equip-your-home-with-led-lightingIt’s taken some time, but “energy-efficient lighting” is no longer a scary term. After decades of enduring the pale, flickering, “institutional” glow of fluorescent bulbs, we now have the option of energy-efficient lighting that is not just palatable but arguably preferable to traditional incandescent bulbs. In previous years, this took the form of improved compact florescent lights (CFLs), but now, a new favorite is taking the lead: LEDs.

Short for light emitting diodes, LEDs have recently matured and progressed into an affordable, resourceful and attractive lighting option. Lasting for tens of thousands of hours, consuming a fraction of the energy of other technologies and in many ways – indistinguishable from the long-favored incandescent bulbs – LEDs are now worthy of consideration for your home.

With a brief education on the benefits and specs of the bulbs, it’s easy to make the switch to this eco-friendly, cost-saving option.

The Light Bulb Lineup

Compared to CFLs and incandescent bulbs, the performance of LEDs is often a dramatic improvement. Here’s how a typical 60-watt equivalent bulb using each technology measures up:

Incandescent CFL LED
Lifespan 1,200 hours 8,000 hours 45,000 hours
Power usage 60 watts 13-15 watts 6-10 watts
Temperature 335 °F 131 °F 87 °F
Operation Instant on Instant on with warmup to full brightness Instant on
Construction Glass Glass or glass and plastic, contains small amount of toxic mercury Plastic
Price ~$1/each ~$2/each ~$6-10+/each

As you can see, LEDs are the runaway winner in almost every measure. They can last up to two decades if used only a few hours each day, draw a fraction of the power, run much cooler (minimizing fire hazards and working air conditioning less) and are made of durable plastic with none of the toxic mercury found in CFLs. Though their initial cost is higher, they’re the cheapest option over their lifespan when energy and replacement bulb costs are considered.

How to Shop

Shopping for LEDs requires a bit of basic knowledge. Though there are some LEDs that function nearly identical to their familiar incandescent cousins, others may perform slightly differently than expected if you are not well-informed.

One basic step is to see the bulbs in action first. Large home improvement stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot often have their bulbs plugged in and on display. This allows you to see the color, quality and spread of each bulb’s light. Return policies at some retailers may also allow you to take home, try out and return bulbs you aren’t satisfied with.

Knowing and evaluating the following specs will also help you find the perfect bulb.

Socket: the kind of socket a bulb will fit. A19 is the most common.

Wattage: the amount of power a bulb uses. It’s important to note that the wattage is not a bulb’s brightness. Since LEDs use far less power than incandescent bulbs, a 6-10 watt LED will produce approximately the same light as a 60 watt incandescent. Most LED packages list the incandescent equivalent, making comparisons easier.

Lumens: how much light a bulb produces. If you want an exact measure of brightness to compare between all kinds of light bulbs, use this measure.

Light Temperature: the color or “warmness”/“coolness” of the light a bulb produces. Lower numbers are more yellow/orange, higher numbers are more blue and neutral white is somewhere in the middle. Look for 2700K if you prefer warm incandescent-style hues, 4200K if you like a cool white fluorescent appearance and 5500K if you want to approximate sunlight (note that grow lights for plants are a separate class of product). Incandescent-style light is traditionally popular for its warmer hues and for not disrupting the body’s natural clock.

Color Reference Index (CRI): how accurately a bulb reproduces the colors in the environment it illuminates. Incandescent bulbs and the sun score a perfect 100. Average-quality LEDs and CFLs are usually around the 70s, and high-quality ones are in the 90s. If the package doesn’t list the CRI, assume an average quality.

Light Direction: the direction(s) a bulb shines its light. Often expressed as omni-directional, uni-directional or some variant. Consider uni-directional for spotlights and omni-directional for standard light fixtures.

Dimmable: whether or not a bulb will work on a dimmer switch.

Enclosed Fixture Compatibility: whether or not a bulb is suitable for use in totally enclosed light fixtures. Non-compatible bulbs will run warmer and may suffer reduced lifespans if used in such fixtures.

And that’s LEDs in a nutshell. Pick some up during your next trip to hardware store and start enjoying a brighter future for both your home and the planet!