Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent light bulb, along with the development of the technology to generate and transmit electricity, transformed the developed world after the turn of the 20th Century. As urban and rural areas became more electrified in the decades that followed, people were able to give up the kerosene lanterns, gas-lights, and candles they used for lighting their homes after sunset. This heralded a great improvement in everyone’s lives. It eliminated the fire hazards posed by open-flame lighting devices. It also eliminated the health-risks associated with the accumulation of fumes and noxious exhausts from open flame devices in enclosed spaces. Further the light-quality of the incandescent bulb was astounding compared to earlier lighting forms.
Fast-forward to the 21st Century. The world is faced with declining energy reserves, along with a burgeoning demand for energy from a growing population, which continues to drive energy costs skyward. There are also environmental considerations to contend with from the continued use of fossil fuels. One of the answers to this dilemma is to reduce overall energy use by using available modern technology. You see this in Energy STAR® labeled electrical appliances which tout features that enable these devices to be operated with less energy.
In the field of lighting, great strides have been made toward replacing Edison’s incandescent light bulb with newer technology that uses less energy. Though Edison’s invention was novel when it was introduced, it was a highly inefficient device. Incandescent light bulbs waste 90% of the energy used to operate them. That’s right—only 10% of the electricity powering an incandescent light bulb is turned into light, with the other 90% converted into waste heat. Modern technology is much better.
The compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulb is one of the improved technologies, though it really is an adaptation of traditional fluorescent lighting. CFL bulbs use 35% of the power that incandescent bulbs use, so there is power savings. They also outlast incandescent bulbs. However, CFL bulbs contain mercury, and pose environmental concerns when disposed of.
LED light bulbs are a giant technological leap over Edison’s incandescent bulb, and offer great improvements over the use of CFLs. First, there is the power savings. LED light bulbs use just 10-15% of the electricity that incandescent bulbs use, and half or less of the energy required to run a CFL. Around 15-30% of your power bill is devoted to lighting. How much would you save if you could reduce that percentage by up to 85% by adopting LED light bulbs in your home? Secondly, LED bulbs convert most of their energy input into light, and create very little waste heat. Since they run much cooler than incandescent bulbs, LED bulbs last much longer. Many LED bulbs are touted by their manufacturers to have service lives of up to 50,000 hours. This means they will last for 10-15 years, or even longer before needing to be replaced. The average 60 watt incandescent bulb lasts about 1,200 hours, and will need to be replaced over 4 dozen times during the life of a 50K hour LED bulb. Also, since LED bulbs don’t throw off a lot of waste heat, they help provide some relief to your HVAC system during the summer. Thirdly, LED bulbs are constructed with fewer harmful materials than CFLs are. While they do contain some lead and arsenic, they contain no mercury like CFLs do. Because they contain no mercury, it is safe to dispose of or recycle used LED bulbs in the standard waste stream.
So what deters many people from considering the purchase of LED bulbs? Most people look at the price of an LED bulb and get immediate sticker-shock. Prices of LED bulbs can vary widely, and I have seen them for $50.00—but I have also seen them as low as $5.00. In 2012, finding a 7 watt LED bulb in the $8.00 to $10.00 range is a good deal. Still, nobody wants to pay even $5.00 for a light bulb! What people fail to realize is that LED light bulbs pay for themselves many times over during their average lifespans of 40-50K hours. Remember, you will need to buy 4 dozen 60 watt bulbs to span the 50K hour lifetime of a good 7 watt LED bulb. At $.50 apiece for the incandescent bulbs, you will spend $24.00 on 60 watt bulbs; enough to buy three $8.00 7 watt LED bulbs. And during the 50K hour lifetime of your LED bulb, you are going to use just 10-15% of the electricity needed to power all of those 60 watt bulbs. At some point very early in the life of that 50K hour LED bulb (likely about a quarter of the way through), there will be cross-over, where the LED bulb has paid for itself. And after that, you get nothing but savings from reduced electricity use. So, if you can shoulder the up-front costs for the LED bulbs, you will see savings down the line. What some people do is look for sales or bargains either locally or online, and buy a few LED bulbs at a time. It helps greatly that the overall cost of LED bulbs keeps dropping as time goes by, and as more people adopt this technology for their lighting needs.
Where do you start if you want to adopt this technology? Start with the light fixtures and lamps you use the most. Even I am not 100% LED equipped, but I will assure you that most of the lamps or fixtures in my house that are used daily for an hour or longer are equipped with LED bulbs. I have two floodlights out front and a porch light out back that run all night, but these fixtures are equipped with LED bulbs. My two PAR 38 LED floodlights out front consume just 18 watts apiece, and have a blinding output that illuminates the whole front of my house. I have a 9-watt LED bulb in the fixture out back that is sufficiently bright for that area. You should follow the strategy I used when I bought my first LED bulbs in 2011. Get one or two, and try them in different places. See where you like them, and pick up a couple more. When you see some sales, buy some more then. Put them in the fixtures you use the most first—and go from there.