Posts Tagged ‘Energy Efficiency’

CFL’s vs. LED’s – What you need to know!

April 14th, 2011 No comments

Mercury in new light bulbs not being recycled, escaping to environment



Are the energy efficient CFL bulbs creating a bigger problem than they are solving?




Most homeowners today are aware that incandescent light bulbs are very inefficient and they only convert 10% of the energy used into light with the rest of the energy wasted as heat.  Many of us have made the switch to Compact Fluorescent (CFL) bulbs that are four times more efficient than incandescent bulbs and have been rewarded with lower electric bills each month.  But each CFL contains 3-5mg of mercury and they need to be properly recycled to minimize their negative effect on the environment.  New studies show that only 2% of home owners properly recycle their used CFL bulbs and only 33% of businesses properly recycle all fluorescent light bulbs.  Large home improvement stores now offer free CFL recycling drop boxes, but do you recycle every one you purchase?  How many have been accidentally dropped while being changed?  When the bulb shattered, mercury was released into the immediate environment.

So is there an energy efficient option that has less environmental impact and less direct health risks to homeowners?



Yes.  LED replacement bulbs have made great strides in recent months and it is now possible to find 60W equivalent bulbs that closely match the light color and output of the old incandescent bulbs.  LED bulbs contain no mercury and most are now RHoS compliant which means that they contain no harmful materials.  LED lighting is 90% more efficient than incandescent bulbs and 50% more efficient than CFLs.  They also last an average of 50,000 to 60,000 hours versus CFL’s average life of 7,500 hours and an incandescent bulb’s average life of 1500 hours.



Let’s compare specifications of the three major bulb types and then get back to the issue of mercury in CFLs:






2700K, 5000K, 6500K and Full Spectrum

2700K, 5000K, and 6500K

Wattage Range

3w to over 200W

15W to 200W equivalent

3W to 100W equivalent


Avg 15 lumens/watt

Avg 40 lumens/watt; 2.5W CFL = 10W Incandescent

Avg 75 lumens/watt; 1.2W LED = 10W Incandescent

Bulb Life – based on 3 hours of use a day

Avg. 1,000 – 2,000 hours

Avg 7,500 – 10,000 hours

Avg 50,000 – 60,000 hours

Instant On


Optional, but still have a warm up




Most are not, newer bulbs tend to be dimmable but must read packaging


3-Way bulb option




Health and Safety

Bulbs can shatter

Bulbs can shatter and release mercury, emit more UV light which can fade or damage art and photographs

Most are plastic with limited risk of shattering, no mercury

Life Cycle Cost

High due to inefficiency and frequent replacements

Medium costs, lower energy usage and longer life

Lowest over lifetime due to lowest energy use and very long life


Widely available now, but production will be phased out in 2012 and bulbs will be obsolete in 2014

Widely available

More limited availability, but continuing to increase

Using the table above we can draw some conclusions and further investigate the advantages and disadvantages of CFLs and LEDs:




+ Use much less power resulting in even lower electric bills and less pollution from power plants

+ Very long life, 10X or more longer than CFLs

+ Generate less heat than CFLs for less load on air conditioning systems, reduced danger of burns from touching bulbs, reduced fire hazard

+ LEDs are typically RoHS compliant so there are no hazardous materials in the bulbs, minimal environmental impact and no risk of personal exposure to mercury.

+ LED emit no Infrared or Ultraviolet light, so no risk of damage or degradation of   artwork, photographs, or other sensitive items from exposure to the light.

+ LEDs are instant on and not damaged by frequent power cycling.

+ LEDs operate in freezing temperatures

Disadvantages –

– Initial cost.  Though much cheaper over their total lifetime, the initial cost of the LED bulbs prevents most home owners from a full conversion at one time.  They need to be swapped in as CFLs fail or replace hard to reach bulbs where their long life is an immediate benefit.

– Less bulb style options, lower equivalent wattage, and no 3-way bulb options mean that certain applications like chandeliers or decorative globe bulb applications have no LED substitutes at this time.

– LEDs are much more directional, which part of the reason they are so much more efficient, but true omnidirectional incandescent equivalents are just reaching the market and they are more expensive than the spot and flood bulb equivalents.

– LEDs are sensitive to heat.  Very hot locations do not allow the bulbs to cool properly and their life is shortened, though no exact data is available at this time to give clear upper temperature limits as it applies to residential applications.



+ Available in 3-way bulb configurations with 50W-100W-150W equivalents with a maximum consumption of 37W.

+ Better in omnidirectional lighting applications like the incandescent bulbs they replace.

+ CFLs in dimmable candelabra form are now available that are 40W equivalent outputs, finally making CFLs a viable option for chandeliers and other decorative lighting, though the aesthetics of the CFLs is still much lower than the incandescent bulb they replace.

+ CFLs have more temperature or color range options and the warm white now closely matches the incandescent bulbs they replace.  CFLs are also available in full spectrum output which is a benefit to individuals who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.


– Mercury, all CFLs contain between 3mg and 5mg of this heavy metal which is a neurotoxin.  It poses a high threat to the environment when failed bulbs are not recycled properly and it is an immediate, local danger when a CFL is broken.

– While they last longer than incandescent bulbs, CFLs light output diminishes quickly over time and can be reduced by more than 50% over a year’s time.  By the time they fail, their output may only be 20% of the original rated output.

– CFLs, have unpredictable failure modes.  Most emit smoke or odors and there are numerous reports of CFLs catching on fire or exploding when failing.  Many tend to pulse or strobe as they fail which can trigger headaches or seizures in those sensitive to rapid changes in lighting.

– CFLs lifetimes are rated for very specific conditions.  They are not intended to be cycled on and off more than a couple of times a day.  The more a CFL is cycled on and off, the shorter its overall life will be.

– Most CFLs will not even turn on in near freezing conditions and if they do, then the warm up time is much longer and their light output is greatly reduced.


The Clean Energy Act of 2007 set new standards for energy efficiency requirements and incandescent bulbs do not meet the new standards.  By 2014 incandescent bulbs will be phased out of the US and their production will begin to cease as early as next year in 2012.

This really leaves only two energy efficient options for lighting in residential applications, the CFL and the LED bulb.  As advances in LED technology continue to reach the consumer market, the future for CFLs will begin to fade faster than their light output over time.  However, the 5mg of mercury in each CFL bulb is still one fourth to one half the amount of mercury released into the environment versus the emissions from the coal-fired power plant needed to produce the 60 watts of light with an incandescent bulb.  So a CFL bulb is still better for our environment than incandescent bulbs.  However, Americans need to do a much better job of properly recycling their fluorescent bulbs.

The National Electrical Manufacturers Association in Washington, D.C., offers information on fluorescent light recycling at

As incandescent bulbs are phased out, the LED bulb will continue to be the better choice for home owners and the environment since it is 50% more efficient than CFLs and it contains no mercury within the bulb; offering a greater than two for one reduction in amount of mercury released into the environment.