This spiral 13-watt CFL bulb enhances color and patterns and lasts up to eight times longer than a standard 60-watt incandescent bulb and uses 75 percent less energy.
CFLs Offer More Efficiency Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) are much more efficient than incandescent, producing 70 lumens per watt. A 26-watt CFL produces the same amount of light as a 100-watt incandescent bulb, Howley says.
If you tried CFLs in the past and didn't like them, experts such as Howley advise giving them another chance. Today's CFLs are available in more colors with more consistent color quality similar to standard incandescent bulbs. New CFLs are smaller, lighter and will fit in most fixtures. Even better, when you hit the switch you get light right away and full brightness in about a minute compared to old CFLs that blinked two or three times and took three to four minutes to warm up to full brightness. Today's CFLs also last longer: 8,000 hours compared to 6,000 hours. Many are being designed to work on a dimmer — a feature missing from first-generation CFLs. CFLs can also come with a money-back guarantee. If you buy an Energy Star-rated CFL and don't like it, you can get your money back as per the Energy Star agreement, McGowan says.
LEDs Show Promise The newest technology is long-lasting LEDs (light-emitting diode) bulbs. An LED bulb will last 17 years –- buy one while your baby is still in diapers and you won't have to replace it until he leaves for college, Howley says. LED bulbs also offer great potential in efficiency, design, and lifespan. Current LED bulbs are about as efficient as CFLs. But future LEDs could be much more efficient.
In eight or 10 years, you may see LEDs that are 20 times more efficient, says Joseph Rey-Barreau, a Kentucky architect and lighting designer and associate professor of interior design at the University of Kentucky. "LEDs have the potential to increase their efficiency at an incredible rate," Rey-Barreau says. Great home applications for LEDs include under-cabinet lights, landscape lighting, and perimeter lighting under a high ceiling, he says.
Current costs may give consumers sticker shock. Prices for LED bulbs range from $15 to $50, McGowan and Howley say. Unless you're an early innovator anxious to try the newest technology, sit tight on buying LEDs for now, McGowan advises. "LEDs are full of promise," he says. "Right now that promise is expensive to achieve." But keep checking. "The lumens per watt has been going up ahead of schedule and the price has been going down," McGowan says.
One reason to buy LEDs now: If you have a 20- to 30-foot ceiling requiring a scaffold or tall ladder (that you may have to buy or rent) to change the bulb, you'll want a bulb that won't need to be replaced frequently. Replace the existing bulb with an LED and you're good to go for up to 20 years, McGowan says.
Lifetime Cost When you think about the cost of light bulbs, it's important to consider not only the cost of the individual bulb but also how often the bulb will need to be replaced and what the energy costs are. Today's 60-watt incandescent light bulb costs just 50 cents and will last for about 1,000 hours of use or five years, according to the Department of Energy's Energy Star website. Over five years, that bulb will cost you $39.92 in energy use – for a total cost over five years of $42.92.
Compare that to a 13-watt CFL bulb producing the same amount of light. That CFL bulb costs $3, but lasts for five years and uses $8.65 a year in energy for a total cost over five years of $11.65. "If you go with CFLs, you'll clearly be ahead," Howley says.
A Halogen bulb will cost about $3 more than a standard incandescent bulb, and will offer about $3 in energy savings over the lifetime of the bulb, Howley says. "You'll end up in a neutral position or maybe even a little bit ahead depending on what your electric rate is," he says.
In the meantime, don't throw out your incandescent light bulbs. Keep an eye on the shelves in your favorite home improvement stores but don't stock up on today's technology because tomorrow's light bulbs will be even better.