LED vs. CFL - Which Is Better for Your Home?

What’s the Difference Between CFLs and LED Bulbs?

Fluorescent bulbs are gas-filled tubes with electrodes at each end. When current passes through the gas between the electrodes, the gas fluoresces, giving off ultraviolet (UV) light and heat. The UV light excites phosphors that coat the inside wall of the tube, giving off visible light once a certain temperature is reached. This takes from 30 seconds to as much as three minutes depending on the bulb’s design and is why CFLs take time to reach their full light output.

LED bulbs produce light by passing electric current through a crystal, causing it to glow. Different crystals glow at specific wavelengths, allowing LEDs to be made in various colors or combined to emit white light. Unlike fluorescent lamps, there’s no warm-up needed, so full-strength LED light is immediate.

Is One Better Than the Other?

Both LEDs and CFLs are major improvements over incandescent bulbs in terms of energy use, and both types have evolved to a point that makes them suitable for nearly any home use. Both types still only convert a fraction of their energy consumption to light, but they’re superstars compared to incandescents, which are about 2-3% efficient. A CFL is about 10% efficient, and an LED around 12-14%, but they both use far less energy to produce a given amount of light and last much longer.

Where LEDs Outshine CFLs

• LED’s aren’t toxic. CFLs contain 1-5 milligrams of mercury, which is highly toxic. Many places require special handling for their disposal.
• LEDs emit very little heat, whereas CFLs and incandescent lights release up to 80% and 90% of their energy as heat, respectively, and both can be fire hazards if used improperly.
• LED light is very pure. By combining different color diodes, an LED lamp can give off precise colors, unlike fluorescents, which rely on colored phosphors to approximate colors like daylight or warm white.
• LED light is directional. That means that bulbs used for downlights or task lighting don’t need reflectors or diffusers, increasing their efficiency.
• LED bulbs aren’t sensitive to temperature or humidity. Fluorescents may not work well in cold or extremely hot (over 120°F) environments and can be affected by high humidity.
• LEDs are sturdy. CFLs are relatively fragile and mercury or phosphors can escape when they’re broken. Plus, LEDs are not sensitive to frequent on-off cycling like CFLs or incandescent bulbs.
• LEDs reach full output immediately. CFLs take from several seconds to a few minutes to reach full brightness.

Is It Time to Get Rid of Your CFLs?

For all their shortcomings, CFLs are major improvements over incandescent bulbs in terms of energy savings and longevity. It would be a waste of money and resources to replace them as long as they’re doing the job you want.

On the other hand, if you’re replacing burned out incandescents or CFLs, LEDs are the way to go. They’re still slightly more expensive than CFLs, but prices keep coming down and may even be comparable by the time your CFLs give out. Plus, some manufacturers like GE have discontinued CFL production in favor of an all-LED line, and major retailers like and Wal-Mart have greatly reduced their stocks. IKEA has stopped carrying them altogether, offering only LEDs.

Let the pros at Allstar Electrical Services show you the many ways LED technology can be used in your home or business. We provide a full range of residential, commercial and facility electrical maintenance services, so call today to learn about our free audit at 303-399-7420!

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