of our newsletter!), replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or LEDs is high on the list. These eco-friendly bulbs reduce our carbon footprint, fatten our wallets, and lengthen the time between bulb replacement. Now there’s a bulb that lasts up to 45.6 years! I’ll get to that bulb in a moment, but first a reality check about CFLs and LEDs.
For a long time there were three problems with these bulbs. First, the light given off by these bulbs looked funny. As soon as we walked into a room with a CFL bulb in our house, we could tell something wasn’t right. And if they are cold, it can take what seems like an eternity for a CFL bulb to fully illuminate. Second, CFL bulbs contain a trace amount of mercury that can be a real problem if the bulb breaks. And third, they are expensive. LED bulbs can really set you back. Some replacement LED bulbs can cost as much as $40!
Fortunately, the technology behind these bulbs has gotten a lot better. According to Consumer Reports, here are some of the improvements with today’s CFL and LED bulbs:
- Less Mercury: As noted above, one big downside to CFL bulbs is that they contain trace amounts of mercury. If the bulb breaks, you must be very careful in how you clean up and dispose of the bulb. Today, CFL bulbs have 60 to 75 percent less mercury than they did in 2008. And even better, some CFLs, like the GE Energy Smart SAF-T-GARD Spiral CFL, have a protective coating that helps contain glass and mercury if the bulb is broken. Also, Lowes and Home Depot will accept CFL bulbs for recycling once they burn out.
- Most LEDs give off bright light: Consumer Reports found that most LEDs met their claims. They light up immediately, even in cold temperatures, and they are as bright as incandescent bulbs. As an added bonus, they don’t contain mercury and are great for dimmer switches.
- LED’s Last Forever: Most LED lights last from 20,000 to 50,000 hours! Assuming you burn the bulb for 3 hours a day, that means you won’t be changing the bulb until sometime between 2029 and 2056.
- Both CFLs and LEDs save money: These bulbs will save you money in two ways. First, both use less energy, saving your money on your electric bill each month. And second, while these bulbs are more expensive than incandescent bulbs, they last much longer. So in the long run, you save money on bulbs, too. Of course, the big question is how long will it take you to make up the cost of the energy saving bulbs, particularly LEDs. What Consumer Reports found is that you can recoup the cost of a CFL in about a year. For LEDs, however, it takes about four to ten years to break even. But because these bulbs last so long, you end up saving a ton of money over time.
What About that 45.6 Year Bulb?
So what bulbs last over 45 years (assuming a burn rate of 3 hours per day)? There are several LED bulbs that should last 50,000 hours. One popular choice is the Sylvania 78642 – LED8A/DIM/F/830 Dimmable LED Light Bulb. It costs $29.99 from Amazon, and it should last longer than you own your home (so be sure to take it with you when you move!).
The ratings by Consumer Reports will be coming out in its October magazine. If you don’t subscribe, you can get a good price on the magazine through Amazon. You can also subscribe online, which is what I do. Finally, I’ll leave you with a video by Consumer Reports that gives you a glimpse into how it tested these bulbs:
Published or updated June 4, 2012.