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Light Bulb Guide: LED vs. CFL vs. Halogen

Now that most incandescent lightbulbs are pretty much a thing of the past, consumers now must choose between LED (light-emitting diode), CFL (compact fluorescent), and halogen bulbs to light their homes. But which is the best option? It all depends on your needs. We’ll take you through the various kinds of lighting, and the benefits that each offers.

LEDs vs. Incandescent Bulbs

Traditional incandescent bulbs measured their brightness in watts; if you wanted a brighter bulb, you bought one with a higher wattage. However, with the advent of LEDs and other types of lighting, that yardstick has become meaningless, and as a result, a bulb's brightness is now listed as lumens, which is a more accurate measurement of how bright it is, rather than how much energy it consumes. Below is a conversion table which shows how much energy, in watts, an incandescent bulb and an LED typically require to produce the same amount of light.

Conversion Table: Lumens to Equivalent Incandescent Wattage
Incandescent Bulb (Watts)Lumens
LED Bulb (Watts)
7
27
0.75
10
80
1.5
15
120
2-3
25
180
2-3
40
450
4-5
60
800
8-12
75
1100
12-15
100
1600
15-20

LED Lightbulb Options

Traditional bulbs for table and floor lamps are known by their lighting industry style name "A19,"while floodlight bulbs made for track lights and in-ceiling fixtures are dubbed "BR30." Your best long-term alternative to either style is extremely energy-efficient LED technology.

The LED equivalent of a 60-watt A19 bulb consumes only between 9 and 12 watts, and provides about the same light output, measured in lumens. A 40-watt equivalent LED bulb consumes only 6 to 8.5 watts. And a 65-watt BR30 (floodlight) replacement LED bulb consumes only 10 to 13 watts.

Moreover, an LED bulb's lifespan is practically infinite. Manufacturers typically estimate a bulb's lifespan based on three hours of use per day. By that measurement, an LED bulb will be as good as new for at least a decade, manufacturers say. Under the same conditions, an old-fashioned lightbulb may work for only about a year before burning out.

For example, GE's equivalent LED bulb has a rated lifetime of 15,000 hours or 13.7 years. Philips' equivalent LED bulb has a rated lifetime of 10,000 hours or 9.13 years.

LED bulbs will continue to light up even after their rated lifetimes expire; however, brightness may drop or the color cast of the light may change.

GE, Philips, Sylvania, Cree and other brands all offer LED bulbs that output the most popular "soft white" light, at retailers including Home Depot, Target and Walmart. In addition, GE ‘s Reveal lineup of color-enhancing lightbulbs (a coating filters out yellow tones to enhance colors lit by the bulb) with LED replacements equivalent to 40-watt and 60-watt A19 bulbs and to a 65-watt BR30 bulb.

Initially, LED bulbs cost a lot more than old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, but now have dropped in price. For example, a 4-pack of Philips 60-watt-equivalent soft white LED bulbs costs about $10 at Home Depot, a cost of $2.50 per bulb.

Color Temperature

When they first came out, LED bulbs emitted a bluish light that many found harsh compared to the “warmer” light cast by traditional bulbs. However, LED makers now offer LED bulbs that emit different color temperatures, measured in Kelvin. Here are a few that you’ll most likely find at a home improvement store:

2700K: These bulbs will be labeled “soft white,” and will cast a gentle warm glow that’s good for the bedroom, as well as table and floor lamps.

3000K: “Bright White” bulbs have a more neutral glow, being neither warm nor cool.

5000K: Lights that are 5000K and higher will typically have a “daylight” label, and edge towards the bluer part of the spectrum. However, they will best approximate actual sunlight.

Smart LED Bulbs

A new subset of LED bulbs are so-called “Smart Bulbs,” in that they can be controlled by your smartphone, and often have other features built in, such as the ability to work with a wide range of smart home devices. However, these also cost more than other LEDs, and most also require a separate hub, which links the bulbs to your home Wi-Fi network.

At the most basic level, the Philips Hue White bulbs let you change their color temperature, and link to other smart home products such as the Nest Learning Thermostat and Amazon’s Alexa. However, a starter pack costs $79, and includes just two lights, as well as a Hue Bridge, a small white box that links the bulbs to your home Wi-Fi network. (The Hue White Extension pack, which includes two additional bulbs, costs $29.) Those who want to change the color entirely can opt for the Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance kit ($199), which comes with the Bridge and three bulbs.

MORE: Philips Hue Lights - A Guide to What Each Does (and Costs)

Belkin’s WeMo LED Lighting Starter Set ($49) includes two bulbs and a hub (additional bulbs are $29 each), and the hub can link up to 50 bulbs, as well as tunable LED bulbs from Osram. Using the WeMo app, you can also create schedules to have the lights turn on and off at set times, dim as you’re going to sleep, and connect to IFTTT.

Cree’s Connected LED bulbs ($87 for a six-pack) will also work with WeMo, as well as the Amazon Echo, Samsung’s SmartThings, Wink, and others.

More advanced (and expensive) smart LEDs include additional features, such as built-in motion sensors, speakers, and Wi-Fi boosters. Here are a few examples.

The Stack Downlight Starter Kit ($89) has sensors that cause the lights to turn on when someone enters the room, and will automatically adjust the color temperature based on the time of day. They also will brighten and dim depending on the amount of sunlight coming into a room. In addition to the BR30 downlight kit, Stack's Classic Starter Kit has A19 bulbs.

The Sengled Pulse ($115) is a pair of LED lights with a JBL Bluetooth speaker in each; they can be paired together for stereo sound. The Sengled Boost ($45) has a built-in 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi repeater; the Sengled Snap ($149) is an outdoor light with a security camera, so you can monitor who’s coming and going. However, early Amazon reviews with the Snap have been less than positive.

 

BeON's bulbs have a built-in microphone that listens for the doorbell and fire alarms, and will turn the lights on automatically. The module also contains a small battery, so it can turn the lights on for about 4 hours even if your house loses power. A single bulb costs $50, and a pack of three bulbs and smart modules costs $129.

While not a traditional lightbulb, the Nanoleaf Aurora will make a statement. Part lighting, part wall art, you can change the colors of each panel to one of 16.7 million colors. You can set timers for the lights to turn on and change colors, and it works with Apple HomeKit, so you can pair it with other smart home devices. The starter kit comes with 10 panels; you can add up to 30.

CFL and Halogen bulbs

Other replacement lightbulb choices consume more power than LED bulbs and have shorter rated-lifespans, but cost much less upfront.

A 60-watt–equivalent CFL bulb from Philips, for example, consumes 13 watts and has a rated lifetime of 12,000 hours (or about 11 years) when lit for three hours a day, but retails for only $1.50-$2.00.

While technically a form of incandescent lighting, halogen bulbs are more efficient than traditional bulbs, and so the ban does not affect them. Many companies now sell “eco-Incandescent” bulbs which look like traditional lightbulbs, but use halogen elements. But they are still no match for LEDs. A 60-watt–equivalent halogen bulb from Philips consumes 43 watts and has a rated lifetime of 0.9 years. However, it retails for just $1.00-$1.25.

Other Lightbulb Alternatives

EISA will also stop the manufacturing of candle-and globe-shaped 60-watt incandescent bulbs (the types used in chandeliers and bathroom vanity light fixtures). However, the law doesn't affect 40-watt versions of those bulbs, nor three-way (50 to 100 to 150-watt) incandescent A19 bulbs. So, those will continue to be an option for you, as well, in fixtures that will accommodate them.

Lamp (A19)
bulb technology
Price per bulb
(Est.)
Lifespan
(Hrs. @ 3 hrs./day;
varies by Mfr.)
Watts
(Varies by Mfr.)
Lumens
(Varies by Mfr.)
60-Watt
Incandescent
$0.41-$1.001,000-2,00060630-860
LED
(60-Watt–Equiv.)
$1.50 and up
15,000-25,0009-12570-830
CFL
(60-Watt–Equiv.)
$1.50-$7.008,000-12,00013-15740-840
Halogen
(60-Watt Equiv.)
$1.00-$2.75985-1,25043565-750


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