LED, CFL and Incandescant

LED vs CFL vs Incandescent

LED, CFL, Incandescent – What’s the Difference?

Though the goal is to produce light, LED, CFL and incandescent bulbs work in three very different ways. Traditional Incandescent Bulb Partsincandescent bulbs pass an electrical current through a filament wire causing it to become extremely hot (around 3,100 to 5,500 °F) and glow. This ultra-hot, glowing filament is what produces the light we see. The thin filament is protected by an air tight glass case that is filled with argon. Incandescent bulbs are simple to manufacture but they are extremely inefficient. Incandescent bulbs generally last for 750-1000 hours (approximately 0.5 to 0.75 years of average 5 hour a day use) with as much as 98% of the energy used to light the filament lost as heat. Unless you are hatching chickens, keeping your pet snake warm or using an Easy-Bake oven, an incandescent bulb is not the most energy efficient solution.

CFL’s take a different approach. Instead of heating a filament to thousands of degrees, CFL’s push an electrical current through a glass tube thatCFL Parts contains argon and mercury vapor. This process produces ultraviolet light which causes the fluorescent coating (called phosphor) on the inside of the tube to glow, emitting visible light. Like traditional fluorescent lights, CFL’s use a ballast to give them a boost and to regulate the electrical current that passes through the tube. Once they warm up CFL’s use about 75% less energy than an incandescent bulb with a similar light output. The typical lifespan of a CFL is anywhere from 6,000 to 15,000 hours (about 3 to 8 years of normal, 5 hour a day use), but this time can be dramatically shortened by frequent on-off cycles, using the bulb in extreme temperatures or in high humidity. CFL’s generally work fine with mechanical timers, but they may not work with electronic timers, photocells or motion sensors unless these devices were specifically designed to use a CFL. You should check with the device manufacturer for compatibility. CFL’s also use small amounts of mercury which is extremely toxic so they should be handled carefully and disposed of properly.

LED PartsAn LED is a small semiconductor device that produces visible light when an electrical current is passed through it. LED’s use very little current and produce very little heat. What little heat that is generated is passed to a heat sink and dissipated into the atmosphere. Initially, LED’s came only in red, and later, green, but new techniques for adding a phosphor coating or mixture to the LED have produced many different colors including what we see as “white”. LED’s are very durable with lifespans up to 100,000 hours (that’s 55 years of use at 5 hours a day), with the largest lifespan determinants being high temperature and the amount of current passed through the device. If energy conservation is what you are after, LED bulbs are the way to go. Though their initial cost is generally higher than incandescent or CFL bulbs, the payoff is in the fact that you will use much less electricity and quite possibly never change the bulb again.

Summary Comparison

LED CFL Incandescant
Estimated Lifespan 50,000 – 100,000 hours 6,000 – 15,000 hours 750 – 1,000 hours
Things that Shorten Bulb Life High Operating Temperatures High Operating Temperatures
Frequent On/Off Cycles
High Operating Temperatures
Constant Vibrations
Watts of Electricity Used* 6 – 8 Watts 13 – 15 Watts 60 Watts
Cost Comparison High Medium Low
Kilowatts Used** 14.6 KWh/Yr. 27.375 KWh/Yr. 109.5 KWh/Yr.
Operating Cost per Year*** $1.68 $3.15 $12.61
Average Cost per Bulb $35.95 $3.95 $1.25
RoHS Compliant Yes No – Contains Mercury Yes
Durability Very Durable –
Can readily handle drops, bumps and jarring
Not Very Durable –
Glass and Filament break easily
Not Very Durable –
Glass can break easily
Instant On Yes No – Must Warm up for full intensity Yes
Replacement Frequency
(per 50,000 hours of use)
1 3 50
Disposal**** Recyclable- Can be thrown in trash Must be properly recycled – Contains Mercury Recyclable – Can be thrown in trash

* Compared to a 60 watt incandescent bulb
** Compared to a 60 watt incandescent bulb operating an average of 5 hours per day (Watts to KWh Converter)
*** Compared to a 60 watt incandescent bulb lit an average of 5 hours per day at a cost of 11.52 cents per KWh (the average price per KWh in South Carolina as of 2013)
**** Always recycle if it is available in your area.