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, the benefits that each offers, and help you find the best light bulb for you.

Latest News & Updates (July 2019)
Philips Hue has released a new lineup of Bluetooth-enabled E26 bulbs that don't require a Philips Hue Bridge or other smart-home hub. The lineup includes a $14 white bulb, a $24 white ambience bulb, and a $49 colored option. All will work with Alexa and Google Assistant, but they won't have as many advanced automation features as some of their more-expensive counterparts.

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.

For our full list of smart-bulb recommendations, check out our Best Smart Lights page. 

If you have a room that requires multiple in-ceiling lights, then it may make more sense to use a smart light switch; here are our picks for the best smart light switches. Lutron has also released a battery-powered smart dimmer switch called the Aurora ($40), which fits on top of a traditional light switch, but lets you control Philips Hue lights directly. This way, you don't have to worry about family members accidentally turning off the switch and cutting power to the Hue lights.

MORE: Every Smart Light That Works with Alexa

Best 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 Hue White Starter KitView Deal

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. 

Best 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.

Xiaomi Yeelight Smart BulbView Deal

Xiaomi's Yeelight Tunable ($19) and Color ($26) LED bulbs are excellent Wi-Fi-enabled devices for a decent price. They take less than a minute to set up, and work with Alexa, Google Assistant and IFTTT. In the Mi Home app, you can set schedules and timers for your bulbs. You can also set them to turn on and off, dim or change color when another Xiaomi smart device turns on or off. They deliver 800 lumens and, thanks to their plastic covers, don't get particularly hot. 

Best Miscellaneous Bulbs

Philips Hue Single PAR38 OutdoorView Deal

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.

Best 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.

Lifx+ Smart LED with InfraredView Deal

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.

Best 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.

Philips Hue PlayView Deal

The Philips Hue is a ten-inch light bar that you can mount vertically, horizontally, or flat on the floor. It can synchronize its brightness and color effects to your music or videos, using Philips Hue's Sync app. It works with Alexa, Google Assistant and HomeKit. A base kit comes with two light points and a power supply.