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Fluorescent or LED Bulbs? Finding the Right Light Switch
Options for lighting your home have changed dramatically over the past decade. Here’s a look at the most popular choices today—and how that might change tomorrow.
As of January 2014, incandescent light bulbs are no more in the United States. Well, that’s not quite true—certain styles such as three-way and appliance bulbs are still permitted to be manufactured, and they’ll live on for a while in stores with stockpiles and in the hearts of people who cling to their soft, warm glow. The problem with incandescents is that that fabled warmth is literal: the bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat, burn out quickly, and contribute to inefficient overproduction of light bulb–changing jokes.
That means that most consumers will eventually switch to CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) or LEDs (light-emitting diode lamps). CFLs can shine for up to 10,000 hour, and LEDs are up to 50,000 hours, which is more than five years of nonstop use. This might seem to give LEDs a huge advantage—unlike CFLs, they reach full brightness immediately and can even be dimmed—but things aren’t entirely so straightforward. For one thing, LED bulbs can currently cost an order of magnitude more than CFLs. And then there’s the matter of life-cycle energy-consumption assessments, which take into consideration factors such as manufacturing and packaging as well as use. When you add these to the balance, current LED bulbs don’t have much of an edge on CFLs.
That’s likely to change. The Department of Energy estimates that by 2015, technological advances will cut make LED bulbs twice as efficient in 2011. They also may look better. The main consumer complaint about LEDs is that light they shed is too cool or blue in tone. In response, LED manufacturers have started producing bulbs that emit color temperatures ranging, like makeup for snowmen, from ultra-white to warm white.