Virginia Energy Sense

How Energy Efficient Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescent



By:  Andy Farmer

Energy Saving Light BulbsThe variety of different light bulbs sold in stores today can be challenging for a consumer when a replacement bulb is needed.  Do you go for the traditional incandescent bulbs or something more efficient like a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED)?

In the past, we replaced our traditional 60-watt incandescent bulbs with more incandescent bulbs.  But those bulbs were wasteful with 90 percent of the energy given off as heat.  And they did not last very long.  Depending on usage, the traditional incandescent bulb would last between 1,000 and 1,200 hours.

Now there many lighting choices for your home that provide the same amount of light for less money and they last much longer.  In the average home, about five percent of the energy budget is used for lighting.  Switching to energy-efficient bulbs is one of the easiest and quickest ways to cut your energy bills.  Replacing five of your home’s most frequently used incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient bulbs could save you $75 a year in energy costs. 

In a side-by-side comparison, traditional incandescent bulbs are cheaper per bulb than other types. One incandescent bulb costs around $1, as opposed to roughly $2 for a CFL and $4 for an LED.  But before you go for the cheaper bulb, consider this: a CFL bulb uses about one-fourth the energy and lasts 10,000 hours.  A typical CFL pays for itself in energy savings in less than nine months.  The LED bulb uses less than one-fourth of the energy of incandescent bulbs and lasts up to 25,000 hours!

The U.S Department of Energy has calculated that the annual energy cost of a 60-watt traditional incandescent bulb is $4.80.  A 15-watt CFL produces the same amount of light and has an annual energy cost of $1.20.  A 12-watt LED has an annual energy cost of $1.00.

With so many lighting choices, be sure to read the labels on the packages of bulbs.  Look for information on the brightness, the light color, energy use, estimated energy costs and expected life.  Compare the lumens to be sure you are getting the amount of light, or level of brightness, you want.  The more lumens the brighter the bulb.   For reference, around 800 lumens are the amount of light produced by a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb.

And you can save even more money on your energy bill by using controls such as timers and photocells that turn lights off when not in use.  Dimmers save electricity when used to lower light levels.  Make sure you select lighting controls that are compatible with the energy-efficient bulbs that you want to use.

When you're shopping for lightbulbs, compare lumens to be sure you're getting the amount of light, or level of brightness, you want. The Lighting Facts Label will help. This new label will make it easy to compare bulb brightness, color, life, and estimated operating cost for the year.

Buy Lumens, Not Watts?  In the past, we bought lightbulbs based on how much energy, or watts, they use. Wouldn't it make more sense to buy lights based on how much light they provide?

When you're shopping for lightbulbs, you can choose your next lightbulb for the brightness you want by comparing lumens instead of watts. A lumen is a measure of the amount of brightness of a lightbulb -- the higher the number of lumens, the brighter the lightbulb.

What's a Lumen?  Lumens measure how much light you are getting from a bulb. More lumens means it's a brighter light; fewer lumens means it's a dimmer light.

Lumens are to light what?

  • Pounds are to bananas
  • Gallons are to milk

Lumens let you buy the amount of light you want. So when buying your new bulbs, think lumens, not watts.The brightness, or lumen levels, of the lights in your home may vary widely, so here's a rule of thumb:

  • To replace a 100 watt (W) incandescent bulb, look for a bulb that gives you about 1600 lumens. If you want something dimmer, go for less  lumens; if you prefer brighter light, look for more lumens.
  • Replace a 75W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 1100 lumens
  • Replace a 60W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 800 lumens
  • Replace a 40W bulb with an energy-saving bulb that gives you about 450 lumens.




Author:  Andy Farmer is the manager of Virginia Energy Sense, the Commonwealth’s statewide energy education program under the guidance of the State Corporation Commission (Copyright © 2012 Annandale Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved.  (Photographs & images, on this page, and on this website, are not available for use by other publications, blogs, individuals, websites, or social media sites.)


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