The Light Bulb Dilemma: Incandescent, CFL or LED

After receiving yet another ridiculously high energy bill, I began performing sort of an informal energy audit of our household. As I suspected, we have become complacent when it comes to energy savings because Frugal Dad hasn’t been sounding the alarm as often as I once did.

  • The kids (and even us adults) often leave lights, televisions and games on when moving from room to room.
  • The miserably hot summer forced our air conditioner to run nearly continuously, even through the night as night-time temperatures hovered in the high 80’s with high humidity.
  • We were not selecting optimal times to run appliances like the dishwasher, stove and oven, and were contributing to the heat build-up in the house.
  • Lots of phone and game charges were sitting around trickle-charging a nearly full device, but still using enough vampire power to add to our utility bill.

So, we decided to make a few changes. First, I was going to once again research replacing incandescent light bulbs with a more energy-efficient variety. But here’s my dilemma – I like incandescent light bulbs. I like the light they produce. I like the fact they don’t have to “warm up.” I like their price.

I don’t like the mercury found in the CFL bulbs, and I don’t like the look of the CFL curly-Q bulbs.

I have been reading over the last couple years about LED light bulb technology. As expected, I found them to be very costly. A quick research trip to our local home improvement store revealed the average 60w equivalent, soft-white or ambient lighting LED light bulb retailed for $40 per bulb.

It would cost $240 to replace the light bulbs above our bathroom vanity alone. That’s a little steep, I don’t care how much energy LED light bulbs save. Without doing a more formal calculation, I imagine it would take many, many years to pay for themselves, even if purchased with decent department store coupons.

So, I decided to compromise. For now, we’ll skip the LED light bulbs, and instead focus on replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs (only a few dollars per bulb) in two specific locations:

  1. Lights we tend to leave on for long periods.
  2. Lights that have less chance of being broken (not the living room lamps, for instance, since my son and his dad occasionally like to toss a football in the house when Mom isn’t watching).

My kids like to leave a bathroom light on at night – nightlights just don’t cut it. So, I replaced the lights above the bathroom vanity with CFL decorative bulbs – they look just like the globe bulbs that were in there, but use only a fraction of the energy required to produce equivalent light.

I also replaced our kitchen’s six recessed floodlight-style lights with CFL bulbs that looks very similar to the regular floodlight style (the curly-Q is encased in a glass shell in the design of a regular, incandescent bulb.

Next up, the porch lights, which we occasionally leave on when expecting company. Hopefully, this move, along with being more conscious of our energy use in general, will help make a dent in that power bill.

Anyone else considering LED bulbs? At what price point would you consider it economical to replace with LED?


  1. Have a postlamp out front by the driveway that always seemed to eat bulbs… 3 chandelier style, small base in the lamp and we run it from dusk to dawn everyday. Have always wanted to update those, luck would have it at Costco last time they had a 3 pack of LEDs for $20 total. I jumped at that opportunity and have been very happy so far. According to the useful life on the package, the bulbs should last at least a year if not much longer instead of the 2-3 months I was getting out of my incandescents. And they use about 20% of the electricity… a win on both fronts.

  2. For a while, I “charged” our kids a quarter every time I entered their room and found a light, tv or game system on. I saved the quarters and gave it back to them in their allowance, so I was really just recyling the money, but they didn’t know that – and it really hurt them to give up a quarter from their piggy bank!

  3. Even if I stockpile incandescents (which I want to do, but have not gotten around to yet), I’ll eventually need to switch to either CFL or LED. That is, unless Congress comes to its senses and stops being so fascist about every aspect of our lives. Anyway…if I have to go with CFL, I may replace my lamps with heavier-based lamps that have more compact lampshades. This will make it less likely that I or anyone in my household will knock over a lamp. Plus I’d like to see a line of CFLs that have a “breakage containment globe” or some such, so if I do break it, the mercury will be contained inside a sealed globe.

    • While I respect (and sometimes share) your libertarian instinct, fighting for the right to waste electricity strikes me as a pointless act.

      The quality of CFLs does vary widely, but the good ones are really good. I’ve changed most of my bulbs to CFLs, and I’m experimenting with LED lights — every time I touch an incandescent, the painful burning sensation in my fingertips when I touch one that has been on recently reminds me of how incredibly wasteful they are — and it weirds me out that incandescent bulbs need to be changed so often. Not only do incandescent bulbs waste energy when in operation, they also increase the air conditioning load in your house, leading to more unnecessary waste of both dollars and energy.

      Why not save your efforts for an important loss of our freedom? I can name a few laws from the last decade that I’d like to see repealed, but this blog strikes me as a place that should remain apolitical.

      P.S. Heat is the signature of wasted energy. Unless you’re building a heater. Anything in your house or car that gets hot is wasting energy, so if you’re an energy-miser, those are good places to start looking for inefficiencies. There are some that you can’t do much about (like the heat generated by a car engine), but there are quite a few places where this kind of energy loss is very easy to address (like light bulbs).

  4. Long time listener, first time caller:)

    I have a wide viriety of lights in my house. From the always on Led nightlight in my kids room to the halogen light bulbs in the entertainment room. There are a few resources I like:

    I’d suggest looking into dimmers, especially for that bathroom where nightlights aren’t enough. By dimming your lights a fraction (provides a nice “mood”) but also saves a ton over time. I like a lot of light in the room I’m in, but in all the rooms I want to walk through while I’m hanging out, the rooms are dimmed.

    Check out I replaced 8 of my floodlight like kitchen lights with these lights, and started 25$ a month on my electric Bill. (halogen lights before) I like a lot of light, and these are a multi-bonus, they are bright, and don’t produce heat (savings in the summer), they can produce a wide spectrum light like the natural light, or a “cooler” light like an incandescent bulb, practically no operating cost… They are expensive, but not as expensive if you buy retail.

  5. I’m going to start stockpiling incandescent bulbs. The light from CFLs hurts my eyes. Most people don’t seem to be bothered by them, but I know of a few others. I’m hoping Congress will realize CFLs aren’t the big answer they thought they’d be. Seriously, how many people are actually going to go through the hazmat process required for cleaning up a broken CFL?

    • There is a lot of misinformation out there right now. Incandescent will still be available (no need to stockpile – you can buy them at the store) The only thing that changed is the energy efficiency. This makes the old style 100W incandescent obsolete, however you can ALREADY buy 72W incandescent which put out the same amount of light as the old 100W ones, that meet the new standard. (

      Also, there is no need to go through a hazmat process for a broken CFL. Currently the EPA recommends you air out the room for 5-10 minutes. If the light has ever been used, the mercury is only there in vapor format – not liquid.

      • Thanks for clearing that up, Sarah. At one time, I saw on a news show how you were supposed to properly clean up a broken CFL bulb and it was something I imagine most people wouldn’t do. I’m also quite sure many people won’t dispose of them properly anyway, just as they don’t dispose of batteries, paint and oil properly. The mercury still concerns me for environmental reasons. That and I can’t stand the light coming from the CFLs!

        Glad to know the incandescents will continue to be around.

      • The mercury in a CFL is roughly twice the content of the mercury in a can of tuna.

        This perspective made me more likely to use CFLs, and less likely to feed tuna to my child!

    • I, too, have eye problems from the CFL’s and I have heard that people that have seizures are affected as well. It would seem that CFL’s contribute to health problems more than just the mercury. I would consider the LED’s but they are very costly, I have 8 lights in my kitchen, alone. For now, I just turn off the lights.

      • The quality of CFLs vary a LOT.

        There are some really lousy ones that do flicker. If you try a couple of different types, you may find one that produces light that’s to your liking.

        CFLs seem like a frugality no-brainer to me. It’s a small upfront cost that save money, time, and energy over the long-haul.

        P.S. I’m not fond of the “sunlight” bulbs at the moment — they strike me as harsh in my current cozy house. If you like “warm” light, look for a color temperature of around 2900K and a high CRI (85+). Bulbs that don’t have the color temperature, CRI, and lumens written on the package are usually lousy. Bulbs with a low CRI are the ones that will distort colors in subtle ways.

  6. One caution about external lights & CFL is cold-weather performance. Those things just don’t like to light up and be bright when they are below freezing. That said, I haven’t tried any outside in over 5 years due to poor performance at the time.

    When it comes to LED I want to make the switch. I think when they get down to $15 or so for a solid 60w replacement they’ll likely start selling well. I’m trying to remember at what price point CFLs really took off and think it was around there. Personally I am making the switch selectively right now. Appliance bulbs, stairway lighting, small desk lamps(versus halogen), things like that. My hope is that supoprting the technology in it’s affordable lower cost realm will help pull down the pricing on the more expensive bulbs that should be mainstream.

    • I’ve found this to be true, as well. I had some CFL spotlights that took 20 minutes to warm up from 0F. They weren’t saving me any energy, because we’d leave them on all evening just to take the dog out to the back yard.

      I considered going back to incandescent bulbs for this application (because incandescent bulbs on for 30 minutes per day use less energy than a CFL left on for 5 hours per day) , and it would have made financial end energy sense.

      But, I’m a geek, so I bought some LEDs spotlights and they’ve been working wonderfully.

      For outdoor applications, instant-on CFLs can work, but this is one case where incandescents are defensible. The quick-startup in cold can change the way you use the light and, since it’s out-of-doors, the wasted energy doesn’t cause the A/C to run more often in the summer. The LEDs that I have would be truly ideal, if they didn’t cost so much.

      P.S. My back-porch fixture had 3 75-watt incandescents when I moved in, meaning that lighting up the back porch took 225 watts and cost $0.0315/hour to operate. With the LEDs, it takes 15 watts. That’s a 93% reduction in energy usage. Now it costs $0.0021/hour to operate, which means that it costs my about 15 cents a month to run. I paid quite a bit for the privilege of using so little energy, so the financial payoff will be a long time in coming, but not having to nag my wife about turning off the porch light made this a win from day 1!

  7. I think it was Popular Mechanics (thought it may have been Consumer Reports) just had an article comparing cost and light quality across all three types of bulbs.

  8. Even though I don’t need to worry about my electricity bill, it is still nice to conserve energy. So, I put motion sensor LED lights in rooms where we need light the most. I didn’t put them in a hallway when I would just walk through and not even need the light on. What is good about motion sensor is that you are able to turn it off and saves even more energy and money.

  9. I hate CFL, I don’t like the look nor the noise.
    We have a lot of dimmers in our house (80% of our house is on dimmers). They have yet to make a decent CFL that works and do not “buzz” on dimmers. We use our dimmers quite a bit, so that saves us money. I like how the incandescent gives off that warm feeling, plus it doesn’t make everyone look so washed out.

    We have mostly incandescent light (few halogen) in our house. Yes, it does emit heat, but we live in a cold climate, so 70% of the year it actually helps to heat our house. We have 12 pot lights in our basement and we never turn the heater on downstairs all winter. (-40F temperatures)

    We are very interested in the LEDs but they are just too expensive right now. As they get more affordable, then we’ll definitely move toward those.

    Just as a note: the CFL contains mercury, which makes it more difficult to dispose of. They also can “blow up” at the end of their life.

    • There are only a very few CFLs which are dimmer-compatible. They are definitely available in most larger stores but they are considerably more expensive (3-5x as much). Unless the CFL specifically says it is dimmable you should NOT be using it with a dimmer – the buzz you hear also manifests itself in the ballast getting very hot. It will cause them to prematurely fail, and definitely increases the odds of them melting or whatever.

      Quality brand-name CFLs (Phillips/Sylvania) won’t blow up when they die. That’s a symptom of cheap (Globe/Costco/No-Name) ones for the most part. Other things that you get with “good” ones is near-instant light when you power them on, a nice clean color light and no flicker. As many other folks have said on here there is a considerable difference between the “cheap” ones and the “good” ones, though the actual PRICE difference isn’t all that much. The difference in quality though is astounding, especially in the actual COLOR of the light. Phillips Marathons are my favorite – they are barely distinguishable from incandescent bulbs in terms of light output, although I do find them a tad “cleaner” if that makes any sense.

      I actually have been using the same bunch of CFLs for quite some time now. When I have moved I always take them with me. I think over the past 8 or so years I’ve been using them I’ve only had about 5 fail, and those were mostly in applications where they were on nearly constantly. I do buy new ones from time to time but they last so long it’s pretty rare for me to do so.

      The only place I DON’T use CFLs is actually our bedside lights. For whatever reason while I don’t notice them at all in the rest of the house there’s something about the bedroom that makes me prefer our old-school bulbs. That lamp is only ever on for maybe an hour a day tops on average though so it really isn’t contributing much to our power usage.

  10. I replaced the recessed floodlamps in our family room about 3 years ago with CFS. We lost dimming (it was expensive then) but did it anyway. There are 18 bulbs in the ceiling and the biggest difference I noticed is the lack of heat. We used to simmer up there in the summer time. Vaulted ceiling with 18 60 watt lamps in Georgia gets hot. Since we replaced them, it is much more comfortable. So, don’t forget the other savings you will get. You will also get it from lower A/C bills.

  11. I know the post is about lighting. But if you do a true energy audit of your home, you will find on average that two thirds of you energy goes to just 3 things: cooling air, heating air, and heating water. Programmable thermostats, ceiling fans, caulking, equipment efficiency upgrades, changes in usage, etc. will provide far greater payback than any change you can make to your lighting.

    We found a SUBSTANTIAL savings on our bill when we moved the thermostat up 5 degrees in the summer and started running the ceiling fans we already had in the house. Total cost to us: $0. Change in comfort level: None. (We live in Georgia BTW. Hot!)

    I am not saying to not make changes in lighting. By all means, replace your most used lighting with more efficient bulbs. Just saying it doesn’t give you the biggest bang for your buck as these other areas.

  12. You’ve got one thing wrong — yes, it will take years for CFLs and LEDs to pay for themselves, but you’re not factoring in their longevity. In the time that CFLs and LEDs keep working, you’ll have replaced the incandescent bulbs a few times.

    I’m also holding back on LEDs until prices drop which we should see occur in the next couple years. More versions from more companies are arriving on shelves everyday. Until then, my house is filled with CFLs.

    Oh by the way, CFLs contain less mercury than 8 cans of tuna. The mercury angle is weak, and was probably disseminated by energy lobbyists. Since when do we listen to them?

    Energy-efficient bulbs, in reality, save you tens of dollars a year, which is nice when it comes to frugality. It’s why I do it. But your true savings is in 1) turning up the temperature at which your AC unit is set to (and even higher when the house is empty), and 2) making sure your attic is well-insulated. My energy bill is always way lower than average in my neighborhood.

  13. A number of years ago our electric company had a special where you could buy good quality CFL’s through their on-line store. I bought a bunch as the price was dirt cheap compared to store prices. Actually, they were way cheaper than what the crappy ones sell for now in the store.

    These bulbs come to 80% brightness almost instantly and get to full brightness pretty quick. I have had experience with some new bulbs and some really suck. My landlord put some vanity type bulbs in the bathroom. They come up to maybe 20% brightness in the time it takes to go in, take a leak and leave. For half that time you can only tell they are on by looking directly at them, and then only if it is very dark. They are nice when they finally come up to brightness though. I put one of my old ones in there so we have usefull light right away.

    Often the recessed lighting spot type bulbs don’t last as long as standard cfl’s. Many CFL’s don’t like to be pointed down, and they don’t like being too enclosed. I have not had any problems with the standard spiral bulbs in recessed lighting though.

    Rather than put CFL’s in all fixtures, I just put them in the ones I used most. Then, as those bulbs became dimmer (they dim slowly over time) I would move them out into other fixtures and replace them with a new cfl. I am now to the point where pretty much all of my bulbs are replaced. I still have a number of new ones so I don’t plan on buying anything soon. LED’s will probably be cost effective by that time.

    We generally only have one light per person on in our house (sometimes one light for two people) so lighting is a small part of our electric bill, at least if I can keep my GF from leaving closet lights on.

    In all this time I have had two bulbs truly fail and one get broken. Of the two that failed, one got very hot and dim and started to smell. The other got HOLY CRAP HOT and REALLY started to smell. The body was much hotter than any 100 watt incandescent bulb would be. This is a warning not to put them in fixtures that cannot take the heat. If this bulb was in some fixture that was rated for 40 watt incandescents, the fixture would probably have melted or burned.

    My CFLs have lasted a long time, although ones I use daily for 4 or more hours per day (my main reading lamp) get rather dim after a year or so. For example, I had an 12 watt bulb that seemed pretty dim after a year and a half or so. I swapped it for a 9 watt bulb from another fixture until I could get down to the basement to get another new one. The 9 watt bulb was brighter than the old 12 watt.

    I like the light from a CFL. I have seen a few LED bulbs, some are OK, but I don’t like the light from any I have seen yet. The spots work OK at best from what I have seen, but at least they work when it is cold. I recommend changing only the most intensly used bulbs, then as they become dim, swap them to other fixtures and use the most cost effective replacement at the time. I wish there was a way to tell which bulbs will come up to speed quickly.

    We have gas heat and hot water. Our electric bill runs $31 avg of which $11 is a constant customer charge. I average about 140 kWhr/month (our electric is $0.15/kWhr) Our fridge is by far our biggest single user of electricity. It used to be a good bit over half of our usage until we got a new fridge. Now it is something like a third. The only other big user is an occasional need for a dehumidifier. There are days when the dehumidifier uses more than half our days usage. Fortunately it is only needed occasionally.

  14. You might want to consider wall timer light switches. When you turn the lights on in a room such as a bedroom it turns off automatically after a set time. They were fairly cheap at Home Depot last time I checked and easy to install.

    • I installed one of these for my bathroom fan. The bathroom fan is another device that has hidden costs (since it expels your warmed/cooled air from the house, increasing HVAC costs), but which is necessary to control mold and humidity. I use it to time my showers. My wife turns on the bathroom fan when she leaves the bathroom, and the timer remembers to turn it off for her after its done its work (and no more).

      These timers are great when they match how you use the room!

  15. Jason: A few months back I was at Menards and found a ten pack of CFL’s for $10. A $1 a bulb is pretty darn cheap and they don’t take anytime to warm up. The LED’s will come down over time, consider were CFL’s started out at. Just like any technology you just need to give it some time and the price will come down.

  16. I’m incandescent all the way…the reports on CFL toxicity if broken (I know someone mentioned above that the mercury is in vapor form–I will do some research on that– but I would still prefer not to expose my family to that toxic element) not to mention that you need to dispose of them properly. Instead, I work to reduce energy consumption in other ways and generally have worked to maintain energy efficiency through a well tuned auto, well insulated home, maintaining my heating system (with instant hot water) and in less obvious ways including reduce, reuse, recyle to minimize consumption and product manufacturing before it gets to my home and once it leaves.

    PS The few CFLs I’ve had have each lasted less than a year.

    • Andrea, I haven’t kept strict track of how long the CFLs I had lasted. I do know that no lightbulbs in the ceiling of our first floor last much more than a year, no matter what kind we’ve used. I think it’s all the bouncing the ceiling gets when we’re walking around upstairs.

      We do a lot of things to save money and be green, but CFLs will not be one of those things. I don’t think anyone needs to feel guilty about the occasional decision like this, and I’m still far from convinced that CFLs are the great green answer we’ve been told. There’s room for a variety ot choices in our desires to save money and be kind to the environment.

  17. I went into Lowe’s not too long ago to look for a specific size and type bulb and was totally overwhelmed by all of the choices! When did shopping for bulbs become so complicated. 🙂 This is a great, informative post.

  18. I’d like the LED’s! LED’s are so much better for the environment, and the light is also beautiful too! I’ll hope that people will use so much more LED’s in the future, because it will save so much energy.

  19. This is similar to the gasoline or hybrid car dilemma. I recently had a choice between two and decided for regular gasoline car because I was not prepared to drive the Hybrid from 15 years to break even on the pricing.

    I don’t use the LED bulbs, nor I know what they cost at shops around us, but from your article I got an idea of the cost. Most probably they will have to live for 5/6 years to break even on price vs save. But by that time some of us might consider the LED light obsolete or simply some new cooler technology will come in. I am with you I am not buying LED.

  20. The product cycle of LEDs is on par to produce higher quality LEDs with a much lower price point very soon.
    The current roundup of low quality / low price LEDs is just a phase.
    Toshiba is starting to produce some very nice high quality LEDs at a more affordable price point….. just hold on guys…. the LEDs are coming. 🙂

  21. I’ve switched over to all CFLs and I noticed a little change. The LEDs are still too expensive. The only problem with the CFLs is the light is a terrible yellow color compared to incandescent bulbs. I miss those.

  22. My wife and I live in sunny Fresno, CA, and we have just made the switch to solar. We moved to all CFL bulbs years ago – they helped, but list were not the biggest energy hog by a long shot – it is our air conditioner and heater – so the cost reduction was minimal. Until LED bulbs are as cheap as CFL bulbs I just can’t justify the cost. The solar panels are installed and we are just waiting for the city and utility inspections before it is turned on. I would be happy to report to you after a year anq do a full analysis of whether it was worth it or not.

  23. One of the first things I did when we moved was to install a Honeywell digital thermostat. I have the temp bumped up to 90° when we’re not there, but ease down to a comfy 78° about 15 minutes before we get home in the evening.

    We have a few in place, but I’m really uncomfortable with the harsh tone that most CFLs cast and the “warm up” time required by many of them. We compromised by continuing to use GE Reveal bulbs which produce a really pleasing tone but also added timers like this Stanley 38425 TimerMax Digislim Daily Digital Indoor Lamp Timer to many of the lamps in the common areas of the house. And we’re very mindful to turn off lights as we leave rooms.

    We’re pretty miserly and don’t replace burned out bulbs frequently, so I think the break even point on LEDs is even worse for us. Eventually, I’d like to try the new Switch LED light bulbs. but until they’ve dropped quite a bit in price, I think my money is better spent elsewhere.

    My next big energy-focused home improvement is attic insulation. Beyond that, I’m looking at replacements for 4 very large (6′ x 9′) windows that are original to the house (circa ’78). New windows are seriously high dollar investments (nearly $8000 to replace all 4 at once!) but I’m confident that doing so would make a significant difference.

    • “We have a few in place, but I’m really uncomfortable with the harsh tone that most CFLs cast and the “warm up” time required by many of them.”

      Look for CFLs with the right color temperature (2900K is usually “warm”), and a good CRI (color rendering index). Lousy CFLs with a low CRI can distort colors in really subtle ways — you’ll still notice, but it’s hard to put your finger on what it is unless you’re looking at something with very specific colors (like a comic book).

      Any kind of light bulb that doesn’t list the color temperature, CRI, and light-output (in Lumens) is probably lousy in one way or another.

      • Also, there are “Instant-On” models of CFLs available.

        Shopping for high-efficiency bulbs is far more complex than just walking in and grabbing package bulbs of a particular wattage. But, since I like to avoid waste, I’ve found that it has a good payoff, too.

        And, yes, everyone who points out that HVAC and hot water are more important are correct. These are more important, but lighting is a low-hanging fruit in the energy-conservation game.

  24. I’ve wondered about the energy savings of tankless water heaters. They’re still 3-4 times the price of a conventional water heater, but I wonder what the break even point is considering that there’s not 40-60 gallons of water having to be kept hot when we aren’t going to be at home for hours on end.

    • What I’ve gathered from my reading on the topic is that the energy-savings depends on what your usage pattern looks like.

      If your usage of hot water is predictable, and your hot-water tank is sized appropriately for it, then choosing between between a tankless and conventional hot hot water heater is probably a wash.

      If your usage of hot water is highly variable, though, then the tankless hot water would be a big win. Consider a house that’s inhabited by an elderly couple with a lot of grandkids who like to stay over a couple of weekends a month. A conventional water heater has have a tank that is big enough to provide showers for all of the grandkids when they’re there, but 25 days out of the month, the hot water heater is keeping a lot of water warm (with energy losses in to the room that holds it) just in case those 20 grandkids come running in to the house. With the tankless hot water heater, that energy loss is removed — so energy is only used to heat the extra water when those 20 grandkids are there.

      I’m not an expert, though. Those guys who do the energy audits (underemployed home inspectors, in my area — a nice overlap of skills) are the people to ask. Also, Home Power Magazine has a lot of good articles on this kind of thing.

  25. I find that even when I buy CFL light bulbs, they burn out just as fast as our regular incandescents. And they’re still not as cheap as the regular lights. It’s rare when a CFL lasts as long as the packaging says it will.

  26. Hi,

    Just figured that I would add my 2 cents. Lights are a very small part of the problem regarding electricity. Take a look at your cable boxes, modems and routers. They typically draw electricity 24/7. Also consider cell phone chargers. Basically anything that feels warm is sucking electricity. I typically turn off (via power strip) my modem, router, printer, tv, stereo, roku, etc. when not in use. Even when these things are not in use, they still use energy. Also, unplug toasters, coffee pots, irons, etc.

    These steps will usually save more than replacing an incandescent light bulb or two.


  27. I hate CFL bulbs, their sound as well as the light. And they not only contain mercury, but a lot of electronics, too. Besides, i am sure that most of them will not go to a proper recycling place, but straight into the trash. We have a huge stockpile of incandescent bulbs, because the European Union has decided to eliminate them. Just now, the shops are no longer allowed to sell 60 W bulbs, the 100 W bulbs vanished a year ago, and the 40 W will follow.
    I don´t think it is right to force people saving energy this way as long as you can buy gas-guzzling cars which use more energy for one 300m trip to the baker than a incandescent bulb in all its lifetime.

  28. Good post, Jason. Here are some ideas you may have not thought of. When taking a shower , burn a candle and turn off the bathroom light. When cooking, use the microwave as much as possible. It uses the least amount of energy of all the cooking methods. The second least is a crock pot. The worst energy user is the oven. If you have to boil water on the stove preheat it by putting it in a 1 gal. Milk jug painted flat black that has been sitting out in the sun for a while.

  29. I wasn’t an early adopter when it came to cfl’s and I won’t be for led’s either. I have the benefit of knowing a little about the lighting industry in the line of work I’m in. Europe has always blazed the path for lighting due to their stricter legislation. In fact, I’m pretty sure you can’t even buy incandescent there anymore. There’s a lot of LED work going on now too, but the economies of scale aren’t there yet to bring the costs down. It’s coming. Many companies are designing with LED’s in mind. I love that this industry is finally starting to innovate.

  30. I’m always concerned about our power bill as well which rises to ridiculous amounts in the hot summer months. I switched all of the bulbs in my home to CFL bulbs about four years ago and it’s been great. It does help the electric bill plus you don’t have the bulb replacement cost as often as well. I also feel a little better when I come home and find a room light has been left on all day when I know it’s a CFL. I put the CFL’s in the glass globes into the bathrooms as well and I was able to get a yellow “Bug” variety for my porch lights and a high wattage version for my attic light.

    The light quality isn’t worse it’s just different but I can tell you that once you replace most of the bulbs in your home, you won’t even notice or remember the difference anyway so it becomes a non-issue. I have three young children so the mercury in the bulbs was a concern for me as well but it’s my understanding that there isn’t much in each bulb and if you break one, just sweep it up, place it in a bag and take it to your outside garbage can. There isn’t any kind of special disposal needed. They say not to use a vacuum to clean up the broken bulb as that could circulate the mercury in your home.

    I replaced my bulbs one three pack at a time over several months to spread out the cost. ALDI (Great Store!!) sells CFL bulb three packs that are typically cheaper than Home Depot or other stores. I just added one pack a week to my grocery shopping. I’ve had the bulbs for four years now and have actually moved twice and taken them with me! I kept my original incandescent bulbs and just put those back in when I moved!

  31. Jason,
    I wrote an article very similar to this a few months back which focused around my girlfriend constantly reminding me to turn off a light in my living room that I always keep on. I took an approach in the article to break down the electrical usage of that lamp being left on all the time and what else that wasted power could be doing.

    While writing that article I also put together an online appliance calculator that shows power consumption and the cost.

    I’ll put the link below, in case you or your readers are interested. The calculator is also available in the calculators section of the site, no sense in flooding you with links.


  32. We replaced quite a few bulbs with CFL’s. One thing to consider is getting the correct temp, about 3500K is close to the color of incandescent bulbs. They will emit a low hum noticeable in a quiet room.

  33. I have found we are leaving lights on as well. So I have gone into automation mode. I have put in a motion light/timer in the half bath that was always left on. Also put one in the laundry room (guess hands are full on the way out to flick the light off). Next for the front porch lights I found light sensor adapaters that screw into the base of the bulbs so as daylight increases/decreases, it regulates the light automatically. All of these fixes were fairly inexpensive. Hope those thoughts help others as well.

  34. I found incandescent bulbs made in the USA that use 28% less energy. They are by Sylvania. You can buy them for the same price as the regular bulbs at Lowe’s. I do not like the idea of mercury going into the landfill, air, and water. That is what is going to happen when people convert to those hazard filled bulbs.

    • -28% or -75% electricity use… That’s a huge amount of energy, considering how inefficient incandescent bulbs are.

      Burning coal is the major way mercury gets in to our environment, so you’re not making a good case for the non-CFL bulb on environmental grounds. CFLs prevent at least as much mercury-release in to the environment as they create.

      Also, the amount of mercury in a CFL isn’t much — it’s 2-8 times what’s in a can of tuna (both claims are reasonable, if you look at the statistics, but most folks would feed 8 cans of tuna to their kid in a week….). The tuna accumulate the mercury from the environment, and it’s concentrated in them since they’re near the top of the food “chain”. I’d rather have mercury in my light bulbs than in my tuna.

      So, I use CFLs (and some LEDs) and I don’t feed my kid very much tuna.

      Here’s a nice back-of-the-napkin mercury-balance calculation:
      It’s a wash in his calculation, but most of my CFLs replaced 100W incandescent bulbs with 13W CFLs (a little dimmer), so it’s actually a win in my house.

      LEDs, of course, win the mercury question hands-down. But at $25-$50 per bulb, it’s hard to make the case for them in a frugality forum. I’ve purchased a few with money from my toy-budget, because I want to make a contribution toward building the economies-of-scale that will make them cheap. But LED lights very much hit-and-miss these days, and the quality is improving quickly.

      • CFL’s may use less energy and produce less heat, but did you know CFLs still waste 70% of their energy on heat?
        Contrary to all the hype you will hear out there, the old incandescent bulbs are not “energy hogs”. 75 watts is not really all that much in the first place, especially if you turn the lights out when you are not using them. Yes, CFL’s are more “efficient”– efficient at producing ugly light. I think I’ll keep my beloved incandescent bulbs, and try to save energy elsewhere. Incandescent light has a soft warm pleasing glow, that I’m just not willing to sacrifice.

    • Yes, these bulbs contain an inner halogen capsule, and are still a form of incandescent. These bulbs will likely be automatically banned in 2020 under current law, since they will not be able to meet the “efficiency mandate” that “phases” into effect then. Another thing to consider is that these bulbs also give off 10% less light than their old incandescent counterparts they are meant to replace. Although they are a little more efficient, in the attempt to reduce energy usage you are also being expected to sacrifice light levels. These 72 watt halogen bulbs only put out 1490 lumens. Compare that to 1670 lumens from a real 100 watt light bulbs. If you are wondering why they do not just make a slightly higher wattage halogen, the law also bans them from going over 72 watts. The law temporarily allows 150 watt bulbs (too bright for most people) but automatically bans those if too many people buy them.

  35. By the way, the EPA estimates that a typical CFL contains only about 4-5 milligrams (mg) of mercury. A typical drugstore thermometer is said to contain between 500 to 3000 milligrams. So, the health hazard of the mercury in CFLs is really, really, minimal.

  36. You are not taking into account the enormous number of CFL that will be used, and put into the landfill. The government considers mercury so toxic it has set stringent guidelines on how the bulbs are to be trashed. You aren’t supposed to put them into the general trash. If one breaks, you are supposed to evacuate your house. You are not supposed to use a vacuum to suck up the dust. Mercury poisoning could become the next lead paint mess. Comparing them to thermometers is a stretch. How many thermometers a year go into landfill?
    Also, being that only China is a major producer of these bulbs, you are going to find yourself paying through the nose. As the US currency continues to weaken in value, it is going to cost you more and more to purchase those bulbs.
    If you turn your lights off when you leave a room, you aren’t going to see that big of a difference in your bill by switching to cfl’s. Personally, I only have lights on in the room that I am currently using. One room, one light fixture on at a time.

  37. I bought the 60W AmbientLED, and I love it to death. It seems almost as bright as the 75W incandescent.
    I used to have CFL’s all over my house, but one broke when I dropped it, so I opened the window and quarantined the room for a week to make sure all the mercury vapors got out. What else. Oh, right, another CFL bulb wouldn’t turn on after using it for a year. When I touched the lamp base, man it was hot. That’s when the wife said to get rid of all CFL’s and replace them with incandescents. Done. Now I got the LED’s, everyone is happy.
    The LED beam pattern is just like the incandescent. The AmbientLED looks ugly, so make sure you stick it in a lamp where the shade completely covers the bulb. But, besides that. I just love that bulb.