A Light Bulb Comparison: Incandescent vs CFL vs LED

The Bulbs out? What should you replace it with? Before you grab the stool and go to the closet for another, you might want to consider your options. The ol’ reliable incandescent bulb? The turvy curvy CFL? Or the new kid on the block the LED bulb? Each has its strengths and weaknesses, let’s take a close look at each.


The Incandescent Light Bulb- It seems weird to type out the words “incandescent light bulb”. We never called them that, until recently they were just light bulbs. These are same bulbs that you’ve had in your home for your entire life. You probably still have them now. Until recently they have been all we have know.

  • Cost: They are by the far the cheapest of the three. If you buy a multipack you end up paying less then 50 cents a bulb.
  • Life Span: These bulbs typically last 1000 hours.
  • Wattage: 40-120w. 60w bulbs are the most common
  • Annual Energy Cost: Between $11.00- $20.00 per bulb
  • Drawbacks: Short lifespan and the give off a great deal of heat. 
The Compact Floreescent Lamp- These spirally light bulbs tend to catch your eye and make you scratch your head. They illicit a strong response from people.
  • Cost: Once very expensive these bulbs now cost between $1.00-$3.00 per bulb. 
  • Life Span: These bulbs last around 10,000 hours.
  • Wattage: 13-15 watts
  • Annual Energy Cost: $2.50 – $5.00 per bulb
  • Drawbacks: Some people don’t like the quality of the light. They contain mercury which can be a health hazard if the bulbs are broken.

The Light Emitting Diode Bulb (LED)- The newest to the light bulb party. This technology is spreading everywhere, many traffic lights use LED’s, some new car use them in their headlights, you can even buy an LED TV.

  • Cost: The most expensive of the trio, these bulbs can cost between $10-$50 per bulb.
  • Life Span: These bulbs can last 50,000 hours
  • Wattage: 6-10 watts
  • Annual Energy Cost: $1-$3.00 per bulb
  • Drawbacks: These bulbs are very directional, they throw light out of the top of the bulb.

How does this translate to real life. Well tossing aside the CFL’s because of the mercury concerns and the fact that I dislike the quality of the light, and comparing the Incandescent and LED light bulbs. Let’s look at 10 bulbs over 10 years.

Day 1:

  • The cost of 10 Incandescent bulbs: $5.00
  • The cost of 10 LED bulbs: $160.00

5 Years Out

  • Over those five years the Incandescent Bulbs have used $12.00 per bulb X 10 Bulbs X 5 years = $600.00 in annual power cost + you had to replace the bulbs 3 more times (15 dollars) = $615.00
  • Over those same five years the LED Bulbs have used $1.20 per bulb X 10 Bulbs X 5 years= $60.00 in annual power cost and you didn’t have to replace any of them

When you double those numbers to get to 10 years:

  • The Incandescent Bulbs cost you: $1230.00
  • The LED Bulbs cost you: $120.00 and still will not need to be replaced. Add to that the initial buying cost for the bulbs of $160.00 and your total is $280.00

Over a ten year period the LED bulb will save you nearly $1000.00! Something to consider before you change that next bulb.
*These numbers are approximations, energy rates, bulb wattage, and light bulb usage can influence your final numbers.



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