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Light Bulb Guide: LED vs. CFL vs. Halogen

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


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-$2.50.

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 under $5.00.

Other Lightbulb Alternatives

EISA has also stopped 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

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 (including IKEA) 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 $12 on Amazon, a cost of $3 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.

Smart bulbs fall into two categories: Those that require a hub to connect to your home Wi-Fi network, and those that don't. The advantage for the former is that they tend to be smaller and less expensive than Wi-Fi-enabled bulbs. However, setup is a little longer, and involves connecting a hub or bridge to your Wi-Fi router, and then linking the bulbs to the hub. Some companies, such as Philips, include a bridge with their bulbs, but many can also be linked to third-party smart home hubs, such as the Samsung SmartThings, Wink, and the Amazon Echo Plus.

MORE: Every Smart Light That Works with Alexa

Starter Kits

Companies whose bulbs require a bridge or hub to connect to your Wi-Fi network (which includes Philips, Sengled, and IKEA) often sell starter kits, which include several bulbs plus the bridge.

Philips' most basic kit is the Hue White Starter kit, which includes two bulbs and the hub. While you can't change the color of these bulbs, they are dimmable. Also, the Philips Hue app is the most comprehensive of all those we've tested, and works with a lot of smart home systems, including Alexa, Google Home, and more. 

The Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance kit ($193), which comes with the Bridge and four bulbs, can change color. Philips also has an app, Philips Hue Sync, which lets users synchronize their smart bulbs with multimedia content on their Mac or Windows PC. For example, you can set your lights to flash and change color in time with music, video, and movies being played on your computer.

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


If all you're looking for is basic white dimmable bulbs, Sengled offers a more affordable option than Philips. A starter kit with two bulbs and a hub costs $39.99, while a kit with four bulbs costs $59.99. However, Sengled's app is less robust than Phillips'.

Sengled has also released a set of color bulbs, each capable of producing 16 million colors; the Sengled Element Color Plus Lighting Kit includes four bulbs and a bridge for $139. Additional bulbs cost $29 each.

The C by GE C-Life Starter Kit is awkwardly named, but includes two bulbs, as well as a hub for connecting them to your home network and Alexa. While these lights are dimmable, you can't adjust their color temperature; for that, you'll need the C by GE C-Sleep bulbs, which cost about $48 for a two-pack.

Even IKEA is getting into the smart lighting game. Its Tradfri line includes several bulb types, including an A26 (essentially an A19), E26, E12 and GU10, as well as a remote control, dimming switch, wireless driver and a motion sensor. These bulbs also require a gateway hub to connect to your smartphone via Wi-Fi. However, we found that these bulbs were a pain to set up, they don't work with other smart home systems, and you can't control them when you're not at home.

Wi-Fi Bulbs

Bulbs with built-in Wi-Fi can connect directly to your router, so there's no need to install a bridge first. However, on a per-bulb basis, Wi-Fi bulbs tend to be more expensive and larger than their counterparts.

TP-Link's bulbs have Wi-Fi built in, so you don't need to connect them first to a bridge, as you do with Philips Hue and Sengled Element bulbs. The basic dimmable bulb costs $19.47 each, but you can get them in a 3-pack for $49.99, which lowers the price per unit. TP-Link also sells a tunable white A19 bulb for $29.98, a multicolor A19 bulb for $34.98, a dimmable white BR30 bulb for $29.99, and a multicolor BR30 bulb for $49.99. And they all work with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT.

Lifx has an assortment of smart bulbs, of which the Mini White is the smallest and least expensive. It's dimmable, has an output of 800 lumens, and uses about 9 watts of electricity. Other Lifx bulbs include the multicolor Mini ($44), and the Mini Day & Dusk ($29), whose white output is tunable, from a cool, bluish light to a warm, reddish white.

All of Lifx's bulbs work with Alexa, Google Home, and HomeKit.

Other Bulbs

Cree’s Connected LED bulbs will work with WeMo, as well as the Amazon Echo Plus, Samsung’s SmartThings, Wink, and others. You can buy them individually, or in packs of six.

Philips Hue's PAR38 floodlight bulbs are designed to light your driveway, garden, or patio. They work with Alexa, Google Assistant, and HomeKit, and are very bright, offering 1300 lumens and an adjustable white color temperature of 3000k. However, they're not Wi-Fi enabled, which means you'll have to pair them with a Philips Hue Bridge or third-party smart-home hub to connect them to the rest of your home.

Sylvania is launching a Bluetooth-enabled bulb that will work with Apple's HomeKit smart home platform. This A19 bulb can connect to an iPhone, iPad, or Apple TV (4th generation or later), and then be controlled from the Apple Home app, or through Siri voice commands. The bulb, which has adjustable white color temperature from 1200K to 6500K, will ship in September; by then, Sylvania expects that it will work with additional smart home systems.

Bulbs with Extra Features

In addition to providing light, there are a number of smart bulbs that have added features, such as speakers, Wi-Fi extenders, and infrared lights.

The Lifx+ line of smart lights, which includes A19 and BR30 bulbs, are Wi-Fi-connected multicolor, dimmable bulbs that provide utility even when they're off. That's because they have infrared lights built in, which provides additional illumination for security cameras to see in the dark.

The Sengled Solo Color Plus ($49) is an LED Wi-Fi bulb that doubles as a Bluetooth speaker, and can match its lights to your music. The Sengled Pulse ($99) is a pair of LED lights with a JBL Bluetooth speaker in each; they can be paired together for stereo sound. The Sengled Boost ($29) has a built-in 2.4GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi repeater; the Sengled Snap ($104) is an outdoor light with a security camera, so you can monitor who’s coming and going.

The Stack Downlight Starter Kit 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. Stack has recently sold its lighting division, and will soon stop selling its lightbulbs.

Nontraditional Lights

Because LEDs are so small, they can be used in a variety of shapes and installations, from long strips of light to even more exotic designs.

The Philips Hue LightStrip is 80 inches long, and can display millions of colors. You can trim the strip to fit your needs, and an adhesive backing makes it easy to stick to a wall or other surface. Like other Philips Hue lights, the LightStrip works with Alexa, HomeKit, and Google Assistant, as well as Nest and Samsung SmartThings. However, you'll need to already own the Hue bridge to get these lights to work.

The Nanoleaf Aurora will make a statement. Part lighting, part wall art, you can change the colors of each triangular 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, Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT so you can pair it with other smart home devices. The starter kit comes with 10 panels; you can add up to 30. A rhythm module, sold separately, will also pulse the lights in time to music it hears.

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  • Babs__
    I have read quite a bit on the different bulbs & how some are dangerous for ones eyes. I do a lot of reading & require a very good light(at 84 it is needed)& Incandecent Halogen were highly reccommended. Nothing here really talked about good reading bulbs & while LED's may be cheaper over the long term, they are hard on eyes. Have you any information on this subject?