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Home Lighting Options: LED vs. CFL vs. Incandescent

June 18, 2012   |   comments
Home lighting options   LED CFL Incandescent

The first phase of Congress' new energy efficiency lighting standards, which goes into effect in 2012, raises a number of questions about alternatives to the traditional incandescent bulbs that have been lighting homes for over a century.

The standards require that new bulbs use 25 to 30 percent less energy than traditional incandescent lights, which inefficiently convert up to 90 percent of the energy they consume into heat, not light.

The key word there is "traditional"-you'll still be able to buy incandescent bulbs of a sort, but new incandescents will be of the halogen variety rather than the argon-filled bulbs we all grew up with. Halogens are, indeed, up to 30 percent more efficient than traditional incandescents, compared to the 75 to 80% increased efficiency of CFL and LED bulbs.

When selecting new bulbs for your home, energy efficiency may not be the only consideration, and all three alternatives to the outdated argon-filled incandescent come with their own pros and cons.



  • Halogen bulbs are somewhat more efficient than traditional incandescents
  • The bulbs are less expensive than CFLs and LEDs
  • Halogens operate just like traditional incandescents, turn on instantly, and will work perfectly well with older dimmer switches (see below for more information)



  • Halogen bulbs consume much more energy than CFLs and LEDs
  • They generate a considerable amount of heat
  • They don't last much longer than traditional incandescents

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL)


  • CFLs consume much less energy than incandescents
  • A compact fluorescent lamp can have up to ten times the lifespan of a traditional incandescent
  • The bulbs themselves are significantly cheaper than LEDs, and save much more energy than halogens, making them perhaps the most economical option for large-scale home lighting replacement


  • CFLs can have a slow startup time, can take several minutes to reach full brightness, and have been known to emit unpleasant noise and/or odors
  • Not all compact fluorescents are dimmable, and even the ones that are don't work well with legacy dimmer switches (see below for more information)
  • CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, and cannot be simply thrown away at the end of their life cycle

Light Emitting Diode (LED)


  • LEDs consume much less energy than incandescents and halogens
  • An LED bulb can have as much as 25 times the lifespan of a traditional incandescent
  • Given their longevity, a much smaller percentage of an LED bulb's energy consumption comes from manufacturing, making their overall environmental impact considerably less than CFLs
  • Unlike CFLs, the bulbs don't contain mercury and can thus be thrown away at the end of their lifespan


  • The upfront cost of purchasing an LED bulb is significantly more than CFLs and halogens, making large-scale replacement cost-prohibitive for many consumers
  • Even dimmable LEDs don't work well with legacy dimmer switches (see below for more information)
  • Many LED bulbs give off a very directional light, making them less suitable for lighting an entire room, and the light itself is often much cooler (also described as harsher) than CFLs, halogens and especially traditional incandescents

The Issue of Dimming

When it comes to controlling the mood of a room, or further increasing energy efficiency, nothing beats the trusty dimmer switch, whether used on a room-by-room basis or as part of a larger lighting control system.

The problem that many converts to CFL or LED bulbs have discovered is that even the dimmable models don't necessarily play well with legacy dimmers. The issues with dimming CFLs and LEDs with legacy dimmers can range from reduced dimming range to unexpected drop-outs to annoying flicker, along with all sorts of other erratic behavior. Luckily, most lighting control providers now offer standalone dimmers, as well as more robust multi-room lighting controllers, that operate CFLs and LEDs just as reliably as incandescents.

Your local CEDIA home technology professional can discuss your preferences (and your budget), and work with you to develop a newer, more energy-efficient lighting system that works best-and most reliably-for your home.

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