See the impact switching to LED light bulbs from incandescent can have on your wallet and on your energy bills
We rarely think about the light bulbs in our light fixtures until we flick the switch and nothing happens. When your next bulb burns out, should you replace it with the old tried-and-true incandescent bulb, newer halogen bulbs, or do you switch to LED bulbs?
In April 2022, the Department of Energy set new rules to ban the import of most less-efficient bulbs after January 2023 and prohibit retailers from selling them past July 2023. Light bulbs now must produce at least 45 lumens per watt. This ban will affect most halogen and incandescent bulbs currently on the market.
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Differences Between Incandescent, Halogen, and LED Light Bulbs
Incandescent bulbs have been around for over a century. First invented in the 1800s, these bulbs are made of glass with a tungsten filament that heated up when an electrical current passes through it. As the filament continued to burn to produce light, more and more of the tungsten particles separate from the filament. When the filament becomes too thin, the light bulb burns out with a flash and a pop when you turn it on one last time. Incandescent bulbs typically have a lifespan of 800 to 1,200 hours.
The next evolution of incandescent bulbs is the halogen light bulb. Halogen bulbs are a type of incandescent light that still uses a tungsten filament, but are also filled with an inert gas such as argon, bromine, xenon, or krypton. That halogen gas allows the filament to burn hotter and brighter while increasing the bulb’s life. Halogen bulbs often last about 2,000 hours on average before they burn out.
LED stands for light-emitting diode. Rather than using an electrical current to produce heat to create light, the LED bulb uses electricity to power the diode, which emits light through electroluminescence. Although LED bulbs are more expensive up front, they last much longer. LED bulbs are rated to last 10,000 hours or longer.
Comparing Initial Costs of Incandescent vs Halogen vs LED Bulbs
Incandescent bulbs have already gotten much more difficult to find. Walmart used to sell four incandescent bulbs for $1 or 25 cents each. Those bulbs have since disappeared from most stores and have been replaced with halogen bulbs that are slightly more efficient.
However, incandescent bulbs have not disappeared entirely. Instead, they ended up in lower-end retailers such as dollar stores and convenience stores in less affluent neighborhoods. The result is people with the least amount of disposable income end up spending more money buying bulbs that don’t last as long and paying higher energy costs over time.
Let’s compare the upfront costs of the different bulb types and how much it costs to continue replacing them when keeping the lights on for 3 hours a night over 10 years.
Assuming you can purchase two incandescent bulbs for $1 at the dollar store:
Initial cost: $0.50 per bulb
Lifespan: 1,000 hours
Costs of replacing incandescent bulbs over 10 years:
$0.50 x 10 years / (1,000 hours / 3 hours per day / 365 days) = $5.48
The cost for a 4-pack of Walmart’s 60W Great Value Halogen light bulbs is $3.77.
These bulbs have an expected lifespan of 1.8 years based on 3 hours of use per day.
Initial cost: $0.94 per bulb
Lifespan: 1,971 hours
Costs of replacing these halogen bulbs over 10 years:
$0.94 x 10 years / (1,971 hours / 3 hours per day / 365 days) = $5.22
The cost of a 4-pack of Walmart’s 60W Great Value LED bulbs is $4.97.
These bulbs have an expected lifespan of 9 years based on 3 hours of use per day.
Initial cost: $1.24 per bulb
Lifespan: 9,855 hours
Cost of replacing these LED bulbs over 10 years:
$1.24 x 10 years / (9,855 hours / 3 hours per day / 365 days) = $1.38
As you can see from the calculations above, incandescent and halogen bulbs may cost less initially, but you will spend almost four times more over the long run than if you had switched to a LED bulb instead.
When LED light bulbs were almost $10 each, it might have made sense to stick with incandescent bulbs. Now that the prices of LEDs have dropped to just over a dollar for each bulb, there is no reason to stick with halogens or the old-fashioned bulbs.
Electrical Cost Comparison of Incandescent vs Halogen vs LED Light Bulbs
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, residential LEDs use at least 75% less energy than incandescent lighting. This translates directly to money saved on your power bill.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calculated the average price of electricity in the United States in September 2022 was approximately $0.17 per kWh.
Here is how the cost of electricity compares to light up each type of bulb that is equivalent to 60W in brightness for 1,000 hours or about 3 hours a day for one year:
60W x 1,000 hours = 60 kWh x $0.17 = $10.20
Halogen Bulb Equivalent
43W x 1,000 hours = 43 kWh x $0.17 = $7.31
LED Bulb Equivalent
9W x 1,000 hours = 9 kWh x $0.17 = $1.53
A LED bulb is almost seven times and five times less expensive than an incandescent or a halogen bulb over the long run.
Other Reasons to Switch to LED
Besides the cost of electricity and the cost of replacing light bulbs, there are other benefits of switching to LEDs.
Incandescent bulbs are highly inefficient. You may as well be running a mini space heater when you flip the light switch. According to Energy.gov, 10% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is converted to light. The other 90% is lost as heat. This may not be so bad in the winter, but you will be spending more money to run the air conditioner during the summer.
Incandescent and halogen bulbs are made of glass with a thin filament inside. A drop or a hard hit can break the glass or damage the filament. Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs may not have a filament, but they are also made of glass. LED lights are more durable since they are made of plastic and metal.
Besides being careful when cleaning up the shards of glass from a broken light bulb, the heat produced by an incandescent bulb increases the risk of a fire or burns. Fixtures may have wiring rated for a particular current. You will often see stickers with the maximum wattage of incandescent bulbs to avoid melting the wiring.
Breaking a CFL bulb can expose you to mercury. For this reason, CFLs should be recycled and not thrown away in the regular trash where the mercury can leak into the ground.
Compact fluorescent bulbs never fully caught on. One reason commonly cited by people is the slow start-up times until the bulb reaches full brightness. When a CFL is switched on, electricity excites a mixture of argon and mercury gas in the bulb. This releases ultraviolet radiation, causing the coating on the inside of the bulb to glow. The whole process takes time. As CFLs evolved, the lag time decreased, but it still doesn’t compare to the instant-on of LED bulbs.
We already know LED lighting last much longer than other types of lighting. You can now find LED bulbs that last as long as 25,000 and 50,000 hours. The long lifespan is perfect for people who hate replacing light bulbs or have fixtures that are in hard-to-reach places. You can replace an older type bulb and not worry about it again for years.
As your incandescent and halogen light bulbs burn out, now is the time to consider switching to LEDs if you haven’t already.
Prices of LED bulbs have decreased immensely from when they first became available almost a decade ago. LEDs are now available in various shapes, styles, and sizes. LEDs can be found in color temperatures that mimic the incandescent bulb that we’re used to and love. In addition, you can also purchase smart light bulbs that let you change the color with your phone.
The Consumer Federation of America estimates that a household using 20 light bulbs could save $1,000 or more in a decade by switching to LEDs in place of incandescent and halogen bulbs. They found that based on the price, longevity, and energy used, the average 10-year total cost of purchasing and powering a LED bulb was $13.63 compared to $69.49 for halogen and incandescent bulbs.
What is your opinion on LED light bulbs? Have you switched to LEDs? Or do you still prefer incandescent or halogen bulbs?