Best lighting cost comparison: Incandescent, CFL, LED

LED, Incandescent, CFL

LED, Incandescent, CFL

Between Incandescents, CFLs, and LEDs, there are many different lighting options available for the homeowner.  The problem is that there are so many options, the energy-saving technology keeps improving, and costs keep adjusting.  I've done a cost comparison between incandescents and CFLs that showed how much better an investment CFLs were.  Since then, a few models of LEDs are available for the home and I have now included them in a cost comparison.

Until someone proves me wrong, I'm convinced the spreadsheet below is one of the best lighting cost comparisons on the web.  I've put in some reference data for each bulb so you can verify the data.  For the incandescent, I included a GE long-life 60-watt bulb.  I'm using the n:vision CFL's I use in my house which are still working flawlessly and out of probably 15 bulbs I haven't had 1 failure in 1.5 years.  Finally, for the LED I'm comparing the newly released Pharox60, 6 watt dimmable LED by Lemnis Lighting and Digital Light. Update - 2/10/11 - I've updated the sheet with more recent data.  Home Depot changed the n:vision brand name to EcoSmart.  I'm using EcoSmart bulbs for both CFL and LED because I can easily get them at Home Depot and I've been happy with the quality so far.  The EcoSmart A19 LED I'm testing out is about 30% cheaper than the Pharox60 LED and has a higher light output.

The cells in yellow are meant to be edited by you based on your situation.  The cells in green are current prices for the lights I'm comparing in the sheets.  If you find better prices or want to compare different lights, adjust these prices accordingly.

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The first thing to notice is the Lumens (light output) of each bulb. The CFL uses less energy than the incandescent, but puts out more light! And while the LED uses less energy than the other bulbs, it puts out 2.5 times less light than the CFLs!  According to my sheets, it would take almost 30 Years before a current investment in an LED bulb would turn out to be the better investment over a CFL.  Now, that's based on an electricity price of $.010/kWh, and if you pay more than that, LEDs look a little more attractive.

Since LEDs have such a high initial cost, it is very hard to re-coup that cost over the life of the bulb.  The other issue is how much less light they put out compared to the incandescent or CFL.  What I will say is that if you are reluctant to adopt CFLs in your house due to concerns over mercury (even though it is a very minuscule), then the LEDs could be a great alternative to incandescents.  Since incandescents use so much electricity (most of the energy that goes into them turns into heat), the payback of an LED at .10 cents per kWh is around 5 years when compared to the incandescent.

The important thing to take away from the sheet is how bad a monetary investment incandescents are and how much energy they use compared to CFL and LED technologies.  It's time to get away from 100 year old energy-wasting technology and start saving your home money and helping to waste less energy!

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Hi Brad, I am an electrical contractor and now an LED importer. The technology is changing everyday and we have done multiple retofits in different applications including industrial and commercial. We do have a 30 watt LED that has a 15 degree beam angle that has a light beam that reaches up to 60 feet. We are installing them on the exterior of a bank building. We have one up now and it looks and performs great.
I am looking at replacing incandescent dock lights with either CFL or LED and they must be shatter resistant, anyone have any experience with either of these and what about trying to reach the front of a 53' semi trailer?
ckmapawatt's picture
Jason, If you do all of the calculations I'll be glad to add them in for those who are interested. I'm sure CFL manufacturing cost is WAY higher than CFL, but what percentage of manufacturing cost is lifetime energy costs? I look forward to your response.
ckmapawatt's picture
I get you don't like CFL. So what LEDs have you tried? In many cases, they are the better investment over incandescent. If you dont like either of those, what about halogen?
Great blog. Looks like we have to hope LED's come down in price and in life cycle costs. They appear to be easy to manufacture and less of a threat to the environment.
Going with a lifecycle approach is indeed an excellent way to fairly compare lighting technologies. CFLs do cost more to produce, and certainly generate more toxic waste in production and disposal. But we need to actually put some numbers on this - from peer-reviewed, published research. Otherwise, we're just waving our hands. A quick web search pulls up the following report from the Rocky Mountain Institute (a research outfit focused on market-based solutions to problems of sustainability). While I cock an eye at some parts, the whole is fair-minded and (within its design parameters) rigorous. Some relevant numbers: "Ninety-three percent of the CO2e emissions from a CFL lamp occur during the operation phase, while approximately 7 percent occur during assembly" (page 12) "Quantifying this in the LCA for the required lumen-hours (1,600 lumens for 10,000 hours), incandescents emit 16 mg into the air during operation while CFLs only emit 4.6 mg. Another 5 mg of mercury is added to the CFL’s total if it ends up in a landfill (the worst case scenario), which brings the total mercury emissions for the CFL to 9.6 mg. This is still 6.4 mg less than what would be released when using an incandescent." [ed note: the report gives some additional details on this important issue starting on page 17. Note in particular that, while 100% of incandescent mercury pollution goes airborne, less than 20% of CFL's does.] But the news isn't uniformly good for CFLs. On page 13, the report details that producing countries suffer more lead and arsenic pollution from CFL manufacture. This is the same sort of pollution generated from the manufacture of integrated circuits in general, which are used in hundreds of thousands of applications, so it's hard to decide how much additional blame to place on this particular one. The report goes on to see what happens when CFLs are turned off and on frequently. It's not pretty, but incandescents are still losers in cost, CO2 output, and mercury.
This seems a convincing review of the electricity quality issue. Takeaway message is that, yes the problem exists and electrical engineers ought to pay attention to it, but a) utility companies, while actively considering this problem, aren't tremendously worried about it, and b) CFL manufacturers can produce higher-grade ballasts if utility companies ever need them to - and still produce light bulbs that save home consumers a bundle over keeping incandescents.
I like the Cree CR6 and will be installing them for all recessed lighting in my new home, due for completion around end of June 2011. Apparently, a warm bulb exists that we will most likely be using. It's been a while since I looked at them, but I think you can get either 3500K or 2700K with regard to spectrum.
We have CFLs in a room where the lights are turned on for only a short time. Does it take more electricity to turn on a CFL or an incandescent? Would appreciate an answer
ckmapawatt's picture
It may take a little more on the CFL, but it's such a small quantity and so short of time (like micro-seconds) that it is negligible in comparison.


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