Incandescent Extinction – Which light bulb will win? LED vs. CFL?

The second phase of the US light bulb phase-out hit a major milestone on Jan. 1, 2014, the deadline to end production of 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs. The deadline passed by with not much notice from consumers.  But, the end of incandescent light bulbs sets up a new battle: LED light bulbs vs. CFLs.

Consumer Sentiments

A recent consumer survey by Osram Sylvania, a light bulb manufacturer, measured public attitudes about energy-efficient lighting and awareness in the US.  Here are some of the results:

  • 4 in 10 consumers are aware of the January 2014 phase out of 60W and 40W bulbs
  • More than half (59%) of consumers are excited about the phase out, as it will help Americans use more energy efficient light bulbs.
  • 46 percent of consumers plan to switch to CFLs,
  • 24 percent will opt for LEDs, and
  • 13 percent say that they will choose halogens.
  • This year, 30 percent of consumers say that they plan to buy a lot of traditional light bulbs where still available and will continue using them.
  • This is a sharp increase from the 2012 Socket Survey which showed just 16 percent said that they plan to stockpile bulbs.

Light Bulb Wars

Consumers still have time to make up their minds about their next light bulb because retailers still have supplies of 40- and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs on the shelves.  Retailers like Home Depot and Lowes have enough stock on the incandescent bulbs for consumers through the spring at least.  However, once the supplies dwindle, what should you buy? LED or CFL?  Let’s compare.


A descendant of traditional fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) contain argon and mercury vapor housed within that spiral-shaped tube. The bulbs rely on an integrated ballast to produce an electric current that passes through the mixture of gasses, exciting the gas molecules that produce the light.  The time for the ballast to produce the electrical current causes that typical CFL delay when it is turned on.  CFLs use 20-30% less energy than the typical incandescent and last about 9.1 years.  Of course, they do contain mercury, so cleaning up after breaking them and disposing of CFLs after they burn out becomes problematic.  Here’s a link to how to dispose of CFLs safely for you and the environment.

LED light bulbs

Unlike traditional incandescent bulbs, LED light bulbs generate light using a small “package” of several LEDs in a light bulb.  LED light bulbs are more efficient since they use a semiconductor to emit light or photons when electricity is passed through it.  LED light bulbs give off more than 80% of the energy used as light. The good news is that LED light bulbs can cut household energy use by as much as 80% and have a lifetime of as much as 22.8 years, about 2.5 times longer than CFLs.

So what do you choose?

Here’s a quick look at some of the LED and CFL light bulbs available on (pricing as of 1/8/2014).  While Cree and Philips LED bulbs are a bit more expensive for a single bulb, they do produce a soft white light comparable to CFLS and traditional incandescent, but they last much longer.  If you are looking to save energy, you’ll want to know how efficient they are.  You’ll see this in the chart in the column lumens per watt.  This is a measure of how well the light source produces light.  The higher the number, the better your light bulb is at producing light.  Visit your local retailer to see how they look in person, since tastes vary.  For an explanation of the Color Rendition Index, read this previous post.

A Comparison Guide to LED and CFL Light Bulbs

A Comparison Guide to LED and CFL Light Bulbs

For Further Reading

Fox Business, Retailers Brace for Change Ahead of Incandescent Bulb Ban,

Osram, Sylvania Socket Survey,

NBC News, Majority of Americans still in the dark about incandescent light bulb phase-out,

NBC News, With incandescents dead, smart bulbs step into the light,

Buildings, Incandescent Bulb Phase-Out Myths Debunked,

Newsday, Light bulb shopping choices under new ban,, Confused about Your Home Lighting? – LED, CFL and Incandescent Compared,

LED Lighting Update: 100W Incandescent Bulbs Gain LED Competition

SYLVANIA ULTRA LED omnidirectional A21 bulb

SYLVANIA ULTRA LED omnidirectional A21 bulb

While Congress took the teeth out of the ban on incandescent 100W bulbs, the lighting industry and retailers have been making steady progress in the adoption of LED lighting.  In 2007, US legislators imposed strict energy efficient guidelines impacting 100W incandescent light bulbs.  The first set of regulations began in 2012, in effect “banning” traditional 100W light bulbs. The intent of the ban was to help spur LED lighting adoption. But, the 100W light bulb got a reprieve in December 2011 from Congress when the enforcement provisions for the ban were removed.  The phase-out of other incandescent bulbs like the 75W incandescent also lacks enforcement. But, that may not matter as the market is making progress on its own.

While the government did little, the industry has begun to bring LED replacement bulbs comparable to 100W bulbs to market. The first is the new SYLVANIA ULTRA LED omnidirectional A21 bulb. According to Osram Sylvania, it consumes only 20-watts of electricity, saving consumers about $220* over its life compared to an incandescent bulb.

At retailers, there is steady progress in giving customers LED-based more affordable options for LED lighting.  Home store icon IKEA announced in 2012 that they will phase out the sale of non-LED products by 2016.  Home Depot has been offering LED-based lighting products since 2009 and now offers 104 LED lighting options in-store and online according to Bill Hamilton of Home Depot.  Hamilton, speaking at a July 2012 DOE Solid-State Lighting Market Introduction Workshop, said that they’ve seen customer interest in LEDs grow as pricing drops.  Some of their LED products have decreased in price as much as 37 percent.

The adoption of LED-based lighting has been gaining ground steadily.  Strategies Unlimited analyst Vrinda Bhandarkar noted that the LED lighting market has grown 3.5 times over the past three years at the 2012 conference Strategies in Light.  She also reported LED Lighting revenue of $9.4 billion in 2011 and projected an industry-wide CAGR of 20% through 2016.

For Further Reading

New York Times, A New Bid for the 100-Watt Light Bulb Market,

OSRAM SYLVANIA, OSRAM SYLVANIA First to Offer LED Replacement of 100-Watt Incandescent Bulb,

Clearlysapphire, Tipping Point: Earth Day, 100W Light Bulb Reprieve and Alexander Hamilton,

Home Depot, Bill Hamilton, July 2012 DOE Solid-State Lighting Market Introduction Workshop,