Published on March 25, 2013—  Leave a comment

The 411 on Lightbulbs: Incandescents vs. CFLs vs. LEDs

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Looking for a way to keep your home well lit while being good to the planet?  Not sure how traditional incandescents compare to CFLs (Compact Fluorescents) and LEDs (light-emitting diodes)?  More importantly, are these alternatives worth it, given that you’ll be spending several dollars for a CFL and tens of dollars for an LED bulb compared to a dollar for an incandescent?  thredUP Head of Customer Experience and Green Mom, Michelle Lee has all the answers for you!

For starters, the average CFL will last over 5 times longer and an LED over 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb!  So you’ll be changing out those CFL and LED bulbs far less often, which is convenient and can be a huge plus for bulbs installed in difficult to access locations.  Also, with their greater efficiency, CFLs and LED bulbs will save you energy.  This savings adds up, since energy isn’t cheap!

So, are there potential tradeoffs?  Yes, but fortunately with some awareness they can be averted. The main pitfalls can be incorrect light ‘color temperature’, as well as poor light quality.   While all incandescents will provide that familiar warm, yellowish glow, CFLs and LEDs come in a variety of color temperatures (measured in degrees Kelvin, or ‘K’).  It is important to pay attention to this number when purchasing efficient bulbs, in order to get the light output you want and expect.  A 2700K bulb will closely replicate an incandescent’s warmth, while those with higher K values will produce brighter, whiter, bluer light.  Regarding quality, older generation CFLs and even the cheapest current ones can experience a delayed start, flicker, and/or not work with dimmable fixtures.  Most good CFL and also LED manufacturers have overcome such performance issues, though!

It’s important to note that CFLs contain small amounts of mercury, and so they should be handled with care and disposed of properly.  If you toss them in your trash, they can break and emit harmful vapors.  In landfills they can leach mercury into our water supply.  Recycling CFLs at your local hardware store is a must.

While CFLs have improved dramatically in price and performance since their mainstream introduction two decades ago, LEDs are where lighting is headed, and fast.  Price-wise, however, they are not yet there – the upfront cost can be steep!  That said though, an LED bulb generally has better light quality, is more durable than both the incandescent and the CFL, has no mercury, and provides unlimited control and color possibilities.  As their market share grows, prices are steadily dropping, making them an increasingly viable alternative both economically and environmentally.

Finally, prior to any significant switch to incandescent alternatives, test run a sample first!  It’s best that you like them, as they’ll be there for a while.