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September 05, 2015
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Everything is illuminated; Watts up with light bulbs?

An LED light bulb
Contributed photos

Sustainable light bulbs bring up a lot of questions: which one to use, how sustainable are they, and what will the cost savings be? It could leave your head spinning, but worry no more. The River Reporter is here to shed some light on the world of light bulbs. The two types of sustainable light bulbs are LEDs and CFLs. Below, we break down the benefits of making the switch from incandescent bulbs (the “normal” type of bulb we all grew up with) to one of these two options.

LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes)

  • Long-lasting: LED bulbs last up to 10 times as long as compact fluorescents, and far longer than typical incandescents.
  • Durable: Since LEDs do not have a filament, they are not damaged under circumstances when a regular incandescent bulb might be broken. Because they are solid, LED bulbs hold up well to jarring and bumping.
  • Cool: These bulbs do not cause heat build-up; LEDs produce 3.4 btu’s/hour, compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs.
  • Mercury-free: No mercury is used in the manufacturing of LEDs, as opposed to incandescent and CFL bulbs.
  • More efficient: LED light bulbs use only 2 to 17 watts of electricity (1/3 to 1/30 of incandescent or CFL).
  • Cost-effective: Although LEDs are initially expensive, the cost is reimbursed over time. The cost of new LED bulbs has gone down considerably in the last few years and continues to go down.

CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lamp)

  • Efficient: CFLs are four times more efficient and last up to 10 times longer than incandescents. A 22-watt CFL has about the same light output as a 100-watt incandescent. CFLs use 50 to 80% less energy than incandescents.
  • Less expensive: Although initially more expensive, you save money in the long run because CFLs use 1/3 the electricity and last up to 10 times as long as incandescents. A single 18-watt CFL used in place of a 75-watt incandescent will save about 570 kWh over its lifetime. At 8 cents per kWh, that equates to a $45 savings.
  • Reduces air and water pollution: Replacing a single incandescent bulb with a CFL will keep a half-ton of CO2 out of the atmosphere over the life of the bulb. (It’s not the actual light bulb that produces CO2 but rather the generation of electricity; thus, a light bulb that uses less electricity results in less CO2 being produced at the power plant.) If everyone in the U.S. used energy-efficient lighting, we could retire 90 average-size power plants.
  • High-quality light: Newer CFLs give a warm, inviting light instead of the “cool white” light of older fluorescents.
  • (Info via Eartheasy at

Other tips:
• Buy the bulb that gives off the amount of light you need (lumens), not the amount of energy you’re used to wasting (watts). For example, a typical 60W light bulb produces around 800 lumens. But CFLs that produce 800 lumens only use 15W. To help consumers make the transition, bulb packages will likely contain a claim like “as bright as a 60W bulb” or “15W = 60W” to indicate the bulb is a suitable replacement for your old 60W incandescent bulb. (See
• The standard incandescent bulb—what we typically think of as a “basic light bulb”—is a pretty inefficient piece of technology, wasting 90 to 98% of its electricity use as heat rather than useful light. (See
• Finally, for energy-savings, choose a bulb with an ENERGY STAR label.

[For more about LEDs and CFLs, read Marcia Nehemiah’s columns in The River Reporter:, and]