Using Energy Saving Light Bulbs: Pros, Cons, and Facts

The need to save energy and reduce carbon emissions has led to some important changes over the past few years. For example, many countries have boosted their efficiency standards for light bulbs. In the U.S., most manufacturers have discontinued the traditional 100-watt incandescent bulbs and replaced them with lower-wattage bulbs. But what are some pros and cons of energy saving light bulbs and what are your options?

For a short overview of the current alternatives to incandescent light bulbs, watch the video released by the U.S. Department of Energy:

In other words, if you’re looking for energy saving light bulbs, you should be considering the more efficient LED, compact fluorescent, or halogen bulbs. Let’s look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of the newer lights.

PRO: Save Energy

For just a fraction of the energy, eco-friendly light bulbs produce the same amount of light as the incandescent bulbs. Even though wattage figures may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, the energy saving equivalent of the 100-watt bulb uses roughly 70 watts in the case of halogen bulbs, and some 25 watts for LED and CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs).

There are three effects to this change: The bulbs are (1) much cheaper to use, (2) lower your electricity bills and (3) reduce your carbon footprint. At the same time, the more efficient conversion of power into light means that LEDs and CFLs do not lose as much heat as other designs.

CON: High Initial Cost

Take a quick scroll through any forum on energy saving light bulbs and you’ll see this con in almost all discussions. Indeed, the cost of these lights can be a major disadvantage. Replacing traditional bulbs with their energy-efficient counterparts can be an expensive proposition, at least at first. Unlike the $1 incandescent light bulbs, Energy Star-rated CFLs may cost up to $15 per bulb.

PRO: Prices Are Dropping

In spite of the current high costs, the good news is that LEDs are becoming cheaper by the year. In fact, their price drops by a factor of twenty over the course of each decade. Like any other electronic devices, energy saving light bulbs will not only become cheaper, but their performance (amount of light per watt of electricity) will also increase exponentially.

CON: Safety Concerns

When it comes to choosing between the newer technologies, LEDs win over CFLs almost every time. Why? Because the compact fluorescent light bulb has raised safety concerns due to its design and the materials used. A small amount of mercury is contained in any CFL, which some have argued it presents a health hazard if the bulb breaks.

PRO: Safer Than Most Think

However, when this safety concern was analyzed, research showed that the hazard is not nearly as high as some proposed. Indeed, CFL bulbs do require more careful handling and special disposal practices, but the mercury contained in a bulb is a mere one hundredth of the mercury content of the older thermostats – only three to five milligrams.

When it breaks, the bulb releases only a tiny fraction of that amount of mercury, and it would take weeks for the released vapor to reach hazardous levels. To avoid any accidents, follow the procedure issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Lowe’s and Home Depot will recycle your broken CFLs for free.

PRO: Long Lifespan

The high initial costs of energy saving light bulbs are balanced out by the fact that these devices can pay for themselves a greatly increased lifespan. CFLs have a lifespan approaching to10,000 hours, while LEDs will serve you for 25,000 to 50,000 hours before breaking down.

For comparison, a traditional incandescent bulb may last 1,000 to 2,000 hours before burning out. With eco-friendly lights, consumers can expect to go much longer between bulb changes.

energy saving light bulbs


CON: Poor Performance in Cold Temperatures

This is a legitimate downside of CFL lights, but not for LEDs. While compact fluorescent light bulbs have a hard time turning on in extremely cold climates, LEDs turn on instantly. That’s why LED lights are recommended for outdoor bulbs – on your porch or in the garden.

PRO: Wide Range of Colors

The first-generation eco-friendly light bulbs did not appeal to consumers. Why? Because they didn’t deliver the quality and light levels people were used to with incandescent bulbs. However, energy saving light bulbs soon became worthy competitors by becoming available in multiple colors and light levels.

CON: Incompatibility with Dimmer Switches

Consumers have complained that regular CFL bulbs sold in stores either can’t be used with dimmer switches, or don’t work as efficiently with them. However, there’s a solution: opt for LED bulbs instead. They are, in fact, dimmable; look for LEDs whose packaging indicates that they can be paired with dimmer switches.

What Else Can I Do to Save Energy?

Once you’ve replaced the incandescent bulbs with energy saving light bulbs, you can save even more energy and money by installing control mechanisms. Here are few things you can do:

  • Be aware of all the lights you have on; do they all need to be in use?
  • Make it a habit to always turn lights off when leaving a room; it doesn’t matter for how long you are gone away.
  • Install convenient light switches that help you remember to turn them off; i.e. place switches both at the top and the bottom of stairs, or at each end of the hallway.
  • Arrange a sensor and timer on external lights; this will prevent unnecessary usage.
  • Adjust indoor lighting depending on the activity; i.e. use a low background light while watching television and a bright light for reading sessions.

If you have been following eco-technology trends, you are well aware that incandescent light bulbs are undergoing a worldwide phase-out. In the next couple of years, the international legislation banning incandescent lighting will completely give way to LEDs and CFLs. As far as advantages go, the fact that eco-friendly light bulbs are the future of lighting is pretty compelling.

Have you replaced your incandescent lights with eco-friendly ones? If so, have you seen a significant decrease in your bills? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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William E. Eubanks

I'm one of the main writers on the site; mostly dealing with environmental news and ways to live green. My goal is to educate others about this great planet, and the ways we can help to protect it.

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