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Will That $25 Light Bulb Really Save You Money?

Sarah Battaglia's picture
NRG Business
  • Member since 2018
  • 83 items added with 102,081 views
  • Feb 14, 2014

Light bulb comparison

You’re familiar with the situation.  You go to the store to replace a couple light bulbs that burnt out and you’re faced with an entire aisle of options: incandescents, LEDs, CFLs, halogens.  Which one do you buy?  There are many factors that will influence your decision, but you’ll probably go for the one that will offer the best economic value.  You’ve heard that the most expensive ones will last longer and use less energy, but it’s important to consider all of your options.  Will you really save money paying $25 for a light bulb?

It’s true.  The cheap incandescent bulbs are very inefficient since most of the energy they consume ends up being used for heat instead of light.  For this reason, these bulbs are in the process of being phased out.  Just this past month, the 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs have been banned from production, though you can probably still find them in stock at certain retail locations if you search hard enough.  So you can either stock up on these ancient bulbs or get with the times and choose a more efficient option.

Lighting typically accounts for about 20-30% of your electric bill so you want to make a wise choice when it comes to which bulb to use.  Below you will find a cost comparison of four different types of light bulbs; all emit the same amount of light, but vary in initial cost and the amount of energy consumed.

Comparing the electricity cost for one year, you’ll see that you could save about $10 by switching from incandescent to LED.  Now that doesn’t seem like much, but once you increase the timeframe to 15 years, and factor in how many bulbs you’ll need during that time, you will notice that an incandescent will cost you almost four times as much as an LED. 

Judging by this number, you decide against the incandescent.  Halogen light bulbs have a longer lifespan, but between their high initial cost and their inability to save much energy, they’re out too.

Now you’re down to CFLs and LEDs.  An LED bulb will last about three times longer than a CFL and will require less energy, but its current astronomical price tag will pretty much negate all of its economic benefits.

Any one of these three light bulbs is a better option than the incandescent, but until the price of LED bulbs becomes more reasonable, it’s best to stick with CFLs.

If you’re finding it difficult to make the switch, think back to the humorous Cree commercial that gave it to you straight.  “The light bulbs in your house were invented by Thomas Edison in 1879.  Now think about that with your twenty-thirteen brain.  Do you still do the wash down at the creek while your eldest son stands lookout for wolves?”

It’s time for you to break your old fashioned trend, just don’t break the bank in the process.

Photo Credit: LED Lightbulbs/shutterstock

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 13, 2014


I struggle with the CFL/LED tradeoff. I sometimes find LEDs on sale, and then I do buy them. Also, the CFLs throw more heat than the LEDs, which doesn’t matter too much in Winter, but negates air conditioning in Summer.

I also like the light from the LEDs better. 

Of course, for some bulbs that are only used very rarely, like the attic, there is no payback on an LED. But the kitchen lights are on even during the day, so the switch there makes good sense.

Now, given the LEDs may last 20 years, do I leave them behind when I move? Heck, the bulbs might outlive me. Are they family heirlooms?


Roger DePoy's picture
Roger DePoy on Feb 13, 2014

Home Depot is offering several Cree LED lamps either singly or in 6 packs at half the cost you are quoting. They are still more expensive than CFL’s but have several advantages, namely, there is no mercury in them, and their rated life is at least twice that of CFL’s. Add in the fact that CFL’s will have significantly shorter life if they are in an environment where there are turned on and off frequently, and LED’s make much more sense.

It is certainly true that a whole house change out is beyond the means of many households, but LED’s hold far more promise now and in the long run than CFL’s.

Jim Stack's picture
Jim Stack on Feb 14, 2014

In summer just the heat they don’t produce can save you money that pays for even an expensive LED. I also get USA Made CREE LED lights like Roger does they pay for themselves many times over. 

An incadencent makes over 90% heat and 10% light. They don’t last as long and should be called heat bulbs, in fact your can cook with one in a childs toy over.

Rob Flynn's picture
Rob Flynn on Feb 15, 2014

“Lighting typically accounts for about 20-30% of your electric bill”


I find this VERY difficult to believe?

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on Feb 16, 2014


In theory, electronics like an LED have a failure rate that looks like a bath tub — high at first, then low until late in their expected life. I have found this to be the case for me. I have had one that went bad soon after I installed it, but the others have been fine. So I suggest only buying LEDs from someplace you visit regularly and will accept returns without a hassle. You don’t want to have to choose between the savings of the bulb and having to burn a gallon of gas to go return the bulb.

I have found CFLs to be the same in this regard, except the expected life is much shorter. I don’t have any statistics, but my perception is that CFLs in recessed fixtures burn out faster, probably because the heat builds up. So LEDs may have a further advantage in recessed lighting.


Lewis Perelman's picture
Lewis Perelman on Feb 22, 2014

As I have dabbled in LED shopping I’ve noticed a few things:

  • Prices in retail stores are considerably lower than the article suggests, as others mentioned here.
  • A bulb is not a bulb is not a bulb. That is, there is a somewhat confusing variety of LEDs of similar output designed for different purposes.For instance, some can be installed in recessed fixtures, some cannot. Some have heat sinks, some don’t. Some are more directional than others. Combining complexity with nontrivial cost creates a barrier to consumer adoption.
  • Innovation itself may hinder adoption. LED technology is fast evolving, not only coming down in price but adding more features like color tuning, ‘smart’ controls. This is cool, but it confronts the consumer with the prospect that today’s not-cheap bulb will be obsolete well before its rated lifetime is up. Another incentive to wait and see rather than buy now.

Market failure may yet present opportunities. The LED problems recall a time when music CDs were the main distribution medium and expensive. Retail shops emerged that bought and sold second-hand CDs. I can imagine something similar developing for LEDs.

Sarah Battaglia's picture
Thank Sarah for the Post!
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