LED vs CFL vs Incandescent


Advances in technology over the years have brought several different ways to provide light to homes and businesses. Over the past 150 years, we've gone from primarily using candles and lanterns to numerous light bulb types.


Three of today's most popular light bulb options are LEDs, CFLs, and incandescents.


In the beginning, the only thing we had was the standard incandescent bulb. The original design goes back to 1802, although Edison receives credit for making it a commercially viable option. Now we've got more choices to consider that could potentially save energy, money, or both.


Where do you fall in the LED vs. CFL vs. incandescent debate? With each providing specific advantages and disadvantages to consider, a careful look at each bulb type is helpful.


What Are LED Bulbs?


LEDs were invented in 1961 by Gary Pittman and Robert Biard. While the pair was working at Texas Instruments, they created an infrared light that functioned, but was microscopic in size. It was only a year later, in 1962, that Nick Holonyak, Jr. started a commercially viable product that created a red light via his employment with General Electric.


The 1960s was a decade where engineers and researchers looked for ways to make LED technologies more efficient. That's how they discovered that different substrates could produce unique colors.


In 1972, M. George Craford put a green and a red diode together to produce a pale yellow color, setting the cornerstone for what would eventually become a viable light bulb. Craford's work also led to LEDs that were ten times brighter than the original design while working for Monsanto.


Most people know Monsanto for its chemical and agricultural products, including Roundup. They were also the leading manufacturer of LEDs during a portion of the 1970s.


LED bulbs use heat sinks to absorb the product's heat to dissipate it to the surrounding environment. That technology is necessary to prevent it from burning out because it overheated.


When you can control the thermal environment around an LED bulb effectively, you're maximizing its potential lifespan.


Advantages and Disadvantages of LED Bulbs


When comparing LED vs. CFL vs. incandescent light bulb types, the advantages and disadvantages of light emitting diodes require a careful review.


List of the Advantages of LED BulbsList of the Disadvantages of LED Bulbs
LEDs provide a significantly higher energy efficiency ratio than CFLs and standard incandescent bulb types. It's 80% more efficient than the older bulbs, with between 2-4 times more efficiency than its fluorescent counterparts.LED bulbs have dimming compatibility, but you must be specific with the switch and the product purchased. Each must be compatible with the other. Otherwise, flickers and other issues can arise that require troubleshooting to solve.
It's an environmentally preferred option because the technology doesn't contain mercury. You'll consume less power to achieve similar illumination levels while delivering a more durable experience. LEDs are less likely to break. Some fixtures do not contain removable LED bulbs. If that is the case for your situation, you'll need to replace the entire fixture when the lighting no longer meets your needs. If you don't have experience working with electricity, the cost of this service can be high in some situations
Significant lifespan improvements are available when upgrading to this technology. Many products in the marketplace last for at least 50,000 hours, with some able to double that rating.LED bulbs can fail unexpectedly if they're exposed to significant heat. The best way to protect them inside is to use a sconce or lampshade. When outside, try to have the product avoid direct contact with prolonged sunlight.


LED bulbs have a higher initial investment, but the product eventually pays for itself with regular use. That's why it's a first-choice option for many home and business owners today.


What Are CFL Bulbs?


CFL stands for “compact fluorescent lamp." It's designed to replace incandescent light bulbs in standard bases and fixtures. The design uses a tube that folds or curves to fit into the space of a traditional bulb with a compact electronic ballast in its base.


The principles of lighting remain the same for CFLs as they are for other fluorescent options. Electrons bound to mercury items get excited to a state where they radiate ultraviolet light. That gets converted into a visible spectrum as the bulb's coating gets struck and heat absorbs into the other materials.


Advantages and Disadvantages of CFL Bulbs


When comparing LED vs. CFL vs. incandescent light bulb types, the advantages and disadvantages of compact fluorescent lamps require a careful review.


List of the Advantages of CFL BulbsList of the Disadvantages of CFL Bulbs
CFL light bulbs are up to four times more efficient than incandescent types. A 22W bulb delivers the same light levels as a 100W incandescent while using up to 80% less energy. Although CFLs come with a 10,000-hour lifetime rating, frequent ons and offs can reduce the lifespan substantially. It's not suitable for places where they'd be used for only a few moments.
A CFL bulb lasts up to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs. They also use a third less electricity than the traditional design.Although CFLs can be bought for dimmer switches, not all bulbs are compatible with them. Buyers must check the packaging or product description to avoid having the light burn out quickly.
This option is highly versatile, operating in settings where virtually any light bulb delivers illumination. Three-way and dimmable options are available for everything from recessed fixtures to table lamps. CFLs might be covered when used outdoors. They're sensitive to temperature changes, with cold weather contributing to lower illumination levels. They're not helpful for places where narrow beams are necessary, including spotlights.


CFL lamps provide the same lighting type as fluorescent tubes, but with a more compact shape. Although they're more efficient than incandescent lamps, LED lighting options offer more durability and placement options.


What Are Incandescent Bulbs?


Incandescent light bulbs are the technology that many people picture when they think about turning a switch on or off. It's made with a wire filament that gets heated to create a glow. Since it's enclosed in a glass bulb with inert gas or vacuum, the metal components are protected from oxidation.


Today's incandescent bulbs come in several sizes, output, and voltage ratings. Some models go up to 300 volts without needing external regulation equipment.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Incandescent Bulbs


When comparing LED vs. CFL vs. incandescent light bulb types, the advantages and disadvantages of traditional incandescent lamps require a careful review.


List of the Advantages of Incandescent BulbsList of the Disadvantages of Incandescent Bulbs
Incandescent bulbs are traditionally the cheapest option when compared to LEDs and CFLs. That means you can achieve a lighting solution for an entire property without making a significant investment. Incandescent bulbs lose a lot of their energy potential through heat generation. Only 10% of the electricity sent to the product results in illumination. The traditional design produces as little as 5 lumens per watt.
These light bulbs are quite easy to install. When one burns out, you just unscrew it from the base. The replacement goes into the same space.The lamp life is relatively short, with the best options in the industry producing about 1,000 hours of life. Its fragile nature makes it possible for the lifespan rating to be cut significantly short.
You can find incandescent bulbs in different shapes and sizes so that they're usable in multiple applications. You can easily customize the illumination since they're dimmable and controllable with traditional dimmers and similar switches.The extra heat that multiple incandescent bulbs create can strain HVAC systems in smaller rooms.


In 2007, the United States signed the Energy Independence and Security Act into law. One of the first standards tiers to take effect was to phase out 60W incandescent bulbs between 2012-2014.


Although another round of restrictions was scheduled to take effect in 2020, the Department of Energy reverted back to previous standards. That's created a patchwork of lighting availability, so what is available locally is what your home or business is currently permitted to use.


Key Comparison Points: LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent


Brightness Comparison: LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent

LEDs and CFLs have essentially the same brightness level when compared in generalities. You can find options in both categories that offer more or less contrast when compared to their counterparts.


Before LED lights became omnidirectional, CFLs could provide better support as a floor lamp because of the broader coverage. The next generation of diodes surpasses the compact fluorescent design while offering improvements to color, energy consumption, and pricing.


Incandescents provide the warm, soft lighting many homeowners recognize while delivering different wattage ratings. Although the light bulbs are bright, they don't compare to LEDs or CFLs.


Lumen and Wattage Comparison: LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent

When comparing lumens between LEDs vs. CFLs vs. incandescent bulbs, all three types deliver a similar outcome. You'll find outputs from 400 lumens to over 2,700.


That means the primary comparison point between these bulb types is the wattage requirement needed to achieve the desired lumen result. LEDs require less than CFLs and significantly less than incandescents.


If you use a standard 60W incandescent light bulb in the bathroom, the CFL equivalent for lumen output would need 18 to 22W. When upgrading to LED lights, you'd use 13W or less to achieve the same result.


The lumen rating for each light bulb should be on the package or the product description. If you see only wattage ratings posted, you could be holding an older model.


That creates a luminous efficiency rating of 150 lumens per watt for some white LED bulbs. CFLs top out at 60 lumens per watt, while incandescents are just 16 lumens per watt at their best.


Color Comparison: LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent

LED lights provide options throughout the entire color and temperature spectrum. You can find choices that simulate the warm, soft lighting from incandescents or the daylight replication that CFLs offer.


When you choose smart LED light bulbs, an entire RGB color spectrum is available to use. That means you can apply 16 million choices to your environment to create whatever mood you prefer. The RGB lights provide daylight and warm temperature options in addition to the different shades and hues found on the color wheel.


Lifespan Rating Comparison: LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent

Today's best LED lights have a lifespan rating of 50,000 hours or more. Even if you take the L70 or L50 rating, which indicates receiving 70% or 50% of the original lumens power, you'll still exceed the 8,000 to 10,000 hours that CFLs are rated to provide.


Incandescent light bulbs have a maximum rating of 1,000 hours. Some products exceed that amount, but there is always a higher risk of breakage.


Everyone has different needs, but the superiority of LED technology shines through in most situations. That's why you'll find so many recommendations online to upgrade to these light bulbs! ​


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