The Future of Lighting
Lighting is more than an important aesthetic factor; it's also a large chunk of your electricity bill. Ideally, a light is three things: energy-efficient, functional, and beautiful. Many lighting options satisfy two of those three characteristics. Even a torch is beautiful and energy-efficient, but fails in function. The light that best meets consumer needs is the LED because it provides energy and aesthetic solutions.
Incandescent lights have been lighting the world since the late 1800s, but in the 21st century, they are quickly being phased out in favor of newer, more efficient energy alternatives. Governments across the globe have mandated the phasing out of incandescents. Their toll on the environment is too great to ignore. Even the EU, China, Brazil, and the US are in the process of eliminating incandescents. Since incandescents are no longer a sensible option, consumers have to educate themselves on their two primary alternatives: CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps) and LEDs (light emitting diodes). The two bulbs use very different mechanisms to create light, but both are significantly more efficient than regular incandescents.
CFLs vs. LEDs
To understand just how efficient bulbs are, it is helpful to understand two basic lighting terms: 'watts' and 'lumens'. Watts are the amount of energy required to power a bulb, and lumens refers to the level of brightness. High wattage indicates a greater use of electricity; more lumens means brighter. To emit 400 lumens, an incandescent bulb requires 40 watts; a CFL 9-13 watts; and an LED 6-7 watts. The huge disparity in wattage is namely attributed to heat waste. Unlike LEDs, incandescents and CFLs emit heat that you can actually feel to the touch. LEDs are never warm since they emit 90% less heat than incandescents. An interesting study by The Alliance to Save Energy found that if half of all incandescent christmas bulbs were replaced with LEDs, the U.S. would save $17B per year in electricity costs.
When you turn on an LED, it instantly reaches its peak brightness; CFLs turn on at 80% of their maximum brightness and take 1-3 minutes to warm up and reach full luminosity. Both LEDs and CFLs have longer lifetimes than incandescents, which last roughly 1,200 hours. CFLs have a lifetime of 8,000 hours, and LEDs a whopping 50,000. 50,000 hours translates into 25 years of normal residential use. This cuts down maintenance, as you may have to change the bulbs only twice in your lifetime.
LEDs produce no UV rays, whereas common CFLs emit UV rays which can fade colored materials and even have harmful health effects such as lowered folate levels and even skin cancer. Additionally, CFLs contain mercury. Mercury is a substance that needs to be disposed of properly, generally by taking the used bulbs to an appropriate waste collection center. Unfortunately, most people simply throw their old CFL bulbs directly into regular garbage without realizing the environmental consequences of improper disposal.
The light industry is experience rapid change and you can benefit from it. Neither you, nor the environment, should have to overpay for lighting. Both LEDs and CFLs can be great for home use, although it is clear that LEDs have an edge on CFLs.