Are Energy Saving Bulbs Worth It?

With concerns around energy costs and climate change, energy saving light bulbs like LEDs and CFLs have become increasingly popular. According to Light Bulb Statistics, LED and CFL bulbs now make up 18% of light bulbs used in US households. But are these energy saving bulbs really worth the higher upfront cost compared to traditional incandescent bulbs? In this article, we’ll examine the pros and cons of energy saving bulbs to help you decide if they are right for your lighting needs.

How Do Energy Saving Bulbs Work?

Energy saving bulbs like CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs (light emitting diodes) produce light differently than traditional incandescent bulbs. In an incandescent bulb, electric current runs through a wire filament, heating it up until it glows and emits light. This process is inefficient, producing more heat than light.1

CFL bulbs contain a gas that emits ultraviolet light when excited by electricity flowing between electrodes. The UV light is absorbed by the fluorescent coating inside the bulb, causing it to emit visible light. LED bulbs are semiconductor devices that emit light when an electric current passes through them. The light is produced more efficiently without generating excess heat.2

Both CFL and LED bulbs require less electricity to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent. This makes them more energy efficient, longer lasting, and cost saving.

Benefits of Energy Saving Bulbs

Energy saving bulbs like CFLs and LEDs provide substantial benefits over traditional incandescent bulbs when it comes to energy usage, cost savings, and lifespan.

Both CFL and LED bulbs use significantly less energy than incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs use up to 75% less energy and CFL bulbs use up to 80% less energy than comparable incandescent bulbs (Source). This massive reduction in energy usage translates directly into cost savings and environmental benefits.

The estimated yearly energy cost savings from switching one incandescent bulb to an LED is between $3-8. CFLs save $1.50-4 per year (Source). With significant cost savings per bulb, households switching entirely to CFL or LED can save hundreds of dollars per year in lighting costs alone.

In addition to energy and cost savings, CFL and LED bulbs have substantially longer lifespans than incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs can last up to 25 times longer than incandescents. CFLs last around 10 times longer, meaning fewer bulb replacements over time (Source). The longer lifespan also contributes to cost savings and environmental benefits.

Downsides of Energy Saving Bulbs

While energy saving bulbs like CFLs and LEDs offer long term cost and energy savings, they do have some downsides to consider:

Higher upfront cost – Energy saving bulbs can cost 3-10 times more than traditional incandescent bulbs, with LEDs at the higher end of that range. The average LED bulb costs $2-$8 while the average CFL is $1-$5 (Source: However, they last much longer to offset that initial investment.

Mercury content – CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury vapor, which is toxic if the bulb breaks. However, LEDs do not contain any mercury. CFLs should be disposed of properly and used carefully. (Source:

Light quality – CFLs produce a harsher light that some find less pleasing than the warm glow of incandescent bulbs. Early LED bulbs also produced a harsh light, but technology has improved to allow a warmer, more natural color. (Source:

Cost Savings Analysis

The primary financial benefit of switching to energy saving bulbs like LEDs and CFLs is the potential for significant cost savings over the lifespan of the bulb. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED bulbs can save households 75% or more on lighting costs. This adds up to hundreds of dollars in savings over the 20+ year lifespan of an LED bulb compared to an incandescent bulb.

Let’s break this down further. An old-fashioned 60W incandescent bulb running for 3 hours per day costs around $4 per year to operate. Over a 20 year lifespan, that totals $80 in energy costs for just one bulb. In comparison, a 9W LED bulb providing the same brightness uses far less energy. Running for the same 3 hours per day over 20 years, an LED bulb would cost only around $18 in electricity. That’s a savings of $62 per bulb switched to LED. For a typical home with around 40 light bulb sockets, switching entirely to LEDs can save $2,480 or more over 20 years.

CFL bulbs also offer significant savings compared to incandescent, though less than LED. A 14W CFL producing similar light to a 60W incandescent runs about $8 per year. Over 20 years, one CFL bulb saves $40 in energy costs versus an incandescent. While less than LED, CFLs still offer major cost reductions on household lighting.

Environmental Impact

Energy saving bulbs like CFLs and LEDs can have a significantly positive impact on the environment by reducing energy usage and carbon emissions compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. According to research, LEDs use at least 75% less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs (1). CFLs use about 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer (2). The reduced energy usage leads to lower carbon emissions from power plants.

One study estimates that replacing a 75W incandescent bulb with a 20W CFL would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 152 lbs over the life of the CFL. For a 75W incandescent replaced with a 14W LED, the reduction is 202 lbs (2). With about 4 billion screw-in sockets in the U.S. alone, the potential carbon savings are massive if a significant portion transitioned to energy saving bulbs (3).

However, it’s important to dispose of CFLs properly at the end of their life to avoid releasing mercury. LEDs are likely the better environmental choice over the long run for their even greater energy savings, extremely long life, and lack of mercury content.





Recommended Uses

Both CFL and LED bulbs have advantages in certain situations that make them the better choice over traditional incandescent bulbs. Here is an overview of where each type of energy-efficient bulb makes the most sense:

CFLs tend to work best in these situations:

  • table and floor lamps where the bulb needs to cast light in all directions
  • frequent on/off cycling, as they turn on instantly whereas LEDs can take a moment to reach full brightness
  • enclosed fixtures where heat dissipation is limited
  • budget-friendly option when buying many bulbs

LEDs are the best choice when:

  • used for spot lighting, task lighting, or focused beams of light
  • left on for extended periods, as LEDs are more energy efficient in continuous operation
  • used in open or outdoor fixtures where heat dissipation is not an issue
  • long life is critical, as LEDs tend to outlast CFLs
  • dimmability is desired, as LEDs perform better than CFLs on dimmers

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, “Today’s LEDs have narrowed the price gap [with CFLs], and they continue to be cost-competitive replacements for halogen and incandescent bulbs” [1]. For most general lighting purposes, LEDs offer the best combination of efficiency, lifespan, and quality.

Bulb Shopping Tips

When shopping for energy efficient bulbs, there are a few key things to look for:

  • Lumens – This indicates the brightness of the bulb, not the wattage. Compare lumens to find a bulb with light levels similar to traditional bulbs.
  • LED or CFL Technology – LEDs and CFLs are the most energy efficient options. CFLs contain mercury so require special disposal.
  • Color Temperature – Measured in Kelvin (K). Lower numbers around 2700K produce a warm yellow light. Higher around 5000K produce a cool blue-white light.
  • ENERGY STAR – The ENERGY STAR label indicates the bulb meets EPA efficiency guidelines.1
  • Dimmable – If using with a dimmer switch, look for bulbs specifically labeled as dimmable.
  • No mercury – Some CFLs are labeled “no mercury” for safer disposal.

Check bulb packaging and the Lighting Facts label for key specs. Buying from reputable brands can help ensure quality and longevity. Consider buying just a few bulbs first to test light quality before switching your whole home.

The Future of Lighting

The LED lighting industry continues to innovate, with several promising technologies on the horizon. According to one source, in the future LED lighting will become more human-centric, with smart controls that optimize lighting for human health and productivity (source). For example, lighting systems could automatically adjust color temperature and intensity throughout the day to match natural circadian rhythms.

Another emerging LED technology is laser lighting, which uses lasers rather than LEDs to generate light. Laser lighting can produce extremely narrow spectral bandwidths not possible with LEDs. This could enable very precise tuning of color for medical, industrial, and horticultural applications (source).

In summary, the future of LED lighting points to more intelligent, customizable, and energy-efficient systems that provide optimal lighting tailored for human needs and specific applications.


In conclusion, energy saving bulbs are generally worth it for most households. While the upfront cost is higher, they pay for themselves over time through electricity savings. The average energy saving bulb will last 10-15 times longer than an incandescent bulb, saving you money on replacement bulbs as well. Energy saving bulbs are also much more environmentally friendly, reducing energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. With improvements in technology, issues like light quality, mercury content, and dimmability are becoming less of a concern. For most general lighting needs in the home, energy saving bulbs represent a smart investment that provides value both financially and environmentally. Just be sure to compare brands and models to find the right bulbs for your specific needs. With the right bulbs for your fixtures, rooms and activities, you’ll hardly notice the switch from traditional incandescent bulbs.

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