How Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs Compare to Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent bulbs have been the standard in electric lighting since their invention. But as electricity costs rise across the United States, competition for this simple product has peaked, and a new crop of energy-efficient lightbulbs is slowly phasing out the incandescent bulb. Upgrading to fluorescent, LED, or halogen lightbulbs can help you cut costs on your electricity bill—and save you some time and energy by cutting down on replacement frequency.

We’ve compiled some more information on energy-efficient lighting below, so keep reading to learn about the top options on the market.

Types of Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs

There are several types of energy-efficient lightbulbs. Choosing the right one depends on your budget and your lighting needs. Keep in mind that the cost of energy-efficient lightbulbs has dropped substantially in the last decade thanks to new developments and increased production capabilities.

Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs): One of the first energy-efficient bulbs on the market, CFLs use around 75% less energy than a traditional incandescent bulb and last up to fifteen times longer.1 CFLs contain a tube filled with inert argon gas and a tiny amount of mercury vapor. When electricity passes through the bulb, these gases are excited and produce ultraviolet light, which activates a phosphor coating on the inside of the tube, producing visible light. CFLs come in several varieties and cost a bit more than incandescent bulbs, but the electricity you conserve may help make up some of the difference in the initial price.

Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Bulbs: Like CFLs, LED bulbs use around 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs; however, they beat CFLs in terms of lifespan—an LED bulb can last more than twenty-five times as long as a traditional incandescent.2 In low-use applications, LED bulbs can last for more than a decade. These bulbs have developed rapidly over the last fifty years. They produce light when excited electrons pass through a semiconductor material, producing photons. These amazingly efficient bulbs are also very durable, but they may cost more than a traditional incandescent. They make up for the increased cost over time, though. In fact, if LED bulb use were more widespread, the cost savings could amount to more than $30 billion in the United States over the next decade.3

Halogen Incandescent Lightbulbs (Energy-Saving Incandescents): Halogen incandescent bulbs are an advanced form of incandescent bulb. These bulbs use around 25% less energy and last up to three times longer than traditional incandescents, hence their identification as “energy-saving incandescents.”4 Halogen incandescent bulbs work in much the same way as regular incandescents: the bulb contains a filament, and the filament glows—producing light—when a current runs through it. The “halogen” element in energy-saving incandescents refers to the halogen gas contained inside the bulb to prolong the filament’s lifespan. Because of the similar technology, halogen incandescent bulbs give off a similar light to traditional incandescent bulbs.

Cost-Saving Rebates on Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs

Several cities and states across the country have programs that can help reduce the cost of transitioning to energy-efficient lightbulbs. Some programs provide rebates to homeowners who retrofit their home lighting, while others offer financial help to construction projects that incorporate energy-efficient lighting. Regardless of scale, these programs help make the cost of energy-efficient lightbulbs comparable to incandescent bulbs. Check out the ENERGY STAR Rebate Finder to see what options are available to you.

Considerations for Choosing Energy-Efficient Lightbulbs

If you are starting to phase out a few of your incandescent bulbs or are hoping to upgrade the lighting in your entire home, here are a few considerations to match your lighting to your needs.

Look at the lumens. The light produced by energy-efficient lightbulbs is measured in lumens, not in watts. A traditional 60 W incandescent bulb can produce about 800 lumens, while an LED or CFL bulb could produce 800 lumens at a fraction of the energy use.

Pick the right bulb for the situation. Bulbs are designed for different applications. Check the packaging for info on the specific uses for each type of lightbulb.

Consider the color. Lightbulbs can produce warm or cool light. Warm light is very similar to traditional incandescent lightbulbs, making spaces feel inviting. Cool light may be preferred for task lighting, kitchens, and reading lamps.

Don’t forget about the smart element. Many lightbulbs today work with home automation systems. Consider buying compatible lightbulbs to make use of wireless automated timers and dimmers so you can cut energy waste even further.

So the next time a lightbulb burns out, don’t just reach for the standard incandescent you’ve always used. Check out some of the more energy-efficient options on the market to start saving electricity—and money—today.

*Information in this article is for informational and educational purposes only. This is not a guarantee. Each individual’s unique needs should be considered when selecting products.
1. Energy.gov, “Fluorescent Lighting
2. Energy.gov, “LED Lighting
3. Energy.gov, “LED Lighting
4. Energy.gov, “How Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents

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