October 26, 2008 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Should we buy CFL or LED bulbs?

We're in the process of replacing all of the bulbs in the house with more energy efficient lights and the concept of newer LED units has piqued our interest.

I have 5 can lights (using PAR bulbs) in the kitchen. One is on a separate switch, so I put a CFL in it but we've been less than thrilled with it so far. It's a Phillips bulb and literally takes 2 minutes to reach full brightness, which is annoying. The LED bulbs are bright instantly.

Have any of you folks purchased LED bulbs? Happy with the light output? Noticed any energy savings? There are many to choose from but since they're a bit more expensive, we want to make a decent choice. (The ones we've seen aren't as expensive as the one on ledwaves. Our local Wal-Mart actually has an entire aisle of CFL bulbs and LED bulbs.)
posted by drstein to Home & Garden (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
When I last checked, CFL & LED were similarly efficient. A look at the LED page you linked to suggests that is still the case. In that case, it seems to come down to price and application.

We have a CFLs in our kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen light, which is designed to be a CFL fixture, takes a couple minutes to reach full brightness. The CFL floods we have in the can lights in our bathroom are dim at first, but approach full brightness in 30 seconds or less, which isn't so bad, since we still have some incandescent in there.

I'm curious what prices you've seen on LED lights. From what I can tell, they are still significantly more expensive than CFLs. That's mitigated somewhat by their longer lifespan. I'd think the real selling point is that they are instant on.
posted by Good Brain at 11:56 AM on October 26, 2008

OK, so my dad's in the lighting business and I edit a lot of his brochures. I don't have the actual text of this one, which was full of statistics, so bear with me (though I can absolutely get it for you). LEDs cost more at the start, but give you a TON of energy savings when compared to traditional bulbs (and to CFLs). CFLs are another option, but they're not great because, as you said, they take forever to warm up. They also make it always look like you're in a school or hospital because the light is really harsh. LEDs give off white light too, but it's a richer white that's really good for task areas, like the kitchen or somewhere that you read a lot.

There are retrofit cans available so you can convert old recessed cans into LED cans. Like I said, these can be expensive at first, but in the end it's worth it because of the energy savings. You'll also replace the LEDs less often than the CFLs (they're supposed to last ten times as long) so there are savings there as well as reduced waste. These energy savings are pretty substantial (here is where the numbers would help!) and I think make the LEDs worth it.

Of course I can't end this without saying that I really recommend finding an experienced lighting store to help you with all this, because those big box stores don't know crap and you'll end up not only wasting money but also not having the best lighting situation possible if you just choose blindly.

PM me if you want me to get you that brochure!
posted by iliketolaughalot at 12:00 PM on October 26, 2008

I just fitted my new restaurant with LED lights throughout. The energy savings are immense. The entire lighting load on two floors with lots of specialised lighting effects comes to just 360 W, which is just 10% of what it would otherwise have been. So yes, the more lighting you have, the more you'll save.

On top of that, the life of the LEDs is supposedly about 100000 hours, so you won't have to change them much.

The flipside: They cost a lot more upfront.
posted by madman at 12:08 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

LEDs give off white light too, but it's a richer white that's really good for task areas, like the kitchen or somewhere that you read a lot.

I bought some under-counter LEDs from American Fluorescent (SIC), the model called Diode28. The quality of the light was very disappointing, compared to fluorescents with modern electronic ballasts, and full spectrum phosphors.

They have an unappetizing electronic look to them, and I know this is not true of all LEDs. I suspect that there is some kind of high speed multiplexing of the power to the multiple lights, but I really don't want that look in my kitchen.

LEDs put out a lot of ultra violet, which can make for nice bright white shirts, but it can have unnatural effects.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:37 PM on October 26, 2008

I've got some daylight balanced CFLs and they're quite white (not blue-green but not yellow either) and it is a color temperature I like. I also don't have a warm up time on them. (Though the CFL the gf just got to replace a bathroom light takes about a minute to warm up and is extremely blue.)
posted by Brian Puccio at 2:31 PM on October 26, 2008

White LEDs and CFLs both work by stimulating phosphors with UV light, and so they are both going to have the same sorts of issues with the quality of the light.
posted by Good Brain at 3:34 PM on October 26, 2008

I just replaced my halogen track lighting (don't even get me started on my hatred of halogen) with LED bulbs (MR16 12v flood) bought off of eBay for about $21 apiece. If you go the eBay route do your homework, pay attention to seller feedback, but most importantly contact the seller and ask questions like the manufacturer of the bulb chipset (and don't settle for "[brand] quality" or "[brand] equivalent", buy only the genuine brand name chipset). Don't trust sellers who guarantee specific light hours, and be vary wary of sellers who claim a bulb's life expectancy to be 100k+ hours. Average is actually closer to 50-60k. Here is a buying guide that will get you started.

I love my new LEDs; they put out a cool but not harsh white light (they're in the kitchen), come on instantly at full brightness (as all LEDs do), and don't put out any of the heat that the blasted halogens did. In my opinion they were completely worth the extra up-front cost.
posted by mezzanayne at 4:01 PM on October 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

P.S. LEDs don't contain any mercury like CFLs do and therefore aren't the huge pain in the ass to dispose of if they break/burn out.
posted by mezzanayne at 4:03 PM on October 26, 2008

Best answer: I've done a TON of research on this. Sadly, CF is (still) the answer and here is why.

LED's "last 100,000 hours" but that's not the whole story. They get dimmer thru time. They have a half life just like Uranium. On ~some~ led bulbs (specifically the ones that made to replace standard Fl Tubes) the half life can be as short as 90 days. (!)

Meaning 90 days from installation they are only giving off half the light. (and 180 days you;re at 25%)

(Important part) The main reason for this is heat. The LED manufacturers don't like to talk about the fact LEDs get dimmer thru time. So you have to wear out google getting info. They don't give the stats because they say they assume you are properly cooling the bulbs.

But here's the crux of it. If you're using LED bulbs in legacy sockets, there is a very large chance they will run very hot and destroy themselves.

I went into the project trying to convince myself LEDs had arrived. Being a scientist and not a zealot, I had to admit my research led me to the opposite conclusion.

My advice is wear google it. I don't have the bookmarks anymore but try LED half life -led heat dimmer etc etc and you'll find some info.

There was one guy who owned a tourist trap and he put them in his display cases... They guy documented the whole thing with pictures etc and the LED performance was abysmal.

He wasted a ton of money. If you find his site, he has a ton of links about it.

Good Luck
posted by Jfalways at 6:04 PM on October 26, 2008

CFL bulbs are a few dollars these days, and you can get them in range of white colours, it's not true any longer that they're all cold harsh colour.

I've not found vaguely affordable LEDs available despite looking, so the balance for me is still very clear.

There's big differences possible in electricity useage. Typically you use a 75 watt incandescent, a 15 watt CFl, or a 5 watt LED (correct me someone), so that's the scale of the savings.
posted by wilful at 9:04 PM on October 26, 2008

I bought some LED bulbs, and they started out okay, but broke easily, and output degraded. CFLs are getting a lot better, and now come in more acceptable shapes, warm up quickly and have come way down in price. LED technology is likely to improve, but I wouldn't recommend it just yet.
posted by theora55 at 8:22 AM on October 27, 2008

Both CF and LED lamps will have difficulties with an ordinary "can" type fixture, as both have electronics inside them, and as the heat collects in the can (remember, heat rises) it will cook the lamp's electronics. Average lifespan of a lamp is meaningless when the lamp's electronics is cooked and it doesn't work anymore.
posted by exphysicist345 at 6:48 PM on October 27, 2008

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