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Which Light Bulb Should You Use?

Dec 04, 2013|

Ever walk down the light bulb aisle at Home Depot or Lowes? There’s a dizzying array of options available! I don’t know about you, but it usually takes me an absurdly long time to find the exact bulb I need.

And it’s not solely the sheer number of light bulbs on the shelves that are overwhelming; the types of bulbs available seem to be constantly changing. Since Congress passed a law in 2007 to phase out traditional incandescent bulbs beginning last year, the amount of alternatives has been growing. Although you can still get your hands on incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescents (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs) have been growing in popularity.

If all three light bulbs—incandescent, CFL, and LED—will work in the same lamp, how do you know which type to buy? I’ve done the research for you, simplifying the pros and cons of each type of light bulb.


Incandescent bulbs

Pros: Bright 360-degree illumination, inexpensive, easy disposal, does not contain mercury, turns on instantly

Cons: Lasts only a few months, least energy efficient, highest annual operating cost, some sensitivity to low temperatures and humidity, easily breakable


Pros: More energy efficient (75% less than a traditional bulb), can last up to five years, low annual operating cost, bright 360-degree illumination

Cons: Contains mercury and must be discarded properly if broken or dead (can’t be tossed in garbage or recycling bin), takes time to warm up, easily breakable, slightly more expensive, not dimmable


Pros: Most energy efficient, longest lasting, does not contain mercury, turns on instantly, very durable, lowest annual operating cost, can withstand extreme temperatures

Cons: Most expensive, only produces light in one direction, not as bright

The Bottom Line

It’s probably best to start weaning yourself off incandescent bulbs now since they will continue to be phased out for more energy efficient options. CFLs and LEDs are more expensive upfront, but they cost significantly less in annual operating costs because they are much more energy efficient. Since LEDs don’t give off multi-directional light, they are best for overhead or recessed lighting. Save the CFLs for your desk and table lamps.

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