The Light Bulb Dilemma: Incandescent, CFL or LED

By Staff

After receiving yet another ridiculously high energy bill, I began performing sort of an informal energy audit of our household. As I suspected, we have become complacent when it comes to energy savings because Frugal Dad hasn’t been sounding the alarm as often as I once did.

  • The kids (and even us adults) often leave lights, televisions and games on when moving from room to room.
  • The miserably hot summer forced our air conditioner to run nearly continuously, even through the night as night-time temperatures hovered in the high 80′s with high humidity.
  • We were not selecting optimal times to run appliances like the dishwasher, stove and oven, and were contributing to the heat build-up in the house.
  • Lots of phone and game charges were sitting around trickle-charging a nearly full device, but still using enough vampire power to add to our utility bill.

So, we decided to make a few changes. First, I was going to once again research replacing incandescent light bulbs with a more energy-efficient variety. But here’s my dilemma – I like incandescent light bulbs. I like the light they produce. I like the fact they don’t have to “warm up.” I like their price.

I don’t like the mercury found in the CFL bulbs, and I don’t like the look of the CFL curly-Q bulbs.

I have been reading over the last couple years about LED light bulb technology. As expected, I found them to be very costly. A quick research trip to our local home improvement store revealed the average 60w equivalent, soft-white or ambient lighting LED light bulb retailed for $40 per bulb.

It would cost $240 to replace the light bulbs above our bathroom vanity alone. That’s a little steep, I don’t care how much energy LED light bulbs save. Without doing a more formal calculation, I imagine it would take many, many years to pay for themselves, even if purchased with decent department store coupons.

So, I decided to compromise. For now, we’ll skip the LED light bulbs, and instead focus on replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs (only a few dollars per bulb) in two specific locations:

  1. Lights we tend to leave on for long periods.
  2. Lights that have less chance of being broken (not the living room lamps, for instance, since my son and his dad occasionally like to toss a football in the house when Mom isn’t watching).

My kids like to leave a bathroom light on at night – nightlights just don’t cut it. So, I replaced the lights above the bathroom vanity with CFL decorative bulbs – they look just like the globe bulbs that were in there, but use only a fraction of the energy required to produce equivalent light.

I also replaced our kitchen’s six recessed floodlight-style lights with CFL bulbs that looks very similar to the regular floodlight style (the curly-Q is encased in a glass shell in the design of a regular, incandescent bulb.

Next up, the porch lights, which we occasionally leave on when expecting company. Hopefully, this move, along with being more conscious of our energy use in general, will help make a dent in that power bill.

Anyone else considering LED bulbs? At what price point would you consider it economical to replace with LED?