I am drawn to new gadgets and technologies. When I saw the first generation LED replacement bulbs advertised, I became very interested.  I was ready to upgrade all my lamps to LEDs until I saw the price tag which back then was about thirty dollars each. Who wants to pay thirty dollars for a light bulb?

The technology has since been perfected and the newest LED replacements bulbs have begun appearing in stores with prices in the ten dollar range. At first glance this still seemed like a high price to pay for a light bulb!  Nonetheless, I kept hearing how much more efficient and therefore how much better for the environment these are.  I also heard how the wide scale use of these lights will help delay the need to build expensive new power plants.  With this in mind, I decided to investigate the matter further to see if I could now justify an upgrade project.

While I am happy to consider doing what I can to protect “old mother earth” and, of course, I don't really want any new power plants being built in my area, I decided to ask a more fundamental question: does converting to LED bulbs make budget sense in 2014. Below is the result of my investigations.



Upgrading from incandescent bulbs to LEDs makes sense now!

LEDs still cost about 6 times what standard incandescent bulbs cost. While the price can be initially a little shocking, keep in mind that LEDs can be expected to last as much as 30-40 times longer than traditional bulbs. As an example, an LED used 3-4 hours daily should not need replacement until about the year 2050! This will all but eliminate the tedious chore of regularly buying and replacing bulbs, not to mention the danger of suddenly and unexpectedly being thrown into darkness as a lamp flashes and then fails!

LED bulbs are clearly much cheaper to run than incandescent bulbs, since they only need about one sixth the power. Surprisingly, the payback period for the investment in LEDs over incandescent bulbs is only about 1200 hours of use - that's just 100 days for a porch light burning nightly for 12 hours, or a year for a lamp used daily for about 3 hours. Furthermore, once you reach the payback point, you will continue to:

  • save 80% of the electrical costs for using the lamp
  • avoid costs of  about $50 in replacement bulbs you would otherwise need to buy
  • save the hassle of about 30 bulb replacements 

As a side consideration, due to the incredible heat generated by traditional lamps, if you regularly run an air conditioner, the payback period for converting incandescent bulbs to LEDs is reduced to half the time and your post payback electrical savings soar to nearly 90%!

Conclusion: Actively replacing regularly used incandescent lamps with LEDs makes good economic sense now. Competitively priced LED bulbs can be found here.  For lamps used only occasionally for short period of time, you can wait until the bulb burns out to upgrade to LEDs.



Replacing failing compact fluorescent bulbs with LEDs is a good incremental strategy

As with the LED and incandescent bulb match-up, in comparing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) to LEDs, LEDs are once again winners. Although LED bulbs cost about three times what the CFL lamps cost, they do last about three times as long and consume only about half the power. If you are already using some of the CFL lamps introduced about a decade ago, you are already scoring significant savings over the power demands of old style incandescent bulbs. While moving to LEDs will further reduce your power requirement by about a further 50%, it can take as much as 8,000 hours to reach the payback point for such an upgrade. This said, there are other important points to consider:

  • CFLs produce light with a noticeable purple-green cast. LEDs are daylight balanced.

  • CFLs turn on slowly, reaching full brightness after about a minute. LEDs are instant on.

  • CFLs contain mercury, a toxic substance released whenever a bulb breaks.

Conclusion: There is no compelling cost incentive to actively replace CFLs with LEDs. While I would not recommend buying any new CFL bulbs due to the mercury they contain, it probably makes sense to continue using CFLs until they burn out. You can consider moving the old CFLs to less critical locations, installing new LEDs in areas where instant on, full intensity lighting is needed such as hallways and closets, as well as in work areas where bright, daylight-balanced light is a clear benefit. When you do dispose of your old CFLs, be sure to check with your local solid waste management authority on proper disposal methods.