A Light Bulb Checkup

December 15, 2011 | 5 Comments

Consumer Reports’ (CR) is out with its latest light bulb tests finding which bulbs were the best performers.  The question and answer format shines some light on a few of the most common questions consumers have about compact fluorescent lights, light-emitting diode, halogens and incandescent bulbs.  The ratings are at the end of the article.

The CR tests revealed both pros and cons to all types of bulbs and found that while CFLs (compact fluorescents) have improved, the 100-watt-equivalent CFLs might not be quite as bright over their life as the incandescents they replace.  But some of Energy Star-qualified 60-watt CFL equivalents are as bright as regular incandescents, use about 75 percent less energy and last seven to 10 times longer.

Incandescent Left and Florescent Right, Bulbs.

That adds up if the bulb doesn’t die early.  Just one CFL can save you around $50 over its lifetime, and LEDs can save you more than twice that.

The CR ratings results and the questions and answers to the commonly asked light bulb questions can be found in the printed January issue of Consumer Reports and online at the ConsumerReports.org/cro/2012/01/all-about-lightbulbs.html link.

Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports explains the situation and what the report offers consumers saying, “CFLs and LEDs have dramatically improved in the last few years. They produce a warm, flattering light, last much, much longer than incandescent bulbs, and use about 75 percent less energy. But each type has its plusses and minuses. Consumers should consult our Ratings and consider what bulb features are priorities, such as dimming, instant brightness and energy efficiency.”

One of the questions points up the money matter – You’ll spend about $1 a year on average to power an Energy Star LED or CFL, $3.50 for a halogen, and almost $5 for a traditional incandescent bulb, according to the Department of Energy.  That depends on what your kilowatt-hour rate is, but the gain is worthwhile just over the price of free electricity.

On the LED front an LED can save more than twice that of a CFL, but their high initial cost makes it take more time to recoup the upfront cost.  LED production is challenging and expensive, but like other electronic-based products, prices are dropping as demand and performance go up. Meanwhile, look online for rebates from manufacturers and utilities.

LED is likely the coming wave, because LEDs instantly brighten and aren’t affected by frequent on/off cycles and cold temperatures, and many can be dimmed. They use less energy than CFLs and are expected to last even longer, 20,000 to 50,000 operational hours, which should mean something like 20 to 40 years.

For many the halogen is the current best deal until LED technology gets up to speed.  Some halogens use about 25 to 30 percent less energy than standard incandescents, but they cost more and many don’t last much longer.  One is unlikely to save much money. But halogens instantly produce light, are fully dimmable, and cast light evenly. CR will have its test results of 100-watt halogen bulbs out next month.

The proceed carefully flag is still up for LEDs, not all lamp-type LEDs emit light evenly, so have a look at Consumer Reports’ full Ratings and for the Energy Star logo before making a choice and purchase.

Both CFLs and LED raise some hackles on the materials issue.  CFLs still do have a bit of mercury inside and should be handled with care. Effectively cleanup of a broken one is a challenge.  LEDs like other semiconductor chips and electronic circuitry can include lead, arsenic and gallium, but those substances aren’t accessible, even if the bulb breaks. LEDs should be recycled with other electronic waste.

LEDs and CFLs can be taken to Home Deport, Lowe’s, Ikea and others for recycling.  Or check with your local power utility for where to go.

Foe most homes and most sockets there is a bulb that is low cost and will save a bunch of money and electricity. CFLs have come a long way in the past five years and one can expect that LEDs will do the same.  Other than a few long tube florescent fixture types the light has gotten better and costs have come down.  Pay back, the price of the new CFL or LED minus the price of the cumulative old technology needed has closed up pretty well.  The reasons not to save the money are about down to warm up times and dimmability.


5 Comments so far

  1. BFast on December 15, 2011 1:17 PM

    Ooooh, may I vent! There are two issues with CFLs that seem to go unnoticed in this article and anywere else.

    First is the warm up time. They take just a moment to start, we all know that. But often they put out significantly less light during the first minute than they do in subsequent minutes. This warm up period is frustrating.

    Second, my experience with CFLs is that they are rated to last 5 years, or 10 years, but they don’t. Their lifespan rating is a big scam as far as I can see. I think that the only thing that keeps CFLs going is the fact that most people don’t monitor their lifespan very easily — its not that easy to do.

    In addition, communities need a REALLY EASY way of disposing of the things. In my community, I can bring them to the dump twice a year on “Household Hazardous Waste” day. It would be much better if there was a CFL bag on the side of my garbage where I could dispose of them. That would be simple enough.

  2. Surf on December 16, 2011 12:43 AM

    Good quality CFLs warm up in less than 30 seconds and during that time are only slightly dimmer then when they are at full brightness. The dim period is not noticeable.

    I have 2 100W equivalent CFLs that are over 15 years old and they are still going strong. Most of the remaining are at least 5 years old. I have only had one fail in less than one year while it was under warranty (unfortunately I did save the receipt needed to get the replacement).

    Some CFL manufactures don’t recommend using the bulb in enclosed fixtures for one very good reason. Enclosed fixtures can get very warm and that can cut the life down to a couple of years max (I have experienced this in 3 recessed lighting fixtures in my celling). If used in a fixture that allows air to circulate around the bulb they stay cool and last a very long time.

    Given the long life I have seen with CFLs I typically only have one or two fail in a year. Most of the hardware stores I purchase the bulbs at will take the burned out bulbs and recycle them for free. Search the Web you might find a store you go to that will recycle them for free.

    Keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Cheap Chinese bulbs may not last as long and or have a long warm up time when compared to quality Phillips or Sylvania bulbs. If you don’t like the bulbs you purchased return them for a refund or don’t buy the same brand again. keep trying other brands (CFLs and LEDs) until you find a brand that you like.

  3. John on December 16, 2011 12:59 AM

    I concur with the long start up brightness issue, but it depends on the temp I think. My basement office takes 2mins to really warm up but it is a white light. All the upstairs take a few secs and it is warmer up there too.

    I got my 1st 40W (7W) ecosmart LED, fast, nice color but dim and small cone. It was only $7 though. That ain’t gonna cut it.

    I really want to try other shapes at 100W but these are really massive and heavy too. The stores really need to put some examples in a room to compare them, not buying them sight unseen at $40 to be disappointed.

    At this rate I don’t think LED is the future, too damn heavy/clunky and pricey.

    Besides LEDs we have been promised at least 5 other technologies, roll to roll OLED, edge lit LED, CRT-tube, a Plasma-panel, and Quantum Dot LED using Silicon for low cost. Looks like its going to be a long wait.

  4. Relevant EAM CMMS, Cable, and Lodging News for 12-16-2011 on December 19, 2011 12:41 PM

    […] A Light Bulb Checkup Posted on New Energy and Fuel recaps a Consumer Reports article about energy efficiency and lights bulbs. Will LEDs be the future of light bulbs? […]

  5. lighthouse on August 18, 2012 7:26 AM

    Well, if the replacements are so great,
    presumably people would buy them anyway,
    making a ban on incandescents unnecessary,
    while retaining advantages for some uses
    – a bit like Vacuum Tubes / Transistors.

    All lighting has advantages.
    You can’t replace one with another.
    Basically Fluorescent light is optimal in long tube format, LEDs in sheet or panel format.
    They are compromised as politically pushed replacements for incandescents, especially for omnidirectional brightness, making the early 100W bulb bans somewhat ironic.

    For many reasons the supposed savings quoted above do not hold up with either CFLs or LEDs, as referenced on “Light Bulb Clarity” (http://ceolas.net/)

    Incidentally the touted 72W (etc) type Halogen replacements will be phased out too in phase 2 of the 2007 EISA legislation, starting after 2014, as also covered via the above site.

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