Find out the pros and cons of the new generation of energy-efficient lightbulbs. Learn about the benefits and downsides of different lighting types, such as LEDs, CFLs, halogens and high efficiency incandescent bulbs.
LESLIE: Well, the old incandescent light bulb is quickly becoming a part of history. Now, this technological marvel of the 19th century is being replaced by the more energy-efficient bulbs of today.
Kevin, everyone’s talking today about LED  as the holy grail of light bulbs. So let’s start right there. What do you think of those?
KEVIN: Well, let’s start with what it stands for. LED is Light-Emitting Diode. And unlike incandescents, the LEDs, they don’t have filaments to burn out and they don’t waste a majority of their energy output on useless heat, so they are super-efficient.
TOM: I’ve also found them to be awfully bright, so I like them.
KEVIN: You know what? I do actually believe that these are the future of lighting. Between their efficiency and the fact that they can last so long – I mean up to 50,000 hours for one of these devices – I think we’re eventually going to gravitate all of our lighting to LEDs.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what? The LEDs do come with a higher price tag but I think it’s because of that longer lifespan, so you’re sort of paying for that.
KEVIN: Yeah, I think you’re paying for that and I think you’re paying for early adoption. I think that price tag comes down over time as more and more of these end up in our homes.
LESLIE: Mm-hmm. And you know what? It was similar when we first saw that launch of CFLs : the compact fluorescents. They were very expensive; now the price is coming down. And of course, they’re becoming more commonplace as they’re really securing their own stake in the market.
But I still feel a little uncomfortable with the light that they emit; I’m kind of leaning towards those LEDs. But CFLs, they’re extremely popular and affordable and will last forever.
KEVIN: Well, I think they’re popular because they are affordable and they are efficient. And they can be up to two-thirds more efficient than incandescent and they can last 10 times as long, so you can save a lot of money.
They won’t last forever; they’re not going to last as long as LEDs. And I’ve actually found that if you don’t put them in the right fixture, they can burn out because they have a ballast, so you do have to be aware of that. But it is a great alternative to incandescents.
TOM: Now, one of the concerns about CFLs, though, is that they do contain mercury, albeit a very small amount. It does seem that there’s a little bit of overreaction about how to clean these up. Some say there’s a concern; some say there’s not a concern. Your thoughts?
KEVIN: Well, they definitely contain a trace amount of mercury and I think everyone has to be comfortable with it on their own level, as to whether they want it in the house and how they handle the disposal or when it breaks. I’ve got small kids, so when one of these light bulbs breaks, they’re nowhere near the cleanup. But it doesn’t prevent me from using these light bulbs all throughout my house. I’m very comfortable with them.
TOM: Good advice.
Now, let’s talk about halogens, which is basically an incandescent light bulb that’s infused with halogen gas.
KEVIN: It is and it can actually burn twice as long and use 10 percent less energy than the old incandescents. And the reason people like these is because it gives a really clean, bright, white light. And so we use them in a lot of key spaces: oftentimes in kitchens or maybe over a bookshelf where we really want to highlight a picture or a painting.
TOM: But they do burn a lot hotter, so you have to be very careful.
KEVIN: Yeah, don’t touch these things when you’re changing them until they’ve had time to turn down.
KEVIN: And generally speaking, heat is waste and so they’re not going to be as efficient as the compact fluorescents or the LEDs.
LESLIE: And now there’s a new bulb to the market, which is known as the high-efficiency incandescent. And now that’s brand-spanking new. Can you speak a little bit about that?
KEVIN: Well, so a lot of people think incandescents are going away for good because they’re going to be outlawed by the government. It’s not true; they’re just going to have to be more efficient. And these new incandescents are going to be 30-percent more efficient; they’re going to use less energy. And so they’re going to provide a good-quality light. You’re going to be able to dim them just like the incandescent bulbs and they’re going to last longer than a traditional incandescent. So I think this is forward progress.
TOM: Now, one of the concerns that most folks have about changing out light bulbs is that they’re not going to fit their existing fixtures.
KEVIN: I think that was the case originally but they are starting to make these bulbs in all different sizes and shapes so they can fit pretty much any fixture. You can put them in recessed, you can put them in tabletop laps, you can put them in directionals. There are a lot of options out there.
LESLIE: The bulbs themselves – before you had a bulb for, say, a chandelier – a candelabra bulb that had a very odd look to it – and now you’re seeing an energy-efficient candelabra bulb that actually has the same traditional shape.
KEVIN: Looks just like a – I’ve seen an LED candelabra bulb and you can’t tell the difference when you look at it from its shape.
TOM: You know what’s interesting? I think the investment in the light fixtures, where we’ve always concentrated in the past, now we have to think about both the fixture and the bulb we’re going to put in it.
TOM: But you’d say there’s a bright future for light bulbs?
KEVIN: I think it’s a very bright future.
TOM: Kevin O’Connor, the host of TV’s This Old House, great advice. Thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
KEVIN: My pleasure.
LESLIE: Alright. You can catch the current season of This Old House and Ask This Old House on PBS. For your local listings and some great step-by-step videos on projects you can do and other great articles, visit ThisOldHouse.com.
TOM: And This Old House is brought to you by State Farm. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.