The Dark Months Are Coming: What Light Bulbs Should You Use?

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The sun is moving to the other side of the planet, and we are headed for winter in North America. This means having lights on in your home for long periods of time, and using more energy. However, it's possible to cut down on your lighting expenditures. One of the simplest things you can do is exchange all your incandescent light bulbs for either fluorescent or LED bulbs.

Incandescent Bulbs

Incandescent bulbs are the bulbs we all grew up with. They come in many different wattages. They are cheap up front, but cost in electricity in the long run. Many countries have phased out the use of these bulbs, and the United States has passed legislation to do the same. The other thing to consider with incandescent bulbs is the amount of heat they can emit --they can get hot enough to start a fire or melt a blanket.

Florescent Bulbs

Florescent bulbs have come a long way. Years ago they were expensive and did not emit much light. In addition to that, using them outside in a cold climate was fruitless. The colder the ambient temperature, the longer they take to warm up and emit light. Through years of development and research you can now get the same amount of light from a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) as an incandescent bulb and use a lot less electricity. Fluorescent bulbs do not get extremely hot, so they are a little safer to use. However, they do contain mercury which is considered hazardous waste. The expended bulbs should be taken to a recycle center to be disposed of properly.

LED Bulbs

Now, let’s take a look at LED (light emitting diode) bulbs. LED bulbs are still in their infancy. If you look into a single LED bulb, you will see lots of tiny bulbs in one fixture. Just like the CFLs took years to develop into usable light, such is the path for LEDs. When LED bulbs first came out, the light they emitted was narrow and focused, kind of like a flashlight beam. The cost of one bulb could set you back as well. There have been some recent developments; currently manufacturers are grouping the bulbs and using diffusers to spread the light into a wider area. Prices do seem to be coming down too, making them a little more affordable than they used to be. In addition, LEDs do not get very hot, and do not contain any hazardous waste. Another win in my book.

Cost Comparison

Just like everything else, it is best to break down the costs to see which bulb can save you money and electricity. The table below is based on energy savings over 50,000 KWh (kilowatt hours, which are what you get charged for using) at ten cents per KWh.

LED CFL Incandescent
Light bulb projected lifespan 50,000 hours 10,000 hours 1,200 hours









KWh of electricity used over 50,000 hours 300 700 3,000

Cost of electricity (0.10 cents per KWh)




Bulbs needed for 50k hours




Equivalent 50K hours bulb expense $35.95 $19.75 $52.50

Total cost for 50K hours




(Data from


LED looks like a winner! I don’t know anyone that can go out and spend $900 on light bulbs at the drop of a hat. My suggestion, use CFLs now and buy one or two LEDs at a time. Eventually, your whole house will have efficient lighting and you will be saving a ton of money on that electric bill.